Political scientist Ian Bremmer on the world’s ability to address major global crises

With Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the pandemic, climate crisis and extreme political polarization, the dangers currently facing the world are stark. A new book, "The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats – and Our Response – Will Change the World," delves into those topics. Author Ian Bremmer, who runs the Eurasia Group, a global risk research and consulting firm, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    With Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the pandemic, the climate crisis, and extreme political polarization, the dangers the world is facing right now are stark, and how we respond is critical.

    Ian Bremmer runs the Eurasia Group. It's one of the world's leading global risk research and consulting firms. And he explores the most pressing issues and solutions in his new book, "The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats – and Our Response – Will Change the World."

    Ian Bremmer, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Congratulations on this book.

    You have been focused for some time on the collapse of the international governing order, the fact that countries aren't working together the way they should. And yet we have seen, with Russia's invasion of Ukraine, that NATO's come together, the West coming together.

    Is this the exception that proves the rule?

  • Ian Bremmer, President, Eurasia Group:

    I wouldn't say it's the exception.

    I'd say it's a response to the crises that continue to emerge as the international order starts breaking down. It's a snapback. And, frankly, I kind of wish that Vladimir Putin had read a draft of the book, because, clearly, he thought that the United States and NATO and the West would be incapable of responding.

    He's seen what happened in Afghanistan. He's seen what's happened in Iraq. He saw January 6 in the United States. He saw the lack of reaction to his own invasions in Georgia and in Ukraine in 2008 and '14.

    But this decision to fundamentally try to usurp a democratic government in Ukraine was absolutely a step too far. And the response internationally has been extraordinary, has actually made the West stronger than it was before Putin invaded on February 24.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But before this happened, and before the reaction to it, one of your principal concerns was that the world was not well-equipped to deal with some of the big mega-crises that the world is facing.

  • Ian Bremmer:

    That's right.

    What's basically been happening is both the United States and other advanced industrial democracies around the world, we have seen the populism, we have seen the unwillingness to be the global policemen, the unwillingness to lead on global trade, the incapacity to be the world's leading democracy, make the world safe for it.

    And, as that happens, you see a breakdown in institutions, you see increasingly the growth of crises. So, over the last three decades, Judy, you and I have watched as our institutions both at home and abroad have gradually and incrementally eroded, and feeling like we can't do anything about it.

    Well, the purpose of this book, "The Power of Crisis," is that the status quo isn't going to get you there. But, as these crises emerge — and we're in a target-rich environment for crises right now, as you know. It's not just the Russian invasion. It's climate change. It's the pandemic. There's plenty of them.

    That's what's going to lead to a step function, to force countries to respond with new institutions, strengthened leadership. It's the only way you get it done in this environment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let's take these particular crises one by one, very quickly, starting with public health, with global health emergencies, like the one we're still living through right now.

    Where do you see the mechanism, the solution that's going to prepare the world to be in a better place at the next pandemic?

  • Ian Bremmer:

    Probably the weakest of the crises to respond, in part because it built less trust with the United States and China. China covered it up, of course, to begin with, and leading the United States even to leave the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic.

    And while the United States was focused on it in a strong way in the early days, relatively soon on, you saw with the vaccines, with therapeutics that a lot of Americans felt like it was no longer as much of a crisis for them. It became politicized.

    So I would say the one part of the world that really took the lessons on board of the pandemic was the European Union, both in terms of providing massive economic support from the wealthy countries to the poorer countries, kind of like European Marshall Plan. They learned from the Eurozone crisis of 2008-2010, but also in taking on board an E.U. function for vaccine acquisition and distribution. Everyone got them at the same time.

    The E.U. leaves this crisis stronger than it came in. The United States leaves it more divided. The U.S.-China relationship leaves it more divided.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, when it comes to climate change, again, massive questions, crises facing the world, where do you see the mechanism to bring countries together to address this?

  • Ian Bremmer:

    Judy, much more like the Russia crisis, where the fact that everyone recognizes that this is a big problem gets them on the same side of the issue.

    There's no disinformation today anymore on climate change. But the fact is that climate represents what I call a Goldilocks crisis, not so big that we crawl ourselves into a circle and wait for the end, but not so small that we keep behaving the way we used to behave.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What makes you believe that the kinds of solutions that you are talking about, anything close to that, can be agreed on, when the world is — yes, we're seeing the West come together when it comes to Ukraine.

    But, again, so much of the rest of the world split over the very issues you have described and so much more, rich vs. poor, have, have-not, and on down the list.

  • Ian Bremmer:

    What happens with even a crisis like Russia is, it creates more interdependence.

    At the beginning of the Russia crisis, a lot of people said, oh, this is — why are you saying it's so important? You pay no attention to Syria, or Somalia, or Yemen. It's just because it's white Europeans. That's the only reason you care.

    It's not true. The fact is, this is a much bigger crisis, not just because of six million Ukrainian refugees, not just the threat to Europe, but because of the interdependence of the global economy. It's the food, it's the fertilizer, it's the energy that's going to make this a much bigger crisis all over the world.

    And that forces the world to take it seriously. It represents and reflects the interdependence that we may not like, but that we need.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One final question, Ian Bremmer, and this is not on your book, but it is very much related to COVID and how China has responded by these massive lockdowns of entire — entire cities, entire regions.

    Whether that specific strategy works or not, what effect do you see that having on the Chinese economy and, frankly, on whether Xi Jinping remains secure in power?

  • Ian Bremmer:

    Sometimes, the reason you don't respond to crisis is because your country is too strong and your institutions too resilient for it to bother you.

    We saw this in the United States, even after the 2020 elections and the events of January 6, and, a year later, people are shrugging their shoulders about it. China and zero COVID is a little bit like that. They're probably going to experience next to zero percent growth right now. And they have had these massive draconian lockdowns, even on the wealthiest, largest city in the country, in Shanghai.

    And the reason they're doing it and not even asking for and refusing help from the West, refusing mRNA vaccines that would make a difference on the ground to the oldest, most vulnerable Chinese is because they know they can, because they know there isn't the challenge domestically to Xi Jinping.

    That's a reality. And it makes it harder for a country like China to respond effectively and to respond internationally to a crisis that is global.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On that note, Ian Bremmer, thank you very much.

    The book is "The Power of Crisis: How Three Threats – and Our Response – Will Change the World."

    Thank you.

  • Ian Bremmer:

    My pleasure.

Listen to this Segment