Ian Bremmer: How the US should use its superpower status (Video/Transcript)

When you come to TEDx, you always think about technology, the world changing, becoming more innovative. You think about the driverless. Everyone's talking about driverless cars these days, and I love the concept of a driverless car, but when I go in one, you know, I want it really slow, I want access to the steering wheel and the brake, just in case. I don't know about you, but I am not ready for a driverless bus. I am not ready for a driverless airplane.

How about a driverless world? And I ask you that because we are increasingly in one.

It's not supposed to be that way. We're number one, the United States is large and in charge. Americanization and globalization for the last several generations have basically been the same thing. Right? Whether it's the World Trade Organization or it's the IMF, the World Bank, the Bretton Woods Accord on currency, these were American institutions, our values, our friends, our allies, our money, our standards. That was the way the world worked.

So it's sort of interesting, if you want to look at how the US looks, here it is. This is our view of how the world is run. President Obama has got the red carpet, he goes down Air Force One, and it feels pretty good, it feels pretty comfortable. Well, I don't know how many of you saw the China trip last week and the G20. Oh my God. Right? This is how we landed for the most important meeting of the world's leaders in China. The National Security Advisor was actually spewing expletives on the tarmac -- no red carpet, kind of left out the bottom of the plane along with all the media and everybody else.

Later on in the G20, well, there's Obama.


Hi, George. Hi, Norman. They look like they're about to get into a cage match, right? And they did. It was 90 minutes long, and they talked about Syria. That's what Putin wanted to talk about. He's increasingly calling the shots. He's the one willing to do stuff there. There's not a lot of mutual like or trust, but it's not as if the Americans are telling him what to do.

How about when the whole 20 are getting together? Surely, when the leaders are all onstage, then the Americans are pulling their weight. Uh-oh.


Xi Jinping seems fine. Angela Merkel has -- she always does -- that look, she always does that. But Putin is telling Turkish president Erdogan what to do, and Obama is like, what's going on over there?

You see. And the problem is it's not a G20, the problem is it's a G-Zero world that we live in, a world order where there is no single country or alliance that can meet the challenges of global leadership. The G20 doesn't work, the G7, all of our friends, that's history. So globalization is continuing. Goods and services and people and capital are moving across borders faster and faster than ever before, but Americanization is not.

So if I've convinced you of that, I want to do two things with the rest of this talk. I want to talk about the implications of that for the whole world. I'll go around it. And then I want to talk about what we think right here in the United States and in New York.

So why? What are the implications. Why are we here? Well, we're here because the United States, we spent two trillion dollars on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were failed. We don't want to do that anymore. We have large numbers of middle and working classes that feel like they've not benefited from promises of globalization, so they don't want to see it particularly. And we have an energy revolution where we don't need OPEC or the Middle East the way we used to. We produce all that right here in the United States. So the Americans don't want to be the global sheriff for security or the architect of global trade. The Americans don't want to even be the cheerleader of global values.

Well, then you look to Europe, and the most important alliance in the world has been the transatlantic relationship. But it is now weaker than it has been at any point since World War II, all of the crises, the Brexit conversations, the hedging going on between the French and the Russians, or the Germans and the Turks, or the Brits and the Chinese.

China does want to do more leadership. They do, but only in the economic sphere, and they want their own values, standards, currency, in competition with that of the US. The Russians want to do more leadership. You see that in Ukraine, in the Baltic states, in the Middle East, but not with the Americans. They want their own preferences and order. That's why we are where we are.

So what happens going forward? Let's start easy, with the Middle East.


You know, I left a little out, but you get the general idea. Look, there are three reasons why the Middle East has had stability such as it is. Right? One is because there was a willingness to provide some level of military security by the US and allies. Number two, it was easy to take a lot of cheap money out of the ground because oil was expensive. And number three was no matter how bad the leaders were, the populations were relatively quiescent. They didn't have the ability, and many didn't have the will to really rise up against.

Well, I can tell you, in a G-Zero world, all three of those things are increasingly not true, and so failed states, terrorism, refugees and the rest. Does the entire Middle East fall apart? No, the Kurds will do better, and Iraq, Israel, Iran over time. But generally speaking, it's not a good look.

OK, how about this guy? He's playing a poor hand very well. There's no question he's hitting above his weight. But long term -- I didn't mean that. But long term, long term, if you think that the Russians were antagonized by the US and Europe expanding NATO right up to their borders when we said they weren't going to, and the EU encroaching them, just wait until the Chinese put hundreds of billions of dollars in every country around Russia they thought they had influence in. The Chinese are going to dominate it. The Russians are picking up the crumbs. In a G-Zero world, this is going to be a very tense 10 years for Mr. Putin.

