Brzezinski ’87 tapped to serve as ambassador
By Daniel Bornstein, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, September 21, 2011
International lawyer Mark Brzezinski ’87 was nominated by President Barack Obama on Sept. 6 to serve as the United States Department of State Ambassador to Sweden. Brzezinski, who must be approved by the Senate before assuming his post, brings a comprehensive understanding of foreign policy and breadth of professional experience, according to several individuals interviewed by The Dartmouth who are familiar with his work in the public and private sectors.
Brzezinski could not be reached for comment because nominees for ambassadorships are not permitted to speak to the media until they assume their post overseas, State Department Press Officer David Connell said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
Although Brzezinski is not a career diplomat, his lack of experience in the State Department will not compromise his ability to serve as an effective ambassador, according to Kenneth Yalowitz, director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding and former U.S. ambassador to Belarus and Georgia.
“[Brzezinski’s] service on the National Security Council gives him strong credentials for this job,” Yalowitz said. “The concern is when a political appointee has no foreign affairs experience and gets the job from political connections.”
Brzezinski — who receieved his JD from the University of Virginia School of Law and a doctorate in political science from Oxford University — served as a director on the National Security Council from 1999 to 2001, focusing on issues related to the Balkans, Russia, Eurasia and Southeast Europe, according to a White House press release.
Brzezinski’s experience with the NSC will enable him to integrate his understanding of bilateral foreign relations with a broader American foreign policy, according to Joshua Marcuse ’04, the founder and president of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that aims to help prepare the next generation of foreign policy leaders.
“For an ambassador to have that experience is really strong preparation,” Marcuse said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “Most political appointees have not had that political experience.”
In his work on anti-corruption law at the firm McGuireWoods LLP, Brzezinski has demonstrated a strong aptitude for placing legal issues within a global context, according to Patrick Rowan ’86, a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. Brzezinski advises businesses on how to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits U.S. companies from paying bribes to officials overseas, Rowan said in an interview with The Dartmouth. Brzezinski’s expertise has helped American businesses succeed internationally, as many foreign competitors may not be subject to the same stringent restrictions, he said.
“Mark not only explains the law, but he gives [U.S. businesses] ideas on how to set up their company overseas to ensure they don’t run afoul of the law,” Rowan said. “He has a skill set that will make him a great ambassador.”
Defense and security will be foremost on Brzezinksi’s agenda as ambassador since the United States and Sweden both see benefits from collaboration in those areas, according to Magnus Nordenman, the associate director of the international security program at the Atlantic Council, a think tank that promotes transatlantic cooperation.
In a departure from its neutrality policy, the Swedish government declared in late 2009 that it was willing to intervene to defend neighboring countries, a shift considered favorable to U.S. interests in Europe, Nordenman said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
“The U.S. is looking for partners in Europe to carry the burden so it doesn’t have to focus on [that region] as much as it did before,” Nordenman said.
Sweden’s participation in the NATO force in Afghanistan has grown, even as other European countries decrease their presence in the area, illustrating another situation in which Swedish policy aligns with U.S. defense interests, Nordenman said. Even though Sweden is not a member of NATO, it still participates in the alliance through Partnership for Peace, a framework through which countries can selectively cooperate on international security issues, government professor William Wohlforth said.
The strong ties between the United States and Sweden have been longstanding, even though Sweden remained neutral during the Cold War, according to Wolhforth.
“A Swedish foreign minister once quipped, ‘Sweden is the most pro-American country in the world, with the U.S. coming in second,’” Wohlforth said.
Former government professor Lynn Mather — who taught at the College from 1972 to 2002 and was Brzezinski’s professor on the government department’s Foreign Studies Program in Washington, D.C., in Spring 1986 — said she observed Brzezinski’s keen insight into political affairs when he was an undergraduate student.
“He paid attention to the political and legal issues that were going on,” Mather said.
Brzezinski’s strong interest in foreign policy was hardly a surprise given that his father, Zbigniew Brzezinski, served as the National Security Advisor to former President Jimmy Carter, Mather said.
“Growing up with that kind of family experience and leadership from his father clearly affected him, [judging by] his interests in college and what he went on to do afterwards,” Mather said.
Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in an email to The Dartmouth that he was “pleased and proud” upon learning of his son’s nomination for ambassador.
Faith Rivers James ’87, who participated in the FSP with Brzezinski, said she admired his focus on U.S. foreign policy.
“Mark had a great appreciation for how the U.S. crafted its role in the world,” James, a professor at Elon Law School, said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “The course discussions provided an opportunity to deconstruct what we were seeing on a daily basis.”
The ambassadorial position has been vacant since May when former Ambassador Matthew Barzun stepped down to lead the fundraising efforts for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, according to The Local, a newspaper based in Stockholm, Sweden.