FP: Let's test the theory against the recent past. You could argue that NATO is working differently, but it's evolving into an institution that's able to tackle new issues, whether it's out-of-theater deployment in Afghanistan or getting involved in Libya and coming up with a new way to tackle problems. You could argue that while the IMF was less relevant five years ago, it's centrally relevant now, and that while its mission has changed from the restructuring of developing countries to doing some restructuring in the developed world, the group that's at the center of it and driving the discussions looks a lot like the group before. You could also argue that other multilaterals are still operating with the old rules, whether it's the World Bank or the WTO. So what's changed? Where should we be looking for the clearest signs of this G-Zeroness?
IB: I wouldn't say there's a sudden wholesale break in any of these institutions, but I would argue that each of them is playing a much less significant role. Specifically in the case of NATO, it was never playing a global role. NATO was always a more limited organization than that. And in that sense, NATO was the kind of organization that is much more capable of being right-sized, and we saw this in terms of Libya -- in many ways the exception that proves the rule. You had [Muammar al-] Qaddafi, who was despised by literally everyone, including the Iranians and the Saudis, which is actually pretty hard to pull off in a Middle East context. And it was only after the Arab League and the GCC were calling on someone to do something, and after the sanctions, and after the BRICS, that the United States finally did say, "OK, we'll support some level of intervention." But not a single U.S. troop was killed. Limited capital was expended. And of course, as soon as Qaddafi was removed, there was very little on-ground involvement. So the ability to create a new Libyan state that has any sort of viability and sustainability is much more of a challenge as a consequence. And NATO clearly is not playing and not prepared to play anywhere near that kind of a role in a country that's more contentious, as we're seeing in Syria right now, or as you might see in a place like Bahrain or Yemen. Unfortunately, that list is getting longer and longer. I suspect it will continue to.
On the IMF/World Bank, it's very interesting to see the BRICS talking about their desire to create their own development bank, something that many folks including [outgoing World Bank chief] Bob Zoellick are very skeptical of. I would argue that [U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner's recent comments about Europe, basically saying, "Sorry, Europeans, you're basically on your own. You guys are more than capable of handling whatever needs to be done to get out of this crisis," is very different from the way that the United States historically responded to the Asian financial crises, the peso crisis, the ruble crisis, and other economic crises. It's not remotely credible to think that the United States would do more of that. That's only in small part because we're in an election period. It's more because the U.S. needs to focus on getting its own house in order, particularly in the eyes of its own population. An increasingly large percentage of the American population believes that they don't benefit from globalization as they did historically, or they feel like the U.S. should not be the global policeman.
So it's not that the IMF or NATO or the World Bank are irrelevant organizations. Rather, over the course of the period of U.S.-led globalization, these organizations all had a much more explicit role in leading and defining global architecture than they do now. The tipping point was the 2008 financial crisis, in part making America and its allies much more domestically focused, in part emboldening emerging markets that came out of that financial crisis much stronger, but also in terms of putting to question the values that stood behind those U.S.-led institutions. Those values were, in some ways, shown to be not as upstanding and more prone to breaking -- and certainly less worthy of evangelizing in the more narrow views of a country like China or Russia -- than otherwise had been believed.
FP: OK. So let's then look at it from a slightly different perspective, because those institutions continue to exist and what you've described in the wake of 2008 suggests a variety of different kinds of alliances developing at varying speeds. But isn't it then possible to draw the conclusion that we're not really in a G-Zero world but that, as we have been through most of history, we're in a balance-of-power world, in which it's going to be G-something on one issue and G-something else on another issue, regional groupings on regional issues, different international groupings depending on the interested major players on different global issues?
You talk about the rise of the emerging powers like the BRICS, and while they're not a cohesive group on everything, when a couple of them pull together -- as they've done on trade, climate change, Iran, and Syria -- it influences things, just as when the developed powers pull together they still carry a lot of clout. So maybe it's not that the G-20 is functional, but that components within the G-20 do end up having a decisive role to play.
IB: It's possible that that's a world we are evolving toward, but we're not there now. What we're experiencing right now, and have been experiencing since 2008, is really the breaking of the old order. And the new order, whatever it might be -- and it might well be a flexible, regional order that you described -- hasn't manifested itself yet.
Right now the focus of key economies is overwhelmingly domestic. That is certainly true in Europe because of the profound and historic nature of the crisis they're presently experiencing. It has been true to a great degree for Japan, where they've had 17 prime ministers in 22 years. And it's clearly more true with the United States now than it has been at any point in the past several decades. It's also true for China. China wants to have veto power. They want to be able to say, "No, we don't like these rules or institutions or norms or policies that are being brought down by the Americans." But they also absolutely reject taking some of that responsibility and accountability themselves. That's why they're so opposed to the idea of a G-2. I agree that the Russians and Chinese and others can have influence on places like Iran, but at this point that influence is negative. It's not a proactive and a constructive influence. You really have to struggle to find constructive and proactive policies or institutions that are actually being built from the ground up by emerging-market states along with developed states.
I agree with you that G-Zero is not really sustainable. I don't believe that this is a lasting world order; something will replace it. So the question is, what is that something? I think that is still open for debate. There are two questions you need to answer to understand what the eventual world order will evolve into. One is, what's the relationship between the world's two most important economies, the U.S. and China? Is it relatively harmonious, or is it much more zero-sum and confrontational? And the second question is, how much do other countries matter? Will Europe be a meaningful player on the world stage, or will it absolutely not? And will India? Will other major players matter in the world?
As of right now, there's still a lot of uncertainty in those two fundamental questions, which means that geopolitics has become unmoored. There are a lot of countries in play. And it's not clear whether we'll end up with a bunch of different groupings for different sorts of issues or whether we'll move into an environment that's more of a G-2, where the United States and China will dominate agendas globally, with certain areas where they agree that will be the ones that we actually see movement and progress [on], and others where you'll just get absolutely nothing. Those are two very different sorts of environments.
FP: Well, let's take those for a moment. You talked about the U.S.-China relationship, and you say it's unclear whether it's going to be zero-sum and more of a rivalry or adversarial, or whether the interdependence between the two countries is going to have them moving in line. Isn't it possible that you can have both?