Speaking at the Naval War College’s Current Strategy Forum this week, Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and author of the recently published “Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World,” argued that we are living through a period of “creative destruction” of the post-World War II global architecture. The problem, however, is that no single state currently possess the necessary preponderance of resources to be able to construct a new global system, as the U.S. was able to do in the aftermath of World War II.
This is not to argue that the United States has entered into a period of irreversible decline. Indeed, the other major power centers that are often presented as future peer competitors are experiencing their own shocks, from the eurozone crisis to economic stagnation in Japan to the protests rocking Russia to the formidable challenges that Xi Jinping and the “fifth generation” of leadership in China will have to confront. As a result, the United States is benefiting from the perception that it, like the dollar, remains a “safe haven.” But though the U.S. is still a superpower, its current fiscal and economic problems leave it in no position to finance a new global system or impose common standards on the nations of the world, the way it did in the postwar period by rebuilding Western Europe and East Asia and creating the institutional foundations that paved the way for globalization.
As for the possibility that the “international community” might play the collective role of system-enabler, Bremmer is pessimistic, as am I. He anticipates no significant outcomes from the upcoming G-20 summit, for instance, because there is simply no consensus among the participating states on how to cope with any of the problems topping the global agenda. No state, not even the United States, can impose its will on the rest, while all the major powers can exercise effective vetoes to torpedo action. The United Nations Security Council resolution that authorized the no-fly zone over Libya last year, once considered a possible model of great power cooperation, looks more and more like an outlier.