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The New World Disorder

The New World Disorder

By Kevin Sullivan - May 1, 2012

Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World
By Ian Bremmer
Portfolio, 240 pp., $26.95

"Developing countries," said then-president of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, "have the right to be heard. Bridging the gap that separates them from the rich countries is not only a matter of justice: The world's economic, social and political stability depends on this. It is our best contribution to peace."

This charge - coming not from some hereditary monarch or despot, but from the mouth of a popularly elected leader of one of the world's emerging powers - has become quite common in these early days of the 21st Century. As global economic crises and war have taken their toll on the Western world, the parts of the globe once relegated to non-alignment and perpetual development are now asking for their piece of the world's democratic pie. A post-World War II system now in tatters has left a large vacuum of power hanging over the globe. If the United States and its Western allies are no longer willing or able to lead, then who will?

In his latest book, "Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World," author and global risk analyst Ian Bremmer sets out to answer that very question. In a world where multilateral organizations such as the dysfunctional G-20 and the nearly defunct G-7/G-8 can't fill the leadership void left by the West, the globe finds itself in an indefinite period of transition. Where to, remains to be seen, and the time in-between, according to Bremmer, will be full of uncertainty, indecision and possibly conflict.

The dilemma is mostly one of timing. The powers that designed, implemented and - lest we forget - benefited from the system of free trade and democracy promotion are now weighing the benefits of global engineering and experimentation. Austerity is in vogue, and governments have become less willing to "pick up the check," so to speak. Leaders, Bremmer writes, pay the bills and make the sacrifices other nations are unwilling or unable to make; they set the global agenda and coordinate responses to transnational problems. For over half a century, this job belonged, in large part, to the United States - but no longer.

Meanwhile, emerging powers - such as Brazil, India and, arguably most important of all, China - are unwilling to take the reins and lead. "Many countries are now strong enough to prevent the international community from taking action, but none has the political and economic muscle to remake the status quo," argues Bremmer. Though this new world presents opportunities for several actors - pivot countries, he calls them - it leaves us with a more regional, multi-polar world order with no means to address serious transnational crises like climate change, nuclear proliferation, cybersecurity and food and water scarcity. On these matters, says Bremmer, "no one is driving the bus."

Regional hotspots also pose a challenge in the G-Zero world. Though localized organizations and alliances geared toward free trade and regional stability - such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Middle East, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Asia - have made progress in recent years, there's little evidence, suggests Bremmer, to believe that these organizations possess the unity of purpose, or even the means, to prevent territorial flare-ups or border disputes.

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Kevin Sullivan is editor of RealClearWorld.

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