Ian Bremmer of Eurasia Group – a private firm that analyzes political risk – described in an interview what the receding of American projection of power means for the world, but especially for traditional ally, the United Kingdom. Interviewer Peter Foster of The Telegraph asserts in the article that the world has entered a “a new period of volatility” as China becomes more assertive and Russia threatens the borders of Western Europe. He asked Bremmer how should the UK respond to what he calls the “new American pragmatism” as the world’s only superpower turns inward. Bremmer is also a foreign affairs correspondent and editor-at-large at TIME magazine.
In “Superpower,” Bremmer described three courses for U.S. foreign policy: 1) underwriting global stability as it long has as an “indispensable” America; 2) the pursuance of narrow “moneyball” economic and security interests; 3) giving up on solving global problems as an “independent”, but seek to lead by example by bolstering internal security and prosperity. In his book, Bremmer pushed for the third and “problematic” option.
Speaking to Foster, Bremmer said “I went for ‘Independent’ because America needs a strategy that doesn't just last for three months or a year, but for a generation.” He opined that serving as a global policeman is increasingly difficult in a world where European leadership is lacking, the Mideast is exploding, China is rising, terrorist groups increasingly bold, and technology increasingly threatening. These challenges, said Bremmer, “undermine the power of nation states.”
The “moneyball” approach, said Bremmer, is problematic because the United States is not a corporation. While a business can go bankrupt should its ventures fail, the U.S. cannot afford to do so. Said Bremmer, “…I really do believe that America stands for a lot more than, ‘we're going to be like any other country’. I believe the values that the United States was created with actually do matter.”
If the U.S. were to pursue what Bremmer calls the “independent” approach, then it will become “too big to fail.” By creating a robust economy and democracy, the U.S. can force China into alignment. By attracting Chinese investment, said Bremmer, it will induce China to change its system to more resemble the American pattern.
He noted that more immigrants to the U.S. now come from China rather than Mexico. It is by educating China’s elites in the American system that China can become aligned. The Soviet Union, he said, was not defeated by the arms race but because the U.S. has a better system.
Nonetheless, Bremmer is not hopeful that China is on the brink of change. For the next decade, he believes that the world is facing profound and long-term geopolitical destruction. The U.S. must engage in policies to engage the next generation.
A disengagement by the U.S. from the world would not be good, said Bremmer, in a world of increasing instability. But engagement must not be “half-assed.” In a clear reference to President Barack Obama’s backing down from a declaration that Syrian President Bashr al-Assad would see retribution if he crossed an imaginary “red line,” Bremmer said “Engaging doesn't mean telling people you're going to engage and then screwing them over. It means really engaging. It doesn't mean setting a red line, and then backing off. And if you asked me if I believe it is credible right now to take big bets and tell the Europeans ‘we're really there for you', and the Japanese, 'we're really there for you', and the Gulf States 'we're really there for you', then the answer is ‘no’.” Bremmer also said that he doubts the current president and future presidents will get behind such engagement.
Bremmer admitted in the interview that intervention in the world by an “indispensable” America is increasingly unpopular among U.S. voters. Nonetheless, it is the U.S. that is the only power in the world capable of fixing the Mideast or create global structures. Americans, said Bremmer, are disillusioned with their leaders. “Americans have gotten disillusioned with the inauthenticity of their own leaders,” said Bremmer, who then cited the 2008 financial disaster, controversies over treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, and a coming $5 billion dollar election campaign featuring the familiar names Bush and Clinton.
For the UK, an isolated America means that the trans-Atlantic relationship that guaranteed world stability is now at an ebb. The UK is also retreating from defense spending. When asked whether the UK should now see itself as a middling power such as Norway, Bremmer said that it depends on the course of American foreign policy. “If America really does ‘indispensable’ then the Brits want to have your referendum on the EU as soon as possible.” This would mean that the UK would join with France and Germany to become stronger leaders, while also advancing the proposed TTIP transatlantic trade deal.”
However, should U.S. foreign policy continue along the lines of the incoherence of the Obama administration, then the UK should choose a more independent course. For example, said Bremmer, the UK could then decide to shy away from both Europe and the United States. Instead, the UK could foster closer relations with Russia and the Mideast. In the case of a “moneyball” approach by the U.S., Bremmer advised investing in good relations with the U.S. but not at the expense of harming relations with China, Germany, India, Saudi Arabia and others. Appeasing the Saudis, said Bremmer, would be especially useful since they are wealthy and have no friends. In addition, he recommended backing away from a geopolitical role for the UK. “Stop doing geopolitics,” he said, Be much more like the Germans. Say, 'we're not going to talk about the Dalai Lama, let's have a special relationship with the Chinese so we can focus on where our industrial and commercial relations can be more aligned’. Do the same thing with the Indians while you're at it. That's a very different choice for the Brits. But given what we are seeing right now in the United States I think it's a smart play.”
Bremmer raked the Obama administration over the coals for its strategic failures in the Far East. The one geopolitical constant in the world for more than 3 decades has been the rise of China, said Bremmer. The United States, which is a far greater power, has followed a “ludicrous” policy by not addressing China’s advance and by underestimating the Chinese.
As for the coming U.S. general election, Bremmer said that there may still be time left for the U.S. to make a difference. Should the U.S. decide to go by the “indispensable” route, the choice of Rand Paul over Marco Rubio, or Hillary Clinton over Jeb Bush, is important. However, Bremmer said that a danger greater than the current foreign policy incoherence would be that it would continue to be incoherent until another disaster along the lines of 9/11, “then the US will respond massively without a strategy in a world where the US is much weaker in terms of its influence.” Continuing on a path of incoherence, said Bremmer, could mean that despite a U.S. reaction to such an attack, the additional challenge posed by China may be more than it handle. “…That could be a hit that America doesn't come back from. That could really change the world order in a dangerous way. I don't think anyone is thinking about that - and that worries me.”