Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Ian Bremmer

The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Ian Bremmer, founder of Eurasia Group.

Read excerpts from the interview below.

Clemons: What equities do you think are at stake today?

ADVERTISEMENT

Bremmer: Until we have a vaccine that is proven to work and is distributed around the world, we're not going to have the global economy coming back to the way it was. I think the impact of that, even though we're going to see a fairly robust short-term rebound here in the United States, in terms of jobs, it doesn't get you back close to where you were. I think it's adequate and appropriate to describe this as the first depression we've had since the Great Depression, much bigger an impact than 2008, 2009. On top of that, you have no international coordination or leadership. It's why I call it GZERO World. It's the lack of geopolitical alignment, and that plays out both in terms of the growing confrontation directly between the world's two largest economies, the United States and China. But also, in the vaccine nationalism as we search for a cure, the a lack of coordination, the lack of coordination on medical supply chain or on test kits and, of course, also the lack of legitimacy of domestic political institutions all over the democratic world. Here in the United States, in Brazil, across Europe, you're seeing so much social discord, some of which, of course, is becoming violent. Yes, in the middle of a pandemic. So, I mean, if we could just respond to the pandemic, if the whole world says, like in 2008, 2009, “Oh my God, we've got a financial crisis. We should all respond to that. Make sure it doesn't become a depression.” You would feel like that would be a serious problem, but you could get your arms around it. The problem is that we have the largest crisis, largest shock to the global economy of your and my lifetimes, Steve. And the response is not only wholly inadequate and uncoordinated, but indeed it's touching off a number of additional confrontations.

 

Clemons: Do you worry that America is tipping toward being more like China?

Bremmer: Certainly, China is not becoming more like the United States. For the last 30 years, the big thing that the American foreign policy establishment got wrong, I mean, almost to a man, I use the gendered term of that advisedly, is that China, as it gets wealthier, would look more like the United States they'd become responsible stakeholders, they want to join our institutions, would align more with our values. They would jettison state capitalism, and they would become more of a free-market economy. They would even be politically liberalized. None of that has happened. And indeed, you could certainly make the argument that if you look at the trends in technology, where it's less about the communications revolution, the worldwide internet, instead about surveillance and the increasing influence that a small number of super-empowered corporations aligned increasingly with the U.S. government have, that will allow us to get back on our feet and be a much more dominant power again as we get out of the coronavirus crisis. … I don't think that the U.S. political system is becoming authoritarian. … But on the economic side, in the role of the government, you could argue that the Americans were becoming more like China than the Chinese are becoming like the United States.

 

Clemons: How much is Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDavis: Supreme Court decision is bad news for Trump, good news for Vance Meadows trying to root out suspected White House leakers by feeding them info: Axios Pressley hits DeVos over reopening schools: 'I wouldn't trust you to care for a house plant let alone my child' MORE on the right side of the equation when it comes to critiquing China and the WHO?

Bremmer: He is absolutely on the right side of the equation in his critique of China; he is absolutely on the wrong side of the equation in his critique of the WHO. Fortunately, Trump can't actually leave. It requires a year. It's like the Paris climate accord. So, he makes this huge announcement, and in reality, it doesn't move the needle very much. The U.S. would also have to pay its arrears to the WHO before it could leave. It's kind of like the U.K. leaving the EU. So, the devil's in the details on this stuff. If Biden actually wins, WHO relationship continues as it has been. But the WHO is a weak organization, and it is weak by structural design. It does not criticize its donor states. So, when the Chinese are not being transparent with the WHO, the WHO tries to get data from China, but when they fail, they don't criticize China. By the way, when the WHO knows that the United States doesn't have test kits that work, they don't criticize the United States. Would have saved a lot of lives if they had, but they can't. The U.S. is a major donor. … Now the fact that it's weak by design and all of the donor states have been complicit in that — I'd love a stronger WHO, we ain’t getting one. But as Donald Rumsfeld might have said, “You fight a pandemic with the WHO you have, not the WHO you want.” And the idea that you would try to weaken the WHO in the middle of a fricking pandemic is insane on its face. So no, Trump is really wrong about that. But in terms of China, it is very clear in this AP study that just came out, an investigation adds to that, it's very clear that the lab that initially made known the human-to-human transmission and actually put the genome posted information, an individual rogue scientist posted on an international website, and the next day that lab was shut down by the Chinese government. That is absolutely appalling behavior. It is behavior that shows a complete cover-up on the part of the Chinese government not to allow their own people to know about this virus and, of course, not to allow anyone else in the world to know about this virus for weeks. While the Chinese were traveling across China from Wuhan and to the United States, almost 500,000 over that month going from Wuhan to the U.S., that's how we got the early cases. That's how we got the pandemic today.

 

Clemons: Do the G-7 arrangements matter anymore?

Bremmer: They matter less than they used to. And again, it's not anybody's fault. It's because the institutions are very sticky. They resist being changed at a time when the geopolitical order has changed dramatically. So, Steve, I mean if you and I were in a room and we were asked to create the most robust alliance we could for the United States internationally, that reflects the challenges of 2020 and what we expect going forward, we would not create anything that looks remotely like NATO. And I'm not even talking about how much the United States puts in as opposed to our allies, economically and militarily. I'm saying NATO is the North Atlantic treaty, right? It is focused on Russia. … It's focused on conventional and nuclear weapons. That is not remotely the principal challenge the Americans are facing right now. It is China. It is largely not about nuclear weapons. It's only regionally about conventional weapons. It's mostly about technology and cyber and IP [intellectual property] and medical equipment and the vaccine. I mean, the organization that you and I would come up with Steve, would literally look nothing like NATO. … Whether you're talking about the G-7, or whether you're talking about the World Trade Organization or the Security Council, all of these organizations were created at a different geopolitical time by countries with values that they thought were going to become universalist and that have not. And you also have an American population that's much less interested in being the global sheriff, in promoting global trade or even in promoting democracy internationally. They're not even sure it works at home in the United States.

 

Clemons: What are the few big things that you still see out there that remain substantial risks to the United States and really the liberal order as we know it in the world?

Bremmer: I think the weakness and vulnerability of a lot of the middle-income emerging markets that are highly indebted, they’re right now having an easy time getting access to credit, low-interest rates, the money is still there. Six months, 12 months out, as the real economy faces the depth of this challenge and they don't have in those countries the money to bail themselves out, and it's harder for them to have access to credit markets. I think we could be facing a round of major emerging market collapses, something that would bring us back to the 80s in terms of the scale. And European banks are much more vulnerable than American banks. This could metastasize. So that's one that I don't see anyone talking about right now. I'd worry about it. I also think, you know, depending on where energy prices, commodity prices are right then, some of those producers could be the most vulnerable.