No Cold War redux for ‘frenemies’ US, ChinaIan Bremmer, Ph.D
(Nikkei Asian Review) – We live in a “G-Zero” world, marked by a shifting, uncertain global order and “geopolitical creative destruction,” says Ian Bremmer, a prominent U.S. political scientist.
Though this unstable environment generates more risk, the U.S. is in no hurry to change the status quo because its strong currency and large, solid economy make it a “safe harbor” for global investment and education, says Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, a political risk research and consulting company. The Nikkei recently spoke with him about terrorism, U.S.-Chinese relations and America’s role in a world in flux.
Q: There has been a spate of acts of terrorism by the Islamic State militant group, including the Paris attacks. Is the situation is getting worse?
A: ISIS is the most powerful terrorist organization that we’ve ever seen. They have got a lot of money. They collected well over a billion dollars from the banks when they took over Mosul, which is the second-largest city in Iraq. They took over a lot of advanced military equipment when the soldiers in the Iraqi army ran away. They have got some oil. It is a lot of money for a terrorist organization.
They also are young. The members of ISIS grew up with social media and cellphones. They are much more sophisticated in using this technology. They are a much more potent adversary than the so-called JV team that (U.S. President Barack) Obama spoke about just over a year ago.
You have to recognize that the military response is divided. (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is doing more militarily in Syria than anybody else. He’s effectively establishing a no-fly zone, but he’s supporting (Syrian President Bashar) Assad. The U.S. has said that we want Assad out and we’ve said that we want to destroy ISIS, but the reality is that the priority for the U.S. in the Middle East for the past two years has been securing an Iran nuclear deal. At best, you can say we’ve had a strategy to contain ISIS a little in Iraq. We haven’t had a strategy to destroy ISIS. That’s been, at best, a philosophy; it’s not been a policy. And so, when I look ahead to 2016, this is getting worse.
Q: Why are geopolitical risks growing?
A: Because we are in the G-Zero world. The U.S. is less willing to act as the leader for the rest of the world, as the global policeman. The Chinese are much more powerful than they were, but they refuse to fill any of that vacuum. And, in most cases, they’re incapable of doing it. Europe is incredibly divided. The immediate implication of that is that the Middle East explodes.
We’re now at the beginning of the creation of a new order. We don’t know what it is yet. This period of the G-Zero is a period of geopolitical creative destruction that we are now really seeing the meat of. And we will see much more geopolitical conflict in the world as a consequence of that.
Q: How long will the G-Zero world last?
A: It would be much shorter if the U.S. was negatively impacted by it. But what we see is that the dollar is doing quite well. What we see is that the U.S. economy is not only the world’s largest but also extremely resilient and stable. The U.S. is a safe harbor, and many people in a world of greater geopolitical instability will come to it for education, to live, to buy real estate, to invest. And that means that the necessity of the U.S. doing something and responding is lower. So the G-Zero can persist for longer, especially because other countries aren’t capable of doing it themselves yet.
Q: Is the Group of 20 framework working?
A: Of course not. The G-20 is like the (United Nations) Security Council. These are countries that do not share political and economic values. Therefore, to get anything done, you have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. You used to have U.S.-led global organizations. Now, in a G-Zero world, you can no longer have U.S.-led global organizations. Instead, you have two choices. You can stick with global organizations and they won’t have leadership. Or you can have organizations that will have leadership but they won’t be global.
The reason the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact) works is because it’s not global. And they’re trying to make the WTO (World Trade Organization) work by getting away from the Doha Round because they realize it’s too ambitious; you can’t get it done. So, you know, that’s smarter.
Q: Some people describe the rising tension between the U.S. and China as a “new Cold War.” What is your view on that?
A: No one I see says that the U.S. and China are in a new Cold War. China doesn’t want to challenge the U.S. in terms of military power. The threat that China poses to the U.S. is really almost purely in the economic sphere. And that is because the Chinese government has $3.5 trillion in reserves. We look at the U.S. and China, what we have is a relationship of “frenemies.” They’re not friends, they’re not enemies; they’re both. The U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War did not do a lot of economic trade. The U.S. and China are critical trade partners. The Americans get all these imports from China. The Chinese spend all of this money on U.S. Treasurys.
But on the cyber side, we’re fighting each other. It’s industrial espionage. It’s the Chinese coming after American companies, the Americans saying we might sanction the Chinese. So it’s very complicated. It’s interdependent, it’s co-dependent, but it’s also a fight. It depends on what aspects of the relationship you’re looking into. There is a mutually assured economic destruction between the two that ensures that we don’t get to the worst levels of fighting. That is a much greater buffer than the mutually assured strategic destruction, nuclear forces between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that basically still allowed the Cuban missile crisis to occur.
Q: In your new book “Superpower,” you favor an “independent America,” in which the U.S. is not a global policeman but instead concentrates on rebuilding itself. Is this a reasonable choice for the U.S.?
A: My conclusion was the hardest part. But I do want Americans to understand that if we don’t choose, it’s going to get worse. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, we have not chosen. We’ve had a quarter of a century of an incoherent America, a quarter of a century of no strategy, of risk aversion and then overreaction.
I chose independent America because I think that’s what’s likely to happen. As we move into this G-Zero, it’s going to be harder and harder for the U.S. to be indispensable. It’s going to be harder and harder for America to truly be “moneyball.” You look at young Americans, they look at the money that’s been spent in Afghanistan and Iraq, they look at the inequality in the United States, they look at the lack of infrastructure spending in the U.S. and they say, “Why aren’t we fixing this?”
I picked it also because when I look at the people that are running for election in 2016 in the U.S., not even Donald Trump, but also other very capable people, and they’re all wrapping themselves in the flag and they’re saying, “America — we can lead and we can be better” and all this stuff. It’s very easy to say. But I’m not convinced that any of them are capable or willing to actually do it. And so, “independent America” is a challenge to these candidates.
Interviewed by Nikkei Washington Bureau Chief Hiroyuki Kotake