G8 group photo (R) 311.
(photo credit: Reuters / Images)
Probably the most frequently-voiced complaint about the state of the world – and
surely the one thing that virtually everyone agrees on, irrespective of ideology
or nationality – is that there is a dire dearth of leadership.
country feels that is has poor leaders, who fall far short of those of earlier
generations; but also that its problem is by no means unique to it but, rather,
is the global norm.
We in Israel have been treated to a massive dose of
anti-leadership this week, and the weekend papers will certainly provide
exhaustive analysis of the extraordinary shenanigans that went on in the first
half of the week.
But even those who believe that the Chinese are blessed
with wise, far-sighted leaders who are guiding their country to global dominance
– and, on the way, crushing underfoot the US and the rest of the West – have had
this belief sorely tested by the Bo Xilai scandal, which revealed the Chinese
Communist leadership for what it is, namely a totally corrupt bunch of
self-seeking, power-hungry autocrats.
The leadership crisis that seems to
be developing in Beijing should give pause to those Americans so convinced of
the superiority of the Chinese elite over their own, but it probably won’t –
because they are too mired in the mutual mud-slinging of American politics to
A fascinating analysis of the global leadership problem is
provided by Ian Bremmer, founder and CEO of a strategic consultancy company
called Eurasia, in his new book, Every Nation For Itself: Winners and Losers in
a G-Zero World. I must add, for the sake of full disclosure, that I do work with
and for Eurasia, but Bremmer’s reputation is such that his book will do well
with or without my recommendation. In any event, the book contains interesting
and original ideas, of the sort that need to be thought over carefully before
deciding whether to agree or disagree with them.
Bremmer’s main point is
that the old world of the G-7 – the seven big industrialized countries, namely
the US, Japan, Germany, France, UK, Italy and Canada – is dead and buried. This
became clear by the turn of the century, but the need to recognize the changed
world became unavoidable after the crash of 2008. That led former Canadian prime
minister Paul Martin to conceive the idea of the G-20 – a much broader forum
that includes the major developing countries, notably China and
However, Bremmer scathingly dismisses this “solution” as a method
of coordinating answers to challenging global concerns, because 20 countries can
never agree on anything.
More fundamentally, within the G-20, no one
country is dominant. The US has lost its old position of dominance, in the
opinion of many (but not Bremmer, or myself for that matter) forever. China has
not yet achieved a position of dominance – and if it ever does, it won’t be for
a good few years.
Bremmer offers various scenarios of how global
leadership may develop, from a “G-2” world in which America and China
collaborate rather than confront each other, via an opposite “Cold War 2.0” in
which they conduct a global rivalry, and regionalization of international
politics, wherein every region has a local dominant power but only the US has a
The worst scenario in Bremmer’s spectrum is what he
calls “G-subzero,” in which some or all powerful countries suffer from internal
fragmentation, so that the ability of national governments to actually govern is
That scenario is plainly underway within several
European countries and is quite plausible for China, Russia, and maybe
But there is a much grimmer possibility, which is far from
theoretical because the historical record shows it has happened and could
therefore happen again. This is the period of the 1920s, with all its
frightening similarities to the decade or two preceding the crash of 2008. Then,
too, the world experienced a severe leadership crisis, but the vacuum proved
transient as it provided the opportunity for dark forces to emerge from the
shadows and seize center stage.
In the inimitable words of Winston
Churchill, describing in the first volume of his History of the Second World War
the failure of the Weimar Republic in Germany: “For a spell [the German people]
sought to cling as in desperation to the aged Marshall Hindenburg. Thereafter,
mighty forces were adrift, the void was open and into that void strode a maniac
of ferocious genius, the repository and expression of the most virulent hatreds
that have ever corroded the human breast – Corporal Hitler.”firstname.lastname@example.org