Ian Bremmer Provides Insight on Global Risks at Bellevue University Signature Event
Featured speaker Dr. Ian Bremmer brought a hopeful international perspective, humor, and serious food for thought to the nearly 700 people attending Bellevue University’s 14th Signature Event on Monday, Oct. 2, at the Omaha Holland Performing Arts Center. The University hosts the annual program to promote American Vision and Values and an informed, involved citizenry. Bremmer’s remarks included thoughtful, informed takes on people, challenges, opportunities, and potential threats around the world. Bremmer said the University’s required undergraduate Kirkpatrick Signature Series courses, which explore foundational documents like the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and emphasize service and civic engagement, influenced his decision to come to Omaha. Thousands of undergraduates have completed the Signature Series Courses since the series was introduced.
Excerpts follow from his conversation with moderator Mike Cassling, an Omaha business leader and former University Board Chair.
Ian Bremmer has an only-in-America back story. He was 4 years old when his father, a Korean War veteran, died. His mother, who didn’t finish high school, raised him in housing projects in the Boston suburb of Chelsea, Massachusetts. He graduated high school at 15 and earned a B.A. degree, with honors, from Tulane University at 19, when he began doctoral studies in 1989. He completed M.A. (1991) and Ph.D. (1994) degrees in Political Science from Stanford University. His doctoral dissertation, “The politics of ethnicity: Russians in the Ukraine,” included perspectives gained from a year living in Ukraine, shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Bremmer launched New York-based Eurasia Group, the world’s leading political risk research and consulting firm, in 1998, with just $25,000 in start-up capital. Today the multinational corporation has offices in North and South America, Europe and Asia. He also founded GZERO Media and hosts “GZERO World,” a weekly international affairs program on U.S. public television. He is a frequent contributor on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, the BBC, and Bloomberg news outlets.
The February 2022 Russian invasion and continuing war in Ukraine has resulted in 500,000 casualties so far, as well as billions of dollars in damage in Ukraine and the regional and world economies. “We wouldn’t care as much if they weren’t white people in Europe,” Bremmer said. The war has affected energy and fertilizer costs in Europe and elsewhere, but its greatest impact has been in some of world’s poorest nations, which depend on grain shipments from the region that have been disrupted. He said the situation in Ukraine is sad, and the war has divided the country ethnically. Russians and Ukrainians lived together peacefully prior to the invasion. The war currently is at a near stalemate. Russian forces occupy about 18 percent of Ukraine, unchanged for the past nine months. However, U.S. and German support for the war appears to be wavering, and waves of western economic sanctions have failed to shut down or hamper the Russian economy. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have strong, nearly uncontested control, and is resolved to continue fighting.
The Middle East
In his Omaha remarks, five days prior to the October 7 Hamas terrorist strikes on Israel, Bremmer expressed cautious optimism for a more peaceful Middle East because of the Abraham Accords, a series of U.S.-moderated initiatives to foster peaceful coexistence, mutual respect for human dignity and freedom, and the pursuit of interfaith and intercultural dialogue in the region to “advance a culture of peace among the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and all humanity.” Bilateral Israel-United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel-Bahrain peace treaty agreements have been signed. A third treaty is being negotiated between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which is vying for regional power and influence with Iran, an ally of Russia and China. (Time Magazine and other news outlets have cautioned that renewed hostilities following the Hamas attack could threaten further progress toward normalization in the Mideast. An October 8 Time article said Iran provides 70 percent of Hamas’s financial support, plus military training.)
Relations between China and Russia have deteriorated because of the Ukraine war, although “the Chinese don’t want Russia to lose.” The Chinese continue to provide non-military aid and trade with Russia. There is little likelihood either China or Russia would use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, and China is unlikely to invade neighboring Taