Back

It really is the end of the world as we know it…

The Telegraph
21 November 2016
Flag
Ian Bremmer on the end of the Pax Americana, and what comes next

The following is an interview with Ian Bremmer by Peter Foster, Europe Editor at The Telegraph. Find the original piece here.

The so-called 'Pax Americana' that delivered 70 years of peace and rising prosperity after the end of the Second World War has been fraying for over a decade as globalisation, the rise of China and the emergence of a revanchist Russia forces a re-ordering of global institutions. But 2016 has seen a dramatic acceleration in the unravelling of that old world order.

The election of Donald Trump, the UK vote for Brexit and surging populist movements all over Europe has left fresh clouds of uncertainty hanging over the future of a Western-backed world.

Here Ian Bremmer, the US political scientist who coined the phrase “G-Zero” to describe a world without any clear global leadership, speaks exclusively to Peter Foster, our Europe Editor, about the challenges ahead, and how the West can rise to meet them.

People feel that with Brexit, and now the election of Donald Trump that the 'sky is falling in' – how worried do we need to be?

From an international perspective, we should be very worried. It's the end of Pax Americana – the G-Zero has been a long-time coming, and now it's officially here.  One of the best things about being a superpower is that no one can do as much injury to you as you can do to yourself. That's also one of the worst things.

We saw this with the massive overreaction to 9/11, and how much it hurt the US in the eyes of the rest of the world. Somehow, we managed to outdo ourselves this election cycle and the selection of Donald Trump.

It's clear that the US doesn't have the international credibility it once had. Compounding that is that American voters no longer want to be the global policeman, the architect of global trade or the cheerleader of global values.

Problem is, no one else can play that role. So if Americans don't do it, no one will.  The great irony in all this is that the world is actually doing better than it ever has. Since 1990, we've lifted 1.3 billion people out of extreme poverty.

For the first time ever, less than 10 per cent of the global population lives in extreme poverty. Think about that – it's the biggest accomplishment of humanity, ever.

Much of that has to do with technology, which provided us with the extraordinary and unprecedented resources to fix these problems. But now the question has shifted from “do we have the tools to make the world a better place” to “will our politics allow us to make the world a better place?” It's not just a critical question; it's the critical question.
 
How much of Obama's legacy can survive – the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Iran deal, the Russian sanctions, the strengthening of Nato in Europe? And which bits are the most important to preserve?

I'll be honest—from where I'm standing, Obama's foreign policy legacy was already in shambles. He didn't get the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal done, which would have made a big difference.

The Paris Agreement was already too late and too little by the time it arrived… and now Trump now gets to unwind it entirely. The “Russia Reset” was largely a failed policy (arguably even his biggest), and now Trump gets to waltz in and show how great friends he is with the Russians.

Under Obama's watch, the US-Europe relationship deteriorated to its weakest point in 70 years. And Nato hardly got any stronger during Obama's leadership.

Still, some things will stick. The Iran deal is real, and if Trump tries to unravel it, he's going to be doing it alone… allies aren't following suit. That includes Russia, who helped negotiate the deal in the first place.

Going forward, maintaining the Transatlantic alliance and the “pivot” to Asia are the most important foreign policy objectives left to preserve. But they're both exceptionally weak at the end of Obama's administration, and both look to deteriorate further under Trump.

If Marine Le Pen wins the French presidential election is that the “end of the EU” as one official recently described it to me? Would Sarkozy be any better?

No, the EU could still serve an important role despite a Le Pen victory this spring. But the grand ambition that comes from an overarching, supranational identity that would bind values and rule of law together, that will be all but over.

We've already begun to see it with the rise of populism across plenty of EU member states, but a Le Pen victory would drive that stake in further.

How dangerous for global stability is the recent Russian cyber-intervention into the US election?

By itself, not that dangerous given that Trump ended up winning the election. Had Hillary Clinton won, it would be a lot more destabilizing since it would actively deteriorate Washington-Moscow relations.

More broadly speaking, the precedent of forced transparency continues to grow and undermine the central power of governments across the world, and is particularly dangerous for those weaker and more brittle institutions around the world.

What is the risk that a Trump administration starts to remove the US from the global architecture of economy and trade?

The US remains the largest global economy and has outsized weight accordingly. It's an extremely attractive market for foreign investors, and that won't be changing anytime soon. But the US won't be playing the role of trade architect anymore, that's for certain.

So we're going to continue to see the architecture of global trade fragment even further under a Trump administration. We're also going to see American allies hedge faster away from the US over the next 4-to-8 years. And not just towards allies far afield like in Asia – Canada looks poised to be a particularly large beneficiary…

What are the biggest centrifugal forces in world affairs at the moment, in your view?

