Opinion

Ian Bremmer

The Cyprus takeaway: More phony crises to come

Ian Bremmer
Mar 27, 2013 20:05 UTC

Now that the crisis in Cyprus has passed, we can finally admit the obvious: The “crisis” it provoked did not deserve the attention it received. Cyprus makes up a fraction of one percent of the European Union’s GDP and it’s a backwater for sketchy Russian dealings. If Cyprus had drowned in a sea of Mediterranean debt, the Eurozone would not have gone under with it.

But what a story! The news was dominated by theatrics: a plane filled with 1 million Euros, last-minute deals in danger of falling apart, and failed emergency meetings in Moscow. But behind that global drama, all the Cypriot political parties supported staying in the Eurozone, and the German government remains committed to the sanctity of the monetary union. How was Cyprus going to deal the Eurozone an existential blow?

Nor will the painful bailout parameters in Cyprus prove a rule going forward, despite ill-advised warnings to the contrary from the president of the Eurogroup. One moment Jeroen Dijsselbloem is saying that Cyprus could be a model for future European bailouts —and markets take a nosedive. A few hours later he reneges on his remarks, saying: “Cyprus is a specific case with exceptional challenges which required the bail-in measures we have agreed upon yesterday. Macro-economic adjustment programmes are tailor-made to the situation of the country concerned and no models or templates are used.”

Cyprus was not Greece (or Italy, or Spain) Redux. Nor have the bailout terms set a precedent for future crises in the Eurozone’s periphery. It was a sideshow.

But that sideshow is still telling. It spoke to the new reality in the Eurozone: For anything to get done, it has to first generate an unnecessary crisis. There are so many moving parts to European Union bureaucracy that the only way to create action is with dire threats and tight deadlines. Most sane people now understand that the Eurozone is not going to fall apart, so Germany has to ring the alarm more loudly than in the past if it hopes to force change. In the absence of imminent crisis, the only way to implement deep, structural change is by harnessing the pain that market forces can inflict.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Mar 22, 2013 18:24 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

The theme of this week’s must-reads is the U.S. domestic picture – whether it’s immigration, the federal deficit, gay marriage, or the 2016 presidential election.

Is it too early for 2016 polls?” – Micah Cohen, FiveThirtyEight blog, New York Times

Xi dreamed a dream of China’s rise…

Ian Bremmer
Mar 20, 2013 20:35 UTC

China’s new president, Xi Jinping, gave his big inaugural address last week, talking at length about the “Chinese Dream.” He said: “We must make persistent efforts, press ahead with indomitable will, continue to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

All that talk of ‘great this’ and ‘great that’ should sound familiar to Americans—it’s the same exceptionalism that their leaders espouse during any major national address. Both the American Dream and the Chinese Dream are patriotism without the isolationism—clarion calls for the nation as well as the individual. For America, it’s about holding on (or reasserting) its claim as the world’s foremost nation. For China, it’s about wresting that title away—or at least providing an alternative prototype that other nations can follow.

If China wants to become the world’s foremost country, it’ll mean jettisoning its more isolationist approach to foreign affairs. For 10 years we’ve heard Chinese officials say that they can’t intervene. We’re too poor; we’re still developing. In 2007, then-president Wen Jiabao described China’s economic growth as “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable.” But now that the financial crisis has exposed cracks in the Western capitalist model and China appears destined to one day overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy, China can’t stay on the sidelines anymore. It needs to secure its economic interests in every corner of the globe—and that will mean sometimes getting its hands dirty.

China shouldn’t leave Kim Jong-un alone

Ian Bremmer
Mar 13, 2013 16:18 UTC

Tensions are running high on the Korean Peninsula, and instability is coming if it’s not already there. North Korea is declaring that truces no longer apply, claiming that the UN is faking its report on North Korean human rights abuses and threatening “thermonuclear war” against its aggressors.

I was in China last week, where I met with senior Chinese foreign policy officials who told me they don’t have the influence over North Korea they once had. There’s a self-promotional reason to say the situation is increasingly out of their hands – it insulates them from pressure to play a leading role in punishing miscreant North Korean behavior.  But I think we should start to believe them. Thus far, the normal Chinese channels have not worked. The officials told me that China has resorted to unofficial contacts – through business leaders, informal contacts, etc. – to try to pass on the word to Pyongyang. Mao Zedong famously once called China and North Korea’s relationship as “close as lips and teeth.” Today, when it comes to private bilateral communication, it seems Pyongyang’s lips are sealed, and China’s teeth are grinding.

How, then, do you solve a problem like Dear Leader? There are some within China asking whether the Chinese should break off contact altogether. A senior Communist Party official claimed that delegates discussed whether to “keep or dump” North Korea at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in early March. In a Financial Times piece entitled “China Should Abandon North Korea,” the deputy editor of the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party argued that the China-North Korea alliance was “outdated” and that “nuclear blackmail” from Pyongyang in the future couldn’t be ruled out. The silent treatment would be a last-ditch attempt to get North Korea’s attention by calling its bluff.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Mar 11, 2013 18:51 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

The theme of this week’s must-reads is number crunching—whether it’s budgets in China and Iran, record-long filibusters in the US senate, or how much the quality of life has improved in Africa over the last decade. Get out your calculators. Here goes.

Crunching the numbers

Is fracking a ‘bridge’ to a clean-energy future? Ernest Moniz thinks so,” Brad Plumer, Wonkblog, The Washington Post

The top 10 grudges in the G-20

Ian Bremmer
Mar 7, 2013 20:14 UTC

The G-20 is no happy family. Comprised of 19 countries and the European Union, once the urgency of the financial crisis waned, so too did the level of collaboration among members. Unlike the cozier G-7 — filled with likeminded nations — the G-20 is a better representation of the true global balance of power … and the tensions therein. So where are the deepest fault lines in the G-20? 

Below is a ranking* of the 10 worst bilateral relationships in the G20. Russia is in four of the worst, while China is in three (although Russia and China’s relationship is fine). Several countries are also in two of the worst relationships: the United States (with the two belligerents mentioned above), Japan, the UK and the EU. 

1.   China–Japan

China and Japan have a historically troubled relationship, which has reached its most contentious point in decades as their dispute over territorial claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has escalated, leading to renewed geopolitical tensions and possible confrontation. When the world’s second- and third-largest economies are butting heads, it carries huge global ramifications.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Mar 1, 2013 20:23 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections @EurasiaGroup or @IanBremmer.

Must-Reads 

How Israel beat the drought” – David Horowitz, The Times of Israel

Israel’s quantity of natural water per capita is the lowest in its entire region. But it seems Israel’s water shortage crisis may be a thing of the past. Why? More than 80 percent of Israel’s purified sewage is reused for agriculture. The next best in the OECD? Spain, at 18 percent.

Germany relaxes immigration rules to attract skilled labour” - Stephen Brown and Holger Hansen, Reuters

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