By Evan Gottesman
On Wednesday, Feb. 11, the World Policy Institute and Morgan Stanley hosted a private luncheon and discussion with Ian Bremmer, a WPI Senior fellow best known as the founder and president of the Eurasia Group, a leading political risk consulting firm. The theme of the event was the state of the international order, in which Bremmer spoke about the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, Middle Eastern affairs, and future prospects for Europe. Attendees engaged him on a variety of peripheral topics.
Bremmer had only recently returned from the 2015 Munich Security Conference, and was able to offer insight based on his interactions with world leaders in Germany, such as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow, and U.S. Senator John McCain.
In responding to questions from the audience, Bremmer reflected that the United States is no longer as influential in the international system. American officials, he noted, often fail to understand shifting global conditions. When asked if U.S. leaders are adapting to Washington’s changing international role, the Eurasia Group leader answered with an emphatic “no.”
Other questions focused on several situations where Bremmer perceived the United States as acting misguidedly, chief among them the conflict in Ukraine. In response, the World Policy fellow affirmed that America overstretched in attempts to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin, stating that, “if we believe that we can get away with that with impunity and that [Putin] is not going to respond in ways that are inimical to our interests, we’re nuts.”
Elsewhere, Bremmer spoke more favorably of other aspects of U.S. foreign policy–praising American involvement in Asia, particularly Washington’s recent engagement with India, and applauding the United States' response to December’s Sony hack, particularly in Sino-American coordination. Yet despite these productive joint efforts, he ultimately judged China’s trajectory as being outside U.S. control. Here, as before, Bremmer highlighted a multipolar system in which Washington can no longer make and impose rules everywhere.
At one point, a participant asked the guest, “what keeps you up at night?” From here, the conversation cycled back to Russia.
Bremmer said that his greatest fear is the possibility of Moscow executing cyber attacks against Western institutions like European governments and American banks. Judging successful U.S. cyber warfare technology as a double-edged sword, he asserted that electronic weapons can be reverse engineered. For example, Iran adapted the Israeli Stuxnet virus and set it loose on Saudi Arabia, destroying 30,000 computers in the kingdom. It is a situation, Bremmer emphasized, that the United States is not yet ready to handle.
However, throughout the discussion the speaker also stressed that his analysis of the global order was an objective appraisal, not an endorsement.
“All of this is not trying to say I like this,” Bremmer said. “It’s not trying to say ‘I think this is good,’ or this is to be welcomed, or this is to be voted for.”
Instead, he challenged his audience to adapt to and resolve a world in flux: “Here are some things that are happening, and here are the implications of them,” Bremmer stated. “How do we want to address them as a consequence?”
[Photos by Sophie des Beauvais]