Opinion

Ian Bremmer

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Nov 7, 2013 17:12 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.

India, Myanmar, Thailand trilateral highway may start soon” – 

Chinese reform is coming, but not the political kind

Ian Bremmer
Nov 1, 2013 16:00 UTC

In a western democracy like the United States, we assume that the best time for a leader to accomplish something is in the first year of his first term. The election has just ended, the opposition is still scattered, and the legislative mandate is intact. Everybody still talks about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first 100 Days for a reason.

In authoritarian governments, like China’s, it’s supposed to be different. Steering such a large bureaucracy takes time, as all the moving pieces catch up with one another. What matters is minimizing risk surrounding the transfer of power, and then engaging in a slow buildup of consensus. And yet, Xi Jinping is proving the conventional wisdom wrong. After just six months at the helm, Xi is already clearly on track to accomplish far more than his predecessor Hu Jintao.

The constellation of China’s leadership left Xi Jinping with more room to maneuver upon taking office: the Politburo Standing Committee, the top brass in China’s government, was consolidated from nine members to seven. Over the next few months, Xi built up a track record of successful reforms. He has worked at overhauling the banking system and shaking out its bad loans. Through his anti-corruption efforts, he has increased the accountability for the leaders of state-owned enterprises and provincial leaders. He improved product safety and the environment by changing the reward structure for the people in charge and implementing air pollution regulations. We’ve also seen the establishment of a free trade zone in Shanghai.

Is this the end of the Iran status quo?

Ian Bremmer
Oct 25, 2013 14:22 UTC

Amidst the rubble of cynicism in Washington and the international community, there’s been one sign of hope for American foreign policy: the West’s negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear program. Remarkably, things seem to be shifting: diplomats have emerged from the latest round of negotiations emitting good vibes. The West’s crippling sanctions, led by the U.S., have worked.

But before we discuss what’s in flux, let’s recap what the status quo has been: the West, dubious of Iran’s vow that it is only investing in nuclear research and enrichment for energy and medical reasons, has set up a system of sanctions meant to choke the Iranian economy. The United States and Israel have tried to postpone Iran’s progress behind the scenes: the most significant example was 2010’s Stuxnet computer worm that damaged Iranian nuclear enrichment infrastructure. Meanwhile, Iran has responded with a stubborn march toward nuclear breakout capacity, and little willingness to negotiate. The sanctions, however, have begun to take a significant toll: sanctions have more than halved Iran’s crude exports since they tightened in mid-2012, cutting budget revenues by at least $35 billion a year. In Iran, we’ve seen massive inflation and black market demand for dollars.

To date, the range of possible outcomes have looked like a bell curve. We had a small, “fat tail” risk of the situation deteriorating and military strikes against Iran occurring (led by some combination of the United States and Israel). On the other end of the spectrum, we had an incredibly slim chance of a breakthrough deal that could peacefully keep Iran from going nuclear. The status quo — tightening sanctions and Iran’s slow movement toward nuclear breakout capacity — was the overwhelmingly likely occurrence.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Oct 22, 2013 15:42 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

Crunch time for the TPP—and for U.S. leadership in Asia” – Claude Barfield, East Asia Forum

In the wake of Obama’s absence at the APEC summit, what is the status of the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

The selfishness in Congress is far from over

Ian Bremmer
Oct 17, 2013 19:41 UTC

When I write about our new G-Zero world, I am describing an international phenomenon: a global environment in which no power or group of powers can sustainably set an international agenda. The global community, used to orienting itself around a collection of U.S.-led powers, has fallen victim to a widening leadership vacuum, what with the United States disengaging from foreign affairs and Europe too busy with its own crisis. Emerging powers like China have grown large enough to undermine a Western-led global agenda — but not yet developed enough to prioritize their own international role over their domestic concerns.

Every major power is too busy watching out for its own needs to focus on the bigger picture. As a result, the international community has been unable to make any progress on pressing crises like global warming, a civil war in Syria, or the rise of cyber warfare. A vacuum of leadership has led to a dearth of mutually beneficial planning.

What I did not expect was to see the G-Zero mentality bleed its way into American domestic politics. As we all breathe a sigh of relief in response to the U.S. averting self-destruction with an 11th hour budget deal, it’s important to put this “success” in context. First of all, how did things get so dire to begin with? Second, how likely are we to experience a sickening bout of déjà vu when the punted deadlines once again draw near?

