Opinion

Ian Bremmer

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Sep 27, 2013 18:53 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.

Must-reads

Taxis Vanish in Rain as Singapore Gets Congested” – Sharon Chen, Bloomberg

Singapore’s population has grown by more than a million since mid-2004 to 5.3 million today. The 1996 transport system white paper planned for a population of 4 million by 2030. All this growth is a good problem to have—but can Singapore’s infrastructure support it?

Saudi Arabian Women Urged To Protest Against Driving Ban By Getting Behind The Wheel On October 26” – Sara C Nelson, Huffington Post

A petition is circling for a “day of defiance” where Saudi women will take the wheel in protest of a ban on their right to drive. The government seems to downplay the social importance of the ban — in 2005, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of the Interior said, “It looks like some people want to make it an issue, but it’s not.” The petition has over 10,000 signatures that say otherwise.

Obama’s vacuum doctrine

Ian Bremmer
Sep 25, 2013 14:43 UTC

In President Barack Obama’s speech at the United Nations on Tuesday, he made the case for sustained American engagement in the Middle East:

“The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues back home, and aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim World, may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill. I believe that would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security. I believe the world is better for it.”

When we look at Obama’s speech, the two biggest trends in American foreign policy are conspicuous by their absence. First, while Obama describes the need for sustained American engagement in the Middle East, the opposite is already on full display today — and Obama has contributed to this disengagement at almost every turn. In the 2012 election, only 5 percent of voters dubbed foreign policy as their priority. You needn’t look further than Obama’s decision to punt on Syria strikes in the face of withering domestic support. The failed G20 summit in St. Petersburg made it painfully clear that “a vacuum of leadership” is already the reality in our G-Zero world. The United States’ ability and leverage to drive outcomes in the Middle East is increasingly limited.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Sep 20, 2013 18:38 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.

China Finds Resistance to Oil Deals in Africa” – Adam Nossiter, The New York Times

Many African governments have begun fighting back against lopsided oil contracts with that Chinese that were often locked in by corrupt former regimes.

Putin is winning on Snowden, Syria and Sochi… but so what?

Ian Bremmer
Sep 19, 2013 15:01 UTC

Vladimir Putin’s having a hell of a summer. Before writing the most talked-about New York Times op-ed in months, he embarrassed his chief rival, the United States, by harboring its most high-profile dissident, Edward Snowden. He then came out ahead on negotiations over what to do about Syria’s chemical weapons attack that killed 1,400 people. The general consensus is that Putin and Russia are winning.

But what, exactly, are they winning? Russia’s prize for conquering the summer isn’t power — it’s constriction. In defending Assad, harboring Snowden, and preparing for the Sochi Olympics, Putin is actually just inviting more complications. This has been a summer of shallow wins for Putin as he puts his ego and personal quest for international legitimacy over his country’s best interests.

On Syria, it’s certainly true that Putin has made Barack Obama look bad. Russia has taken the lead on negotiations, minimized America’s military motivation, and undermined Obama’s foreign policy standing. All that’s great if you’re looking at it through the lens of a power ranking of the global elite. After all, I firmly believe that nobody has consolidated more power than Vladimir Putin.

Politicak risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Sep 13, 2013 19:34 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. 

Must-reads

Russia to invest $1 bln in rare earths to cut dependence on China” – Gleb Stolyarov, Reuters

With China currently producing 90 percent of the world’s rare earth supplies, Russia has announced its desire to get involved too. After all, Russia’s rare earths consumption is expected to quadruple by 2020.

The vote on Syria hardly matters

Ian Bremmer
Sep 10, 2013 21:30 UTC

The details of American involvement in Syria seem to change every minute. First the Obama administration was going to launch a “limited, narrow” attack, with international backing, against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as a punitive response to chemical weapons use. Then the administration was going to do it more or less alone. A week and a half ago, Obama punted on the issue, asking for congressional backing (but all the while stressing he could strike without Congress’ permission). And now, thanks to gaffe diplomacy, it’s possible that America won’t strike Syria at all, as the administration is willing to delay a vote in favor of pursuing a diplomatic solution — like Russia’s proposal that Syria hands over its chemical weapons to the international community. That Russia’s plan is likely aimed more at scuttling strikes than at actually rounding up Assad’s chemical arsenal seems beside the point.

For more than a week, the prospect of a strike has dominated headlines, with a vote billed as the all-important variable. Here’s what all that hype is missing: While Obama’s decision to punt to Congress had far-reaching implications, at this point whether the U.S. actually strikes hardly matters. Whether the vote goes through, goes down, or never happens, it doesn’t have a huge impact on Obama, Syria, or America’s underlying priority in the region — Iran.

If the decision to strike Syria mattered overwhelmingly to President Obama, he wouldn’t have gone to Congress in the first place. Obama knows that, in this decade, elections are not won and lost on foreign policy. Only 5 percent of voters in the 2012 presidential election said their top issue was foreign policy. By punting to Congress, Obama made clear that he values the political cover it provides more than the actual issue at hand — to strike or not to strike. If the strike gets voted down, the defeat would only have limited domestic impact for Obama, as most of the damage is already done. And if the vote is delayed indefinitely — as a result of exploring Russia’s proposal, for example — then the fallout for Obama is even less severe.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Sep 9, 2013 15:06 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.

Must-reads

The New Isolationism: Why the World’s Richest Countries Can’t Work Together

Mohamed El-Erian, The Atlantic

What does America’s inability to form a coalition for action against Syria say about the state of global leadership? What are the economic implications in a world where developed countries cannot coordinate?

Iran is America’s real Middle East priority

Ian Bremmer
Sep 6, 2013 19:18 UTC

While we’ve been distracted by a flurry of intelligence releases on Syria’s chemical weapons strikes — and the ongoing saga over the United States’ response — many have overlooked another intelligence report pertaining to weapons of mass destruction with severe implications for America’s red lines and credibility in the Middle East.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog, reported that “Iran plans to test about 1,000 advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges it has completed installing.” As Iran’s enrichment capabilities increase, its breakout time — how long Iran would need to rapidly amass enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon — is dropping considerably. In the next year or two, Iran’s breakout time could drop to about 10 days: too short of a window for the United States to reliably respond before Iran could secure enough material for a bomb.

America’s next step in Syria is inextricably linked to the situation in Iran. The U.S. government’s biggest national security concern in the region is an Iranian regime with potential access to nuclear weapons. A nuclear Iran would destabilize the region, shock oil prices, and threaten U.S. allies. Longer term, it’s harder to map out the implications, but they aren’t pretty. A nuclear Iran could trigger a domino effect among Middle Eastern countries; should another Arab Spring occur, a failed state with a nuclear weapons cache is a frightening prospect.

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