The geopolitics of crisis

The geopolitics of crisis


People have been through a lot of global crises in recent times and now the general perception is to experience a new Cold War. In addition, we seem condemned to live now in a multipolar world with many superpowers, a higher risk of wars and different other countries in a variable geometry system. But, despite all this, what we need to build new opportunities for peace and overall wealth is another crisis: the Goldilocks one, according to the argument of Ian Bremmer, geopolitical analyst, founder and president of geopolitical risk firm Eurasia Group, columnist for many international magazines and newspapers (from Time to Corriere della Sera) and author of The Power of Crisis, which is in bookstores now. Goldilocks crisis is not a specific crisis, linked to a specific subject (the geopolitical downfall or the climate change), but it could be every next crisis. What is important is how intense it is: strong but always open to a solution, because the Goldilocks crisis is «frightening and dangerous enough to force governments to work together on the most important challenges they face but that is not so destructive that governments are paralyzed, and cooperation becomes impossible», explains to viaSarfatti25 Bremmer. Didn’t the last crises teach us well enough? «Not all crises are potentially useful. The global financial crisis did inspire immediate cooperation but it didn’t inflict enough lasting damage to force governments to solve the problems», Bremmer says. «Then, the pandemic has inspired cooperation among some governments and among non-governmental organizations that can work together across borders on research and vaccine distribution issues. But the continued finger-pointing between Washington and Beijing demonstrates that cooperation remains limited».
You see three more important crises now: next viruses, climate change and new technologies. Do you think climate change is the Goldilocks crisis, able to promote more cooperation and lead us to a better political and economic situation?
Public health crises are hard to manage because so many governments and people believe we can live with this threat without the major investments needed to improve the sharing of information and the burdens of emergency response for countries that lack the resources to protect their people. Climate change is the challenge that is most obviously global and universally shared. That’s definitely positive. The tech part of the story is the most frightening because the threat isn’t widely enough recognized.
What do you mean?
I’m not arguing that technological developments like Artificial Intelligence (AI) are bad for the world. But before we inject large numbers of people with a new vaccine, we rigorously test that vaccine is safe. AI, social media, digital weapons and advances in quantum computing are being injected into our societies without the testing we need to understand their effects. We need to understand each of them better and that requires agreements among nations on a few basic but important issues. Technological developments can transform our lives in barely visible ways and because there is no consensus, as exists now with climate change, that there’s a problem that must be solved.
Even if we cope with the three crises at a time, a world with four superpowers (US, EU, China, Russia) seems to be less predictable than in the past…
One point of clarification: Russia is not a superpower. In the coming years, the invasion of Ukraine will cut Russia off near completely from the world’s developed economies. Export controls on critical technologies will have harsh effects over the next few years. And the further the global economy moves toward a green future, the higher the price Russia will pay for its failure to diversify its economy from deep dependence on oil and gas exports. Its military power will be depleted for a generation. With that caveat, America, China and Europe will dominate the coming decade. The US role will remain primarily on security. It will continue as the only country that can project military power into every region of the world. Europe will be primarily a market and regulatory power because it will remain the world’s largest free market and a precedent-setter in creating rules that help move the world toward a greener future and to consider seriously the rights of the individual with regard to new technologies. China, together with the US, will remain the lead tech innovator.
You suggest the solution is promoting a pragmatic alliance among states. Where would you start to build this alliance?
Cooperation always begins among like-minded allies. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provides an example of a crisis that has for now brought Europe and the United States closer together than they’ve been in decades. Think of the changes that have occurred in Europe this year that would have been impossible before February, on energy policy, Nato expansion… I think these changes have been on the whole strongly positive and the speed of these changes could only be achieved by able and like-minded allies. The hope is that successful cooperation on a few especially important issues by allies can persuade non-allies to offer limited cooperation. Governments don’t have to agree on political or economic values to work together to reduce carbon emissions and ensure that an arms race in cyberspace doesn’t endanger the entire global economy. In The Power of Crisis, I call for the creation of a World Data Organization that can set basic rules about the government and private-sector use of personal data that is similar to the ways in which trade is now regulated by the World Trade Organization.
What role can companies, especially big tech groups, have to promote international stability and cooperation?
Big tech companies will have to redefine their interests. If they begin to see themselves as “national champions”, they will have clear incentives not to promote cross-border cooperation. If they continue to assert their rule-making dominance in the digital world and create new products without regard to their impact on global society, their influence may become catastrophically destructive. But if they use their economic power to maintain a global marketplace and invest in products that sustain global commerce, they can play a vital role in helping people.

by Camillo Papini

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