Opinion

Ian Bremmer

America’s relative rise

Ian Bremmer
Apr 19, 2013 16:27 UTC

Since midway through George W. Bush’s tenure, there’s been a steady hum from the pundit class that America’s best days are behind it. An overreaching foreign policy, rising public debt, and a growing wave of outsourced jobs means that America will soon lose its status as the world’s preeminent power. America was quickly on its way to becoming Rome.

But the American Decline is now over (if it ever really began in the first place).

Compared with other major powers, America’s future is looking brighter than before the financial crisis. The dollar remains remarkably attractive relative to other currencies. This resilience extends to American companies. In a March report, Goldman Sachs found that foreign investors owned a larger percentage of the U.S. equity market than at any time in the 68-year history of the study. The housing market is picking up, and dependence on foreign energy is falling.

Gridlock remains the order of the day in Washington, and Congress still has record-low approval ratings. But there are policy bright spots. Congress and the administration are not standing in the way of America’s energy revolution. The Keystone XL pipeline will likely be approved. The pipeline, along with the Obama administration’s emphasis on energy independence, helps strengthen the domestic economy.

On trade, the administration has managed to convince Japan to join Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. Should the trade consortium of countries ranging from the United States and Chile to Canada and Mexico to Singapore and Vietnam get off the ground, it will liberalize trade between members that represent nearly 40 percent of global GDP — and boost American trade and manufacturing. Then there is the nascent transatlantic equivalent that Obama mentioned in this year’s State of the Union. 

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Apr 12, 2013 16:02 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 

Baby milk rationing: Chinese fears spark global restrictions” – Celia Hatton, BBC News

What’s worse than glow-in-the-dark pork? The recent craze in subpar Chinese product safety standards is all about baby milk formula.

When hackers bully a bully: Anonymous vs Kim Jong-un

Ian Bremmer
Apr 11, 2013 15:16 UTC

For an American emissary looking to have an impact, there’s no better place to visit than North Korea. Most of the world is shut out of Kim Jong-un’s country, and the U.S. government has so few levers to influence policy that any American who finds his way in will make news.

That doesn’t mean the news will be good news. Former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt didn’t accomplish much during their January visit, and basketball carny Dennis Rodman was as embarrassing as one would expect. In North Korea, even tourists can make headlines: Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained in 2009 after filming refugees on the China-North Korea border. They became flashpoints in the U.S.-North Korean standoff because Pyongyang had nothing else to work with.

Unfortunately, the latest outsiders to insert themselves into the picture are hackers that answer to the name Anonymous, the group that became famous by mixing digital activism with clandestine revenge. Anonymous has begun a campaign against North Korea, crashing several North Korean websites, hacking North Korean social media accounts, and perhaps infiltrating North Korea’s intranet. Anonymous is promising more attacks to come. There is a chance for serious trouble here.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Apr 5, 2013 19:32 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

Is This a Pandemic Being Born?” – Laurie Garrett, Foreign Policy

In the past few weeks in China, we’ve seen over 15,000 dead animals pulled out of China’s polluted rivers, with vast distances between discoveries. Recently, three people have contracted a virus strain that previously did not affect humans. Explanations from government officials have been as murky as the polluted water itself. This piece doesn’t claim that we can draw a firm connection between these events… but it argues that we certainly cannot rule it out. 

Jobs Alone Do Not Explain the Importance of Manufacturing” – Scott Andes and Mark Muro, Brookings

New strings attached

Ian Bremmer
Apr 4, 2013 16:06 UTC

China’s influence in Africa goes so deep that African leaders are starting to shape their own agendas after China’s. In February 2012, South African President Jacob Zuma gave his “state of the nation” speech in Cape Town, but he might as well have been in Beijing. “For the year 2012 and beyond,” he said, “we invite the nation to join government in a massive infrastructure development drive.” By October, Zuma was vowing $100 billion in Chinese-style infrastructure investment to help create jobs. In welcoming Xi Jinping, China’s new president, to South Africa last month for a BRICS conference, Zuma gushed, “We view China’s success as a source of hope and inspiration.” Apparently, he also views China as a model for his country’s development.

The infatuation is mutual. Xi Jinping recently made his first major foreign diplomacy trip, choosing to go to Africa (after a brief visit to Moscow), stopping in Tanzania, South Africa and the Republic of Congo as he made the rounds of one of China’s most important regions for investment. After all, China’s foreign direct investment in Africa stood at less than $100 million in 2003; today, it’s more than $12 billion. China is already responsible for more than a quarter of all foreign investment in Africa — and commerce is still growing at a rapid clip.

At the BRICS summit in South Africa, Xi explained that African leaders need not worry that China is the same kind of benefactor as the U.S. “China will continue to offer, as always, necessary assistance to Africa with no political strings attached,” he said. Of course, there may not be political strings attached, but there are plenty of economic strings, and China is keen to pull them.

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.”

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

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