Book Review: Ian Bremmer, Every Nation For Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World

By Ben Moles

A version of the below was first published by the Australian Army Journal and can be accessed here.

In Every Nation For Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World Ian Bremmer, President and founder of the political risk research and consultancy firm Eurasia Group, offers an insightful overview and useful guide for the general reader and armchair enthusiast of international affairs as to what he perceives being a fundamental challenge to the extant international system and explores the implications this will have on an uncertain future- a G-Zero World.

G-Zero

Bremmer’s thesis paints a rather bleak realist portrait of an anarchic global environment and international system that over the next decade, and perhaps slightly beyond, will be problematically characterised by: a deficit in (US) global leadership; a lack of cooperation between states; and Institutional paralysis within major Global Institutions, in a world which at the same time will be marked by a shift in the nature of threats likely to face states, the emergence and rise of, predominantly, non-traditional security challenges that like globalization will transcend international borders. In essence, this is the world of the international relations realist, this is Every nation for itself.

Bremmer predicts that the problems inherent within the uncertain transformations of the current international system, an absence of (US) leadership being paramount and inability to cooperate being secondary, is likely to have a greater impact on the severity, magnitude and effects felt originating from these emerging non-traditional security challenges. In stark contrast to stability of the post World War II US led Western liberal international world order we have known up to this point, he contends, this will be a G-Zero World in a state of “tumultuous change”. Yet, what will inevitably be viewed as risks by some countries, companies and organisations will present opportunities for others; ultimately, choice, he asserts, is the key that will separate the Winners and Losers within it.

Every Nation For Itself is structured into six chapters and follows a progressive line of argument commencing with an explanation as to exactly what Bremmer’s concept of the G-Zero is. The second details a slightly long winded history of how we arrived at the G-Zero beginning at the end of World War II. The third assesses the impact of the G-Zero on diverse set of issues ranging from the global market and interstate/intrastate conflict to climate change and natural resource security before progressing to the fourth, highlighting what this will all mean for and how this will determine the Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World. For this reader, the most interesting chapter is the fifth, that asks ‘What comes Next?’ proposing, examining and evaluating four ‘likely’, plus one ‘wild card’, future scenarios that stem from it, concluding a fragmented ‘world of regions’ most likely. The sixth and final Chapter ‘G-Zero America’ is unquestionably aimed at the intended target audience of this book; those in the US, in particular those walking the corridors of power and a wider ‘Western’ audience more generally.

The message of this book is quite clear. Almost drawing a direct parallel to the choice the US was left facing at the end of World War II between “retreating into isolationism or expanding its power abroad” Bremmer subtly alludes to the point that yet again the US stands at a crossroad, but ‘Invictus’ style reassures the reader that the US is master of its fate, that, to quote Thomas Paine, “We [the US] have it in our power to begin the world over again”.

As enjoyable a read as Every Nation For Itself is there are a few criticisms worthy of mention. Firstly: Bremmer adopts a slightly romanticised, or at least extremely US centric view regarding both the success and benevolence of US global leadership/stewardship and the achievements of International Institutions/cooperation; neither of which particularly detracts from the quality of the analysis overall.

Nevertheless, following this point is a subsequent criticism. Because of the US centric view he takes, the main premise of the argument seems that at the heart of the problem (an inability to cooperate in face of emerging non-traditional security challenges) is a deficit in (US) leadership and that there in can lie its solution too. However, this argument could very easily be turned on its head: the key change isn’t necessarily a decline in (US) leadership exacerbating these challenges but the very different nature of these emerging non-traditional security challenges themselves (within a globalised environment), impacting on and leaving the concept of (US) leadership moribund.

Finally, the main criticism: In his introduction to the book Bremmer qualifies “This book is not about the decline of the West. America and Europe have overcome adversity before…Nor is this book about the rise of China and other emerging-market players.” However, this theme slowly but, as the book progresses, surely permeates from the pages so obviously that it makes the reader question the inclusion of the statement to the contrary at all to begin with. Despite protestations otherwise this book, all be it questioning off, is in fact thematically addressing the question surrounding the decline of the US and the rise of China.

Every Nation For Itself is an easy read and the argument is coherent, straightforward and simple to follow, this certainly isn’t a book furnished with scholarly terminology in which a degree in International Relations or Economics is a necessary pre-requisite. In recommending this book, I would add that in supplement and complementary to it, for those who have had their interest whetted by the themes Bremmer explores but are left wanting more, one should also refer to the US National Intelligence Council’s publication ‘Global Worlds 2030: Alternative Worlds’.

Ben Moles holds a Masters in International Security from the University of Sydney and is currently working for the British Foreign Office. He can be contacted at bwmoles@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bwmoles

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