In Group Of Eight, A Lack Of Leadership?

This week's G-8 summit comes at a time when all of the member countries face tough economic and political problems. Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, questioned what the G-8 can accomplish in an article for ForeignPolicy.com. Host Scott Simon talks with Bremmer about whether the group still matters.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The world leaders at the G-8 Summit meet at a time of many urgent concerns, including the shaky world economy. But an article on ForeignPolicy.com says that the nations represented at the summit lack the power to lead right now, and questions what the G-8 can accomplish at this meeting or in the future. Ian Bremmer is the author of that article. His is the president of the Eurasia Group, an international consulting firm, and he joins us from New York. Mr. Bremmer, thanks for being with us.

IAN BREMMER: I'm very happy to join you.

SIMON: These leaders are the most powerful nations on earth. What do you think is missing?

BREMMER: Well, there is both a question of willingness on the part of the United States and there's a question of capacity on the part of everyone else. This is not the same world order that we have experienced coming out of World War II. And whether you're talking about a European crisis, where no one outside of Europe is going to write checks or civil war in Syria where no one's prepared to move Assad from power, or a global trade agreement or a climate summit, where nobody is actually going to drive the bus. This isn't a G-20 or a G-8; it's a G-Zero.

SIMON: Explain that phrase to us.

BREMMER: Well, when I say G-Zero, I'm talking about this group of - it's been a group of countries that really coming out of World War II were providing global leadership. That worked perfectly well for a number of decades, but over the last 30 years you had an underlying balance of power that was shifting away from the U.S. and towards China - away from the developed world and towards the developing world. And when the financial crisis hit in 2008, the underlying difference between the real balance of power and the leadership and architecture that we've relied on for more than half a century just cracked. And we could say that we were going to put together a G-20 to lead the world and to respond to the world's challenges but that was aspirational. The reality is that we're left with this G-Zero.

SIMON: You've written this article about - and I must say Americans aren't so accustomed to hearing this so often - China has, in your judgment, a lot of limitations on its leadership capacity.

BREMMER: They certainly do. The Chinese are overwhelmingly concerned about their need to fundamentally restructure their economic and political system towards a consumer-led economy. That's overwhelmingly distracting for the Chinese government. And while they're engaged in that, they're not about to spend a lot of money to bail out the Europeans. That's why they said no one. Sarkozy when to Hu Jintao and asked. And they're not about to send troops or even a lot of money into Afghanistan or Pakistan, even though that's quite close to their own sphere of influence. The Chinese have no desire to be what the United States calls a responsible stakeholder. Their response to that is you want us to act like a rich country but we're a poor country. We may become the world's largest economy but they will still be a fundamentally poor country.

SIMON: What about Europe? What about Japan?

BREMMER: I think it's pretty clear the Europeans are busy. They're in the middle of a profound, not only identity crisis, but, you know, more directly a fiscal crisis, which we're not going to see the back of anytime soon. Japan has had 17 prime ministers in 22 years. The economy is flat, at best. If the United States is not going to be the lender of last resort, if we're not going to be the world's policeman, it's very clear that no one else will.

SIMON: It occurs to me as we sit here discussing some of this that you're describing the kind of leadership that some people hope the United Nations would begin to symbolize.

BREMMER: They certainly did. And the United Nations ended up, unfortunately, being a more of a precursor for the G-20 than an organization that could actually provide real leadership. And for a very long time, we've had U.S.-led global leadership. We're done with that. We're no longer going to see U.S.-led global institutions. Going forward, we can either have U.S.-led institutions that aren't global or we can have global institutions that aren't U.S.-led. From the American perspective, the former is clearly preferable. That's the way we respond to climate. That's the way we respond to monetary policy. It's the way we response to cybersecurity as a challenge.

SIMON: Ian Bremmer is president of the Eurasia group and author of the new book, "Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World." Thanks very much for being with us.

BREMMER: Great to be with you.

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