Book Excerpt: 'Every Nation for Itself' by Ian Bremmer

World leaders pose for a group photo at the G20 summit in Washington, DC on Nov. 15, 2008. Four years later, Ian Bremmer argues, the G20 is no longer a source of meaningful leadership. (Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)
World leaders pose for a group photo at the G20 summit in Washington, DC on Nov. 15, 2008. Four years later, Ian Bremmer argues, the G20 is no longer a source of meaningful leadership. (Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World is the latest book from Ian Bremmer, the acclaimed analyst and president of Eurasia Group, a global political risk research and consulting firm. Bremmer will appear at Asia Society New York on Thursday, May 24 at 12:30 pm ET. For complete event details, click here. And you can read our interview with Bremmer here.

For the first time in seven decades, we're living in a world without leadership. In the United States, endless partisan combat and mounting federal debt have downgraded hopes for full recovery from the Great Recession, stoking fears that America's best days are done. Across the Atlantic, a debt crisis cripples confidence in Europe, its institutions, and its future. In Japan, the rebuilding following an earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown has proven far easier than recovery from more than two decades of political and economic malaise. A generation ago, these were the world's powerhouses. With Canada, they made up the G7, the group of free-market democracies that powered the global economy forward. Today, they are struggling just to find their footing.

Not to worry, say those who herald the "rise of the rest." As established powers sink into late middle age, a new generation of emerging states will create a rising tide that lifts all boats. According to a much-talked-about report published by Standard Chartered Bank in November 2010, the global economy has entered a "new "super-cycle" driven by the industrialization and urbanization of emerging markets and global trade." The industrial revolution, new technologies, and the emergence of America lifted the global economy between 1870 and the onset of World War I. America's leadership, Europe's reconstruction, cheap oil, and the rise of Asian exports drove growth from the end of World War II into the 1970s. Now, argue the report's authors, increasingly dynamic China, India, Brazil, Turkey and other emerging markets will fuel the world's economic engine for many years to come. Americans and Europeans can take comfort, we're told, that other states will do a larger share of the heavy lifting as their own economic engines rattle forward at a slower pace.

But in a world where so many challenges transcend borders — from the stability of the global economy and climate change to cyber-attacks, terrorism, and the security of food and water — the need for cooperation has never been greater. Cooperation demands leadership. Leaders have the leverage to coordinate multinational responses to transnational problems. They have the wealth and power to persuade other governments to take actions they wouldn't otherwise take. They pick up the checks that others can't afford and provide services no one else will pay for. On issue after issue, they set the agenda. These are responsibilities that the West is now much less able to afford. Unfortunately, rising powers aren't yet ready to take them on either. For now, governments of emerging states will instead be focused on managing the next critical stages of their own economic development.

Nor are we likely to see leadership from global institutions. At the height of the financial crisis in November 2008, political leaders of the world's most influential established and emerging countries gathered in Washington under the banner of the G20, the expanded group of leading economic powers. The G20 helped limit the damage, but the sense of collective crisis soon lifted, cooperation quickly evaporated, and G20 summits have since produced virtually nothing of substance. Nor are institutions like the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank likely to provide real leadership, because they no longer reflect the world's true balance of political and economic power.

If not the West, the rest, or the institutions where they come together, who will lead? The answer is no one. Neither the once-dominant G7 nor the unworkable G20. We have entered the G-Zero, a world in which, for the first time since the end of World War II, there is no single power or alliance of powers ready to take on the challenges of global leadership.

This story is not about the decline of the West, because America and Europe have overcome adversity before and are well-equipped over the long run to do it again. Nor is it about the rise of China and other emerging market players, because the governments of these countries now stand on the verge of tremendous tests at home. Not all of them will continue to rise, and it will take much longer than anyone expects for those that emerge to prove their staying power. This is a world in transition, one that is especially vulnerable to crises that appear suddenly and from unexpected directions. Over the next decade and perhaps longer, a world without leaders will undermine our ability to keep the peace, expand opportunity, reverse the impact of climate change, and feed growing populations. Its effects will be felt in every region of the world — and even in cyberspace.

From Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World by Ian Bremmer, by arrangement with Portfolio, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. © 2012 Ian Bremmer.