1. Populism empowered by technology. A global phenomenon, but with particular traction in the US and Europe.

2. Erosion of the social safety net. Undermines the legitimacy of established institutions, particularly for centralized state governments.

3. The continued rise of China, along with its alternative economic rule set, principles and priorities.

4. The continued rise of Putin (and simultaneous decline of Russia), along with his alternative security rule set, principles and priorities.

Russia has made the United Nations look utterly impotent over Syria. John Bolton, who loathes the UN, is a key Trump adviser. What hope for António Guterres when he takes over as UN Secretary-General?

It's going to get harder, no doubt about that. I sat down for dinner with Antonio literally the night after the US election. Trump ran a campaign directly against globalism – and given that the UN is the embodiment of globalism (albeit an imperfect one), the incoming UN Secretary-General recognizes that this directly affects his agenda.

Budgets are likely to get slashed, and the climate agenda will get undermined at every turn. We aren't heading for good times on the multilateralism front. China launched its own answer to the World Bank, the Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) which was welcomed by Britain, but initially rebuffed by the Obama administration.

Should we welcome the AIIB, as part of the regionalising of global finance, which arguably should make it more resilient, or are we witnessing the Balkanization of global financial structures?

Given that wishing it away isn't going to work at this point, the West should welcome it. There's a reason they coined the phrase “if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.”

The West should want the AIIB to succeed, and should work with it to have influence over its direction from within.

If TPP and TTIP are dead ducks in a 'Trumpiverse', then what next for world trade?

World trade will become much more fragmented and driven by alternative actors than the ones we're accustomed to. We're already seeing that the real money and global strategy right now is being driven by Beijing.

China is soon to be the world's largest economy, and will do so while being authoritarian and state capitalist. That's unprecedented. It's also the end of the global free market…and the beginning of a hybrid global economy.

You've talked about the urgent need for the IMF to 'get political' and 'develop a political mandate'? What does that mean? Where could it make a difference in practice?

I feel very strongly we are experiencing an unwinding of the geopolitical order that we have all grown used to and critical organisations that are part of the fabric of that architecture – like the IMF, the UN, the WTO – are going to be under a lot of pressure.

If they are going to get it right, not only are they going to have to engage with actors who are not really aligned with them as much as they would like, but they are also going to have to address the roots of the current problems which are not only economic, but political.

The IMF has historically not had that political mandate but they need it now because it will determine whether or not they are successful. They need a voice, or they will suffer death by a thousand cuts. The arrival of Trump in the White House the perfect moment to establish their independence and credibility.

How much blame should Obama shoulder for the implosion of the Pax Americana – I'm thinking particularly of his decision to essentially allow a sectarian controlled-burn in the Middle East, sparking a refugee crisis and raising questions about US commitment to underwriting global order?

To be honest, the end of Pax Americana has more to do with structural factors than anything else. The energy revolution is undermining the Middle East; Europe is dealing with its own succession of crises and teeters on the edge of fragmentation; China is rising as an alternative economic force; Russia is rising as an alternative military force.

True, Obama didn't help stop these developments much, but they were coming either way. Trump is simply the nail in the coffin of the Pax Americana era.

You've talked about the need to re-write the social contract, given the populist rejection of the establishment. What does that mean in practice?

In practice, it means that the middle and working classes will have to feel like their governments are legitimate and responding to their need. That means funding functioning infrastructure, health care, and education; it means providing the feeling that there are opportunities in the future.

So either we see serious redistribution and spending to make that happen… or we have to accept a permanent disenfranchised population that gets walled off and/or revolts.

How important is the rise of the robots and the so-called 'third' industrial revolution to the current erosion of global order?

The rise of the robots is critical, and it's been driving a lot of the populism/protectionism sentiment in the US and Europe. And it's going to hit emerging markets next. And let's be honest; AI [Artificial Intelligence] and robotics have the potential to upend society to a staggering degree, taking labor out of the capital equation for lots of actors.

The only thing worse that having a job that doesn't pay you a decent wage is not having a job at all.

Lastly, you have observed that "things/processes/technology tend to be globalising, it's the people that aren't" - given that the march of technology cannot be stopped, what can be done for the people?

As I wrote above, this is the social safety net question. If you are a defender of globalisation, you also need to be a defender of the people globalisation is displacing. Otherwise it will never work. If you didn't believe that before, 2016 should convince you otherwise.

This interview was originally published by The Telegraph here.
publications_detail.inc
Searching...