It's not all bad. Right? Asia actually looks a lot better. There are real leaders across Asia, they have a lot of political stability. They're there for a while. Mr. Modi in India, Mr. Abe, who is probably about to get a third term written in in the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan, of course Xi Jinping who is consolidating enormous power, the most powerful leader in China since Mao. Those are the three most important economies in Asia. Now look, there are problems in Asia. We see the sparring over the South China Sea. We see that Kim Jong Un, just in the last couple of days, tested yet another nuclear weapon. But the leaders in Asia do not feel the need to wave the flag, to go xenophobic, to actually allow escalation of the geopolitical and cross-border tensions. They want to focus on long-term economic stability and growth. And that's what they're actually doing.

Let's turn to Europe. Europe does look a little scared in this environment. So much of what is happening in the Middle East is washing up quite literally onto European shores. You see Brexit and you see the concerns of populism across all of the European states.

Let me tell you that over the long term, in a G-Zero world, European expansion will be seen to have gone too far. Europe went right up to Russia, went right down to the Middle East, and if the world were truly becoming more flat and more Americanized, that would be less of a problem, but in a G-Zero world, those countries nearest Russia and nearest the Middle East actually have different economic capabilities, different social stability and different political preferences and systems than core Europe. So Europe was able to truly expand under the G7, but under the G-Zero, Europe will get smaller. Core Europe around Germany and France and others will still work, be functional, stable, wealthy, integrated. But the periphery, countries like Greece and Turkey and others, will not look that good at all.

Latin America, a lot of populism, made the economies not go so well. They had been more opposed to the United States for decades. Increasingly, they're coming back. We see that in Argentina. We see it with the openness in Cuba. We will see it in Venezuela when Maduro falls. We will see it in Brazil after the impeachment and when we finally see a new legitimate president elected there. The only place you see that is moving in another direction is the unpopularity of Mexican president Peña Nieto. There you could actually see a slip away from the United States over the coming years. The US election matters a lot on that one, too.


Africa, right? A lot of people have said it's going to be Africa's decade, finally. In a G-Zero world, it is absolutely an amazing time for a few African countries, those governed well with a lot of urbanization, a lot of smart people, women really getting into the workforce, entrepreneurship taking off. But for most of the countries in Africa, it's going to be a lot more dicey: extreme climate conditions, radicalism both from Islam and also Christianity, very poor governance, borders you can't defend, lots of forced migration. Those countries can fall off the map. So you're really going to see an extreme segregation going on between the winners and the losers across Africa.

Finally, back to the United States. What do I think about us? Because there are a lot of upset people, not here at TEDx, I know, but in the United States, my God, after 15 months of campaigning, we should be upset. I understand that. But a lot of people are upset because they say, "Washington's broken, we don't trust the establishment, we hate the media." Heck, even globalists like me are taking it on the chin.

Look, I do think we have to recognize, my fellow campers, that when you are being chased by the bear, in the global context, you need not outrun the bear, you need to only outrun your fellow campers.


Now, I just told you about our fellow campers. Right? And from that perspective, we look OK. A lot of people in that context say, "Let's go dollar. Let's go New York real estate. Let's send our kids to American universities." You know, our neighbors are awesome: Canada, Mexico and two big bodies of water. You know how much Turkey would love to have neighbors like that? Those are awesome neighbors.

Terrorism is a problem in the United States. God knows we know it here in New York. But it's a much bigger problem in Europe than the US. It's a much bigger problem in the Middle East than it is in Europe. These are factors of large magnitude. We just accepted 10,000 Syrian refugees, and we're complaining bitterly about it. You know why? Because they can't swim here. Right? I mean, the Turks would love to have only 10,000 Syrian refugees. The Jordanians, the Germans, the Brits. Right? That's not the situation. That's the reality of the United States.

Now, that sounds pretty good. Here's the challenge. In a G-Zero world, the way you lead is by example. If we know we don't want to be the global cop anymore, if we know we're not going to be the architect of global trade, we're not going to be the cheerleader of global values, we're not going to do it the way we used to, the 21st century is changing, we need to lead by example -- be so compelling that all these other people are going to still say, it's not just they're faster campers. Even when the bear is not chasing us, this is a good place to be. We want to emulate them.

The election process this year is not proving a good option for leading by example. Hillary Clinton says it's going to be like the '90s. We can still be that cheerleader on values. We can still be the architect of global trade. We can still be the global sheriff. And Donald Trump wants to bring us back to the '30s. He's saying, "Our way or the highway. You don't like it, lump it." Right? Neither are recognizing a fundamental truth of the G-Zero, which is that even though the US is not in decline, it is getting objectively harder for the Americans to impose their will, even have great influence, on the global order.

Are we prepared to truly lead by example? What would we have to do to fix this after November, after the next president comes in? Well, either we have to have another crisis that forces us to respond. A depression would do that. Another global financial crisis could do this. God forbid, another 9/11 could do that. Or, absent crisis, we need to see that the hollowing out, the inequality, the challenges that are growing and growing in the United States, are themselves urgent enough to force our leaders to change, and that we have those voices. Through our cell phones, individually, we have those voices to compel them to change.

There is, of course, a third choice, perhaps the most likely one, which is that we do neither of those things, and in four years time you invite me back, and I will give this speech yet again.

Thank you very, very much.


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