The World of G-Zero
robably the most frequently-voiced complaint about the state of the world – and surely the one thing that virtually everyone agrees on, irrespective of ideology or nationality – is that there is a dire dearth of leadership. Every country feels that is has poor leaders, who fall far short of those of earlier generations – but also that its problem is by no means unique to it but, rather, is the global norm.
We in Israel have been treated to a massive dose of anti-leadership this week, and the weekend papers will certainly provide exhaustive analysis of the extraordinary shenanigans that went on in the first half of the week. But even those who believe that the Chinese are blessed with wise, far-sighted leaders who are guiding their country to global dominance – and, on the way, crushing underfoot the US and the rest of the West – have had this belief sorely tested by the Bo Xilai scandal, which has revealed the Chinese Communist leadership for what it is, namely a totally corrupt bunch of self-seeking, power-hungry autocrats. The leadership crisis that seems to be developing in Beijing should give pause to those Americans so convinced of the superiority of the Chinese elite over their own, but it probably won’t – because they are too mired in the mutual mud-slinging of American politics to pay attention.
A fascinating analysis of the global leadership problem is provided by Ian Bremmer, founder and CEO of a strategic consultancy company called Eurasia, in his new book, “Every Nation For Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World”. I must add, for the sake of full disclosure, that I do work with and for Eurasia, but Bremmer’s reputation is such that his book will do well with or without my recommendation. In any event, the book contains interesting and original ideas, of the sort that need to be thought over carefully before deciding whether to agree or disagree with them.
Bremmer’s main point is that the old world of the G-7 – the seven big industrialized countries, namely US, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Italy and Canada – is dead and buried. This became clear by the turn of the century, but the ned to recognize the changed world became unavoidable after the crash of 2008. That led former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin to conceive the idea of the G-20 – a much broader forum that includes the major developing countries, notably China and India. However, Bremmer scathingly dismisses this ‘solution’ as a method of co-ordinating answers to challenging global concerns, because 20 countries can never agree about anything.
More fundamentally, within the G-20, no one country is dominant. The US has lost its old position of dominance, in the opinion of many (but not Bremmer, or myself for that matter) for ever. China has not yet achieved a position of dominance and if it ever does, it won’t be for a good few years. Bremmer offers various scenarios of how global leadership may develop, from a “G-2” world in which America and China collaborate rather than confront each other, via an opposite “Cold War 2.0” in which they conduct a global rivalry, and regionalization of international politics, wherein every region has a local dominant power but only the US has a global presence.
The worst scenario in Bremmer’s spectrum is what he calls “G-subzero”, in which some or all powerful countries suffer from internal fragmentation, so that the ablity of national governments to actually govern is severely constrained. That scenario is plainly underway within several European countries and is quite plausible for China, Russia and maybe others.
But there is a much grimmer possibility, which is far from theoretical because the historical record shows it has happened and could therefore happen again. This is the period of the 1920’s, with all its frightening similarities to the decade or two preceding the crash of 2008. Then, too, the world experienced a severe leadership crisis, but the vacuum proved transient as it provided the opportunity for dark forces to emerge from the shadows and seize center stage.
In the inimitable words of Winston Churchill, describing in the first volume of his History of the Second World War the failure of the Weimar Republic in Germany: “For a spell [the German people] sought to cling as in desperation to the aged Marshall Hindenburg. Thereafter, mighty forces were adrift, the void was open and into that void strode a maniac of ferocious genius, the repository and expression of the most virulent hatreds that have ever corroded the human breast – Corporal Hitler”.