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Oct 15, 2013 18:55 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

EU Immigration: Only the Rich Are Welcome” – Claus Hecking, Spiegel Online

It seems many EU countries have a new product to boost growth — entry into the EU itself. Today, Latvia offers the bargain rate, with a resident permit available for anyone who spends $96,500 on real estate in the country. A recent survey by the immigration department showed that less than a fifth of people taking part in the residence permit program are actually settling permanently in Latvia.

End the foreign policy shutdown

Ian Bremmer
Oct 11, 2013 16:55 UTC

Ever since the government shutdown began, various federal departments have been forced to furlough nonessential personnel. The specter of the United States’ first default in history has become a bargaining chip for American politicians. That has rankled the international community, and it only compounds the backlash we’ve seen recently in response to Obama’s flip-flopping on a Syria strike and the NSA surveillance revelations. It’s clear that international consternation is not enough of an incentive for the United States to change its behavior. As I wrote recently in this column, foreign policy simply isn’t a priority for the Obama administration.

Buffeted by the shutdown crisis and leery of the coming debt ceiling fight, Barack Obama canceled his trip to Asia last week, where he would have attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. Obama sent John Kerry in his stead to shake hands, dress in funny outfits, and engage in all the other usual hallmarks of a foreign convention of leaders. Obama was right to think that had he attended himself, the optics wouldn’t have worked in his favor. He would have looked distant and overly-casual to the crises at home if he were in Bali glad-handing with foreign leaders. But the point is not whether Obama made the right decision to cancel — he did — but whether he made the best decision possible. He could have done more, which we’ll get to in a bit. But instead of thinking creatively, the administration checked down to the obvious decision and simply sent Kerry.

What’s at stake at the APEC conference? The validity of America’s “pivot to Asia,” a hallmark of the administration’s first term, and a strategy that was beginning to succeed in the region. As the New York Times wrote earlier this week, without the U.S. at the APEC conference, it’s China’s stage. And that’s a problem when the United States is in the middle of trying to negotiate and complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is the most important trade agreement on the world agenda right now; should all the countries in discussions join, its members would constitute almost 40 percent of world GDP — a coalition of more than a dozen of the most important Pacific powers. The deal would liberalize trade, foster more market access for U.S. firms in the region, and serve a deeper geopolitical purpose: it would give the U.S. a larger stake in regional stability. In other words, the agreement would put American skin in the game and confirm the Asia pivot, as likeminded countries try to hedge against the rise of a Chinese-led system that is not in accordance with their norms and standards.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Oct 7, 2013 18:10 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 Rise of the Rest of India: How States Have Become the Engines of Growth” – Ruchir Sharma, Foreign Affairs

With 1.2 billion people, 34 officially recognized languages (and only 40 percent of citizens speaking a dialect of Hindi), India often seems like more of a continent than a country. Could the diversity between states yield economic advantages?

In pursuit of American humility

Ian Bremmer
Oct 4, 2013 16:43 UTC

This week, as Washington navel-gazed its way into a shutdown, its actions didn’t go unnoticed abroad. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, took the opportunity to gloat about the U.S.’s refusal to pay its federal workers, many of whom are on furlough because of the shutdown. “We are now witnessing the crisis in the U.S. We have never been a government that could not pay its personnel,” Erdogan said.

This is how America’s dysfunction at home is undermining its credibility abroad. The latest development: Obama’s desire to maintain laser focus on the Republicans for political gain has prompted him to cancel a pivotal trip to Asia to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. But it’s not just the shutdown: it is a series of issues over the past decade, chief among them the financial crisis. For decades the U.S. had been espousing the virtues of free market capitalism, urging other countries to adopt the model. America’s exceptional economic success, the thinking went, allowed it to give advice about how other countries should build their own economies.

And then the bottom fell out. The crisis, spurred by lax regulations that were manipulated by the big banks, started in the United States, before its impact spread globally. An unemployment and debt crisis soon followed. So did a rush to rethink the way countries handle their economies. With the free-market system no longer sacrosanct, countries with other approaches were happy to second-guess the system. China’s state capitalist model became a viable alternative as it navigated the financial crisis much better than most. I’ll never forget my meeting with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei in 2009, when he asked me outright, “Now that the free market has failed, what do you think is the proper role for the state in the economy?” The financial crisis was an opportunity to reopen the debate surrounding perceived global values — and to kick the U.S. system while it was down.

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?

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