Why G-Zero is a good thing

By Zachary Karabell
May 2, 2012

This is the second in a series of responses to Ian Bremmer’s excerpt of Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World. The first response can be read here.

It’s said that predictions are risky business, especially those about the future. No one knows that better than Ian Bremmer, who in addition to his multiple books has created one of the more successful risk analysis organizations. Being in the business of highlighting risks, he has for the past few years focused on the breakdown of the world order most of us grew up with, whether a 20th century world of great-power struggles or an early 21st century world of American economic and military preponderance. Now, says Bremmer, those systems are finished and in their stead we have… nothing.

It’s a compelling, alarming and yet exhilarating vision – though few probably embrace that last adjective. Compelling because it admits that most of the models we use to predict what will be are based on a world that no longer exists and hence are likely to be wrong. Alarming because it leaves us with a tabula rasa whose outcomes are utterly uncertain. Yet exhilarating because it offers the promise of a brave new world that may go in any direction, including more productive and positive ones than many observers currently assume.

Bremmer extrapolates from current trends about what this world might look like, and tends to focus on the dangers that lurk rather than the diamonds in the rough. He sees tough times for China, whose model, he predicts, will be less able to adapt to a world of increased competition for natural resources and more state capitalism that competes directly with the Chinese. He sees hard roads for weak states and troubled societies, with Syria’s grinding civil war and lack of international action just a harbinger. He sees a United States constrained by debt and a public looking inward, and a euro zone mired in years of crisis. And while he does acknowledge that even a G-Zero world will have winners such as Brazil and Turkey, he sees the emerging vacuum as more of a challenge than an opportunity.

As a description of the world we are entering, it is trenchant. Yes, the United States will remain the world’s largest economy for a while to come and its most dominant military power for a generation. But the coercive power of those assets is and will be ever more muted. Fewer societies around the world believe that the American model is the one to copy, and a large military can preserve security but not prosperity. Multiple states around the globe have the confidence, the leadership and the means to chart their own way and refuse to bow to the will of any other nation. And as the 20th century mechanisms for handling all sorts of international affairs decay, unpredictable crises and unforeseeable outcomes will become more common.

But that doesn’t mean that the international system will be less stable or that prosperity and security will not proliferate. There is, in fact, a risk that peace will break out, rendering the traditional tools of states less useful. It’s clear already that global companies are reaping astonishing benefits from the growth of a global middle class and from a largely anarchic but effective flow of commerce and capital that seems to be working brilliantly almost everywhere except in its 20th century heartlands of Europe and the United States.

In essence, if the G-Zero idea is pushed further, you could be left with a world that truly doesn’t look like the 20th century, or like most centuries. It could be a world where the absence of great-power conflict – the rivalry of China and the United States notwithstanding – leads not to chaos and anarchy but to stability and, at most, low-level armed conflicts. You could be in a world where the dominant theme is the churning and rapid transition of billions of people from agrarian and urban poverty into a middle class that consumes apartments, white goods, food, clothing and entertainment. And you could be in a world where tension is ubiquitous, uncertainty constant, but actual lethal and society-destroying conflict preciously rare.

A G-Zero world might bring the host of risks Bremmer suggests, but the old model was marked by lethal conflict, enhanced by technology. That is not a model whose passing any of us should mourn. The future may be fraught but the past…well, good riddance.

5 comments

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“You could be in a world where the dominant theme is the churning and rapid transition of billions of people from agrarian and urban poverty into a middle class that consumes apartments, white goods, food, clothing and entertainment.”
I believe this is happening in Asia right now.
Unfortunately in Europe and the US the reverse is also happening.
Maybe it the way it’s meant to be.
I just hope Africa get’s it’s turn to grow soon.
Let’s face it, the average American was never going to share his or her obscene comparative wealth with the third world if he or she could help it. It took mega-corporations, the pinnacle of the capitalist system, to share the wealth with the developing nations of the world via outsourcing and off-shoring.
How ironic is that?

Posted by RandomName2nd | Report as abusive

The idea of every nation for itself is no different from the idea of every state fort itself or every person for him/herself. When Karabell uses the term “the international system,” what “system” does he mean? If G8 or G20 (or G-whatever) has any value or potential value in the opinion of Karabell or Bremmer, let’s hear what it is and what will offer that value if the G forum or assembly is dissolved.

Posted by bcrawf | Report as abusive

Weak: “It could be a world where the absence of great-power conflict…leads…to stability ….”

Yes, it COULD, in the sense that it’s not logically impossible, but (a) it would be the first time in history that a stable system wasn’t the product of a hegemony, and (b) Karabell offers exactly zero argument to support the claim.

There is some noise about a global elite, but nothing to suggest that this elite sufficiently dominates the mass to prevent it from scrambling even harder for diminishing resources. And the resources are diminishing for three reasons: one, there are (many) more people; two, the mechanisms for extracting resources from the mass and transfering them to the elite are much more efficient; three, the consumerist element of this extraction mmachine relies on creating felt needs; maintaining this economic instability, while repressing the political expression of it, is no simple trick — watch China….

Posted by acebros | Report as abusive

I just want to know which country to move to because I am not going down with the ship IOUSA.

Posted by minipaws | Report as abusive

Perhaps we are approaching G-0 but the current global power will not go away so easily. They won’t go gently to that good night and will act in dangerous ways to prove to their people that they were still a country envision by God himself. The danger we face with peak resources and explosive population growth will pale in comparison to the old models of the late 20th century. “good riddance”? I really hope so.

Posted by MegaChan | Report as abusive