Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am


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Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World
by Ian Bremmer

The movie The Iron Lady is a nostalgic look at an age when strong leaders such as Britain's Margaret Thatcher could change the course of history. Now, few politicians command the same kind of power and support as she to push through unwelcome but necessary policies.

It is the same story of decline with international institutions such as the G7, once an essential platform for resolving global economic issues. Its members - France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, the United States and Canada - continue to account for nearly half of the world's nominal GDP. But when it comes to solving crises such as the Euro debt, the G7 seems increasingly irrelevant.

Now is the time of 'G-Zero', writes Ian Bremmer. For the first time in seven decades, the world is without global leadership, he argues. The US, once the world's policeman, has been weakened by its debt crisis and controversial military ventures overseas. Europe is likewise mired in debt which is crippling confidence in its institutions and its future. Japan is nursing the damage caused by last year's quake and nuclear disasters, along with long-standing problems of economic stagnation and an ageing population.

So, where is the world heading? This book attempts to provide an answer, using familiar arguments, well-known facts and sweeping generalisations. It may not provide many profound insights, but it is useful for those wanting to stretch their imagination as to the future.

Bremmer, who heads a risk research and consulting firm, says there is no single country or bloc with the political or economic leverage to drive a truly international agenda. The result is uncertainty and conflict over international economic co-ordination, financial regulatory reform, trade policy and climate change.

This G-Zero stage, as Bremmer describes it, may last for many years, a power vacuum that will benefit some governments, institutions and companies that can adapt to a leaderless world.

The winners include pivotal states such as Brazil and Turkey. Both are regional heavyweights that have built up profitable relationships with multiple countries without becoming overly reliant on any one of them.

Other winners include 'rogues with powerful friends': this category includes North Korea, Iran and Myanmar. All three have flouted international rules with support from allies with vested commercial and geopolitical interests.

Losers in the G-Zero world are the 'referees', the bodies that once served the dominant powers. One such is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the alliance of North America and western Europe forged to counter Soviet Europe. With the end of the cold war, its raison d'etre has vanished. Other losers are 'exposed states' such as Japan and Israel, which are dependent on US military strength.

As for China, the situation is mixed. With its growing economic muscle, it will be able to reshape international politics and the global economy. However, it faces many internal challenges.

Bremmer sketches several post-G-Zero scenarios. One is a G2 world, with the US and China sharing leadership, although that's unlikely to happen, he writes.

Instead, the most likely scenario is a world of regions, in which regional leaders provide some public good within their respective spheres of influence.