Opinion

The Great Debate

Forget G-Zero, it’s China that’s leading the world

This is the third 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 and the second here.

Ian Bremmer is launching his new book with an eye-opening observation above the uncertain future of global order. This time he is warning us of the dangers of having a world with no clear leader. In his view, the United States and Europe are in a weak position to sustain any hegemonic position. In particular, their focus on austerity measures can complicate their role as military leaders of the world (e.g., NATO’s role). Moreover, multilateral organizations, such as the G7 or the G20, will not do the trick either. The G7 is in the middle of the worst crisis in almost a century, and the G20 has members with preferences that are hard to aggregate. BRICS, the organization supposedly coordinating the efforts of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is too young and preoccupied with other issues to act as the new hegemon. What, then? Where is the world going? Who will emerge as the new leader?

The obvious candidate is China. I have not read the entire book, so I do not know precisely what Bremmer’s position is on China. But because the book’s argument is that there is no real global leader now, I assume he believes China will not be taking that role in the future either. I want to argue, in contrast, that China has begun to play that role and has the potential to become a hegemon. Yet, if China rises to be the global leader, there will be major tensions in the institutional foundations of global capitalism as we know them today. As China’s leadership role grows, the global institutions that have ruled the world in the last 20 or so years will have to change.

Bremmer argues that the most important tools for establishing global power and leadership today are the traditional economic levers and the cyber-capacity to conduct industrial espionage and protect or control information and communication across borders. I would argue that China’s proven track record in both of these areas makes it an ideal candidate for world leader. It is the champion of cyber-censorship and the only country that has tamed large global corporations, compelling them to share user information with the government. Moreover, any major company doing business in China already has bent over backwards to share information and intellectual property with its “forced” local partners (i.e., partners that are the product of mandatory joint ventures dictated by the government of Beijing or any of the Chinese provinces).

China is champion when it comes to using economic tools to impose global discipline, induce countries to do what it wants, and change global conditions. China indirectly determined interest rates in the United States for years, acting as the largest buyers of Treasury bonds. It also uses conditional loans to get African governments to do what it wants, including favoring Chinese companies over locals or Western companies. Furthermore, China has increased its power within the IMF and other multilateral organizations and has been sought after by the EU to participate in its bailout fund.

Why G-Zero is a good thing

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.

Since when has G-anything run the world?

This is part of a series of responses to Ian Bremmer’s excerpt of Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World.

Ian Bremmer has, as always, made a perceptive and provocative observation about the state of the world. Where I would respectfully differ from him is over the true significance of this observation.

It really comes down to what is meant by “global leadership,” on the one hand, and “global governance,” on the other. It is conventional to call for more of the former and to bewail the weaknesses of the latter. And with Bremmer I would accept that there is a shortage of such leadership and that global governance is patchy at best. The world is certainly not being run by the G-20, or by a G-anything else.

Does the Kony video point toward global problem-solving?

The  Kony 2012 director who was found naked in the street will remain in the hospital for several weeks. Danica Russell, Jason Russell’s wife, attributed her husband’s “reactive psychosis” to the “sudden transition from relative anonymity to worldwide attention – both raves and ridicules, in a matter of days.”

“Relative anonymity to worldwide attention” is an understatement. The Internet gives new meaning to Warhol’s observation about 15 minutes of fame. Russell is striving to bring Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the violent Lord’s Resistance Army, to justice for crimes against humanity, and his video exploded onto the global stage. More than 100 million people viewed the video the first week it was online. Many of these people expressed support and donated money to Russell’s cause.

Of course skepticism also went viral. Some questioned Russell’s character, such as when he told a magazine last year that “If Oprah, Steven Spielberg and Bono had a baby, I would be that baby.” They also questioned how Russell was spending the money of the charity he ran, Invisible Children.

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