The world is currently in an interim period, in the midst of a deep change in the global balance of power, and Israel is one of the big losers from this process, argues Ian Bremmer, one of the world's most prominent experts on international relations. "For the first time in seven decades, we are living in a world without global leadership," Bremmer says, describing the situation in the world today as typified by the approach of "every nation for itself."
Every Nation for Itself is also the title of the new bestseller Bremmer released last month (May 2012). In the book, Bremmer identifies the winners and losers in a reality where the West is on the decline, struggling just to find its footing in a deep economic crisis, while there is no power ready to take on the challenges of global leadership. "In this reality," Bremmer says in an exclusive interview to Calcalist, "Israel is liable to be isolated more than ever before."
"A step backward in the globalization process"
Bremmer is the president of the American consulting firm Eurasia Group, which specializes in global geo-political risk assessment for multinational corporations. About a year ago [in February 2011] he was crowned by the British weekly The Economist as the "rising guru" in the hot field of global risk assessment. In his recently published book, Bremmer describes the new reality in the world by the term G-Zero — coined after the term G-20, which denotes the Group of Twenty, the forum of major economic powers in the world that was expected to lead the global economic policy, but has, in fact, failed to establish a coordinated international cooperation.
"In certain respects, the new reality is a step backward in the globalization process," Bremmer says. "In the world of G-Zero we are going to witness a process of alienation, where governments are erecting barriers to block these processes. We are talking here of a strengthening trend of protectionism [restricting or regulating free trade with foreign nations] in some of the countries, of new immigration barriers and of the fragmentation of the Internet, a process where authoritarian states impose limitations on access to the Web."
How will this new reality affect the Middle East?
"It will have an adverse impact [on the region]. In the past years the foreign powers, in particular the Americans and the Europeans — for better or for worse — imposed a status quo throughout the Arab world. They promoted autocratic regimes, protected them and helped preserve a precarious balance of power. Now, the powers are reducing their presence in the region, the American troops [stationed in Iraq and Kuwait] are returning back home, the national debt of the United States is steadily rising, and a record number of Americans say that their elected representatives should attend to the domestic problems plaguing the United States rather than worry about those of Iraq, Egypt or Syria. At the same time, Europe is preoccupied with an ongoing endeavor to restore confidence in the Euro Bloc and in the European project in its entirety. For these reasons, the United States and its European allies are looking for less dangerous and less costly ways of coping with the upheavals on the other side of the world, particularly in the strife-ridden Middle East."
"China and Russia will go on buying [crude] oil from Iran at a discount"
Bremmer notes, furthermore, that the powers have at present less leverage in North Africa and the Middle East. "To a large extent, the West has remained passive in the face of the revolutionary wave that swept across the Arab world in the past year. The [2011, multi-state military] intervention in Libya was the exception, and it took place merely because Muammar Gaddafi had no real friends to stand by his side."
Bremmer is also skeptical with regard to the potential impact of the sanctions against Iran. "The sanctions have significantly hurt the local economy and they are bound to inflict even more pain [on the Iranian economy]. However, China and Russia will go on buying crude oil from Iran at a discount. The best insurance Iran has against an Israeli assault is the fact that the Western allies are unlikely to support a military operation that would send oil prices skyrocketing." Bremmer believes that the prospects of military escalation are rather slim, at least in the next few months.
According to Bremmer, the combined effect of a lowered American profile in the region, on the one hand, and the power struggle heating up between the Gulf emirates and the mullahs in Iran, on the other, will leave Israel isolated more than ever before. "Washington is not going to abandon Israel. However, the American need for a more economical foreign policy coupled with the internal changes in quite a number of Arab countries have already awakened the Israeli security establishment to the need to challenge and reconsider long-established premises and develop new and potential security strategies, costly as they may be."
How can Israel adapt itself to the new reality?
"Obviously, Israel needs to have a larger set of political and trade partners. They do not have to be your friends or even your allies. However, partners will be a must for you, a critical necessity. To begin with, you should restore relations with Turkey, as already now it is playing a significant role in the region, much more so than it used to even a few years ago. [Besides,] Turkey is not facing any momentous challenges on the domestic front of the kind seen in Egypt or even in Jordan, and its economy is four times larger than that of Egypt, although their populations are of the same order of magnitude."
Bremmer maintains that Israel stands a chance of improving its relations with the Gulf emirates, all the more so behind the scenes. "Israel will need to have economic options less susceptible to populist pressures than those presented by Egypt. Any opportunity of creating momentum in the negotiations with the Palestinians would be helpful, although a scenario of this kind seems less plausible at the moment. I would like to stress once again that the United States has no intention of forsaking Israel. At the same time, the focus of American foreign policy is shifting toward Asia, where more is at stake. At the same time, the United States will tone down its ambitions [on the international front] until its economy recovers and becomes dynamic once again."
Is Israel seen as a dangerous place to do business, given the fears of confrontation with Iran?
"I have heard influential Israeli leaders calling for enhanced foreign investment in Israel and, in the same breath, announcing that 'the Iranian nuclear program is an existential threat to the entire region.' It's no wonder then that investors [already invested in Israel], as well as potential investors listening to these contradictory messages, delivered at one and the same time by the same speaker, are confused and concerned over the situation."
In addition to Israel, Bremmer enumerates a long list of winners and losers in the new global reality. When influence is shared by a number of regional powers rather than wielded by a single power, the big winners are, according to Bremmer, the "pivot states" — states that are capable of building profitable relationships with multiple other [major] powers without becoming reliant on any one of them. Bremmer names Brazil, Turkey, Singapore and Canada as apt examples of pivot states.
Turkey: not facing any momentous challenges on the domestic front of the kind seen in Egypt
Canada and Brazil: capable of building profitable relationships with multiple other powers without becoming reliant on any one of them
Israel: isolated more than ever before, given the low profile of the United States
Mexico and Ukraine: rely respectively on the United States and Russia — the two powers that are expected to weaken in the framework of the new world order