In last Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones, Lord Baelish and Lord Varys, perhaps the show’s most Machiavellian characters, discuss their political philosophies. While admiring the <a “href=”http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Iron_Throne”>Iron Throne, the show’s iconic symbol of absolute power, they debate the true nature of the realm: What power, they ask, holds the seven kingdoms of Westeros together?
Lord Baelish: “Do you know what the realm is? A story we agree to tell each other over and over until we forget that it’s a lie. But what do we have left once we abandon the lie?”
Lord Varys: “Chaos. A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.”
It might be bleak and melodramatic, but this resembles today’s global order. In the wake of the financial crisis, the first Group of 20 summit helped save the financial system, but it was fear for survival rather than fealty to a common worldview that drove progress. Since then, it’s become all too clear that the G-20 is more of an aspiration than an institution: There are simply too many member countries with too many conflicting interests.
What we really have is a global order (or lack thereof) in which no country or group of countries can drive the international agenda. The global rules and referees are falling by the wayside; pressing challenges like climate change, nuclear proliferation and cybersecurity go unaddressed. Varys dubs it “a gaping pit” of leadership —Ian Bremmer, Reuters columnist and my boss, calls it the G-Zero.
Petyr Baelish responds with the second prong of the G-Zero argument. In every risk lies opportunity; a power vacuum creates winners and losers alike. “Chaos isn’t a pit,” he says “Chaos is a ladder.”