In order to solve the most pressing problems of our time – from global health emergencies and the climate crisis to disruptive and potentially dangerous new technologies – we will need a new international infrastructure that enables cross-border cooperation. That’s the argument made by Ian Bremmer, chairman of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, in his new book “The Power of Crisis.”
Despite the challenges ahead, Bremmer says there are distinct reasons for optimism.
“Right now we’re in a very target-rich environment in terms of crises, and a lot of the biggest opportunities to make a difference in the way the world is run come from that,” he said in an interview. . with Marketplace’s David Brancaccio.
“When you think about climate change today, when you think about the pandemic today, you recognize that these are not national challenges. These are fundamentally global challenges – but in an environment where politics, both within our own country and globally, is so deeply dysfunctional. And it is the crises themselves that create the momentum needed to overcome these challenges.
The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
David Brancacio: Global health, climate, it’s in the news every day. But, just so people understand, your number three threat here – not ranked, but number three, here – is technological innovation. A threat, really?
Ian Bremmer: Yeah, disruptive technologies, because you can’t contain them. It’s not like nuclear proliferation. Whether it’s cyber threats, for example, or lethal autonomous drones, these are increasingly in the hands of rogue states and a small number of individuals. They can be extremely dangerous for the global economy and for all of us as individuals. And clearly, as an unresolved crisis, that would very quickly rise to the top of our list, so responding to that is extremely important.
Brancacio: Yeah, I mean, even on a national level, privacy and artificial intelligence are potentially crazy. So with that as a subject, I was surprised and delighted to see in your book the promise of some optimism. And, Ian, I know you’re no Pollyanna comrade, so what is the mysterious source of optimism that will help us solve these problems?
Bremer: Well, we know that over the last 20 years institutions, trust in elites has gone down and a lot of people are feeling a bit hopeless about that. And yet, right now, we’re in a very target-rich environment in terms of crises, and many of the greatest opportunities to make a difference in the way the world is run stem from that. Think of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – right now we have a State of the Union address where Democrats and Republicans are standing up and cheering Biden because they think Putin is a bigger threat than their opponents across the aisle. They didn’t think that before the invasion of Russia. Think of the Finns now and the Swedes soon to join NATO – we said it was brain dead, Macron said he was “brain dead” before the crisis. Now we have one, and now suddenly it’s no longer adrift, it actually has a purpose. Americans are more like policemen of the world, leaders with allies around the world in Europe and Asia. Why? Because of Vladimir Putin. It turns out that in an environment where there is a lot of boredom, people all over the world need to be challenged a little harder. And that’s something we’re seeing in response to a lot of these crises right now.
Brancacio: All right, some interesting examples, here in 2022, of people coming together, of cooperation across national barriers. And one of your inspirations is the cooperation between two people – one always with us, the other more. President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader. You never thought they would get together, but look what happened.
Bremer: Look what happened. The first time they met in Geneva, Reagan had asked Gorbachev – it was a bit of a strange question – he had said: “If we were attacked by aliens, you would defend us, wouldn’t you ?” And Gorbachev said, “Yes, of course.” And Reagan said, “Well, me too.” And the funny thing is that it was actually a watershed moment for arms control, for a world where we were facing weapons of mass destruction and where we had the Cuban Missile Crisis. And when you think about climate change today, when you think about the pandemic today, you recognize that these are not national challenges. These are fundamentally global challenges, but in an environment where politics, both within our own country and globally, is so deeply dysfunctional. And it is the crises themselves that create the momentum needed to overcome these challenges.
Brancacio: You point out that this cannot be driven by goodwill and good intentions alone. We may need a more international infrastructure?
Bremer: It’s not that we need more. We need them to be different. The reason our international institutions are working so badly right now is that they are outdated. United Nations Security Council Secretary-General António Guterres – a good friend of mine, back of the book – came out a few weeks ago and said it was broken. The Secretary-General has declared that the Security Council is broken. You know why? Because the Russians are ruled by a war criminal and they have a permanent vote. And the two countries most capable of making a difference in multilateralism aligned with the rule of law of the Charter of the United Nations cannot be made permanent members, because they lost the Second World War – Japan and Germany . That’s a really dumb reason, and it’s not reformable, and so that implies you need a new one. And when Trump got rid of NAFTA and created the USMCA, the Mexico-Canada agreement, that was one of the smartest things he did, because the old USMCA ‘NAFTA – which was a fantastic trade deal when we had it – at the time Trump became president didn’t even reflect 50% of our trade because it was mostly services and data. Well, that wasn’t the nature of business relationships 40 or 50 years ago, but it is now. And so you needed a new institution. That’s what we envision, globally. We don’t have an architecture to meet the challenges of artificial intelligence. You need a global data organization for that, the World Trade Organization won’t. We don’t have large organizations in place that allow us to respond to the pandemic. The WHO is far too small, far too weak. So you really have to create this architecture.
Brancaccio: So what triggers the actual process to do that? I mean, look, it starts with your book, but what, do we have to call a world conference or something?
Bremer: Well, the pandemic has made a big difference. Europe is much stronger coming out of the pandemic, as an EU, than it was, because it was recognized that it was so dangerous and damaging, economically, that the wealthy Germans , Danes and Dutch dipped into their pockets. And they actually provided a Marshall Plan to the Greeks, who they were going to kick out a decade before. And as a result, they have accumulated much more support for the EU. They also, all together, negotiated and bought vaccines, so that the poor countries and the rich countries all have them. It wasn’t because of my book, it’s because they recognize that COVID-19, you can’t respond to it as individual European nations. Climate change does that. And what is interesting is that the United States and China, the two largest emitters, are not the two leaders when it comes to responding to climate change. But many young people around the world are demanding this change. The banks decide that in 10 years we won’t make any more money if we invest in fossil fuels. So they walk away. And that, in turn, forces companies to make a difference. And the Europeans, and the Japanese, and the mayors and governors of the United States. And suddenly you have enough large-scale investments to see a path to a world, in the next generation, where the majority of our energy does not come from fossil fuels. It is an extraordinary thing to be able to say, and it is a consequence of this crisis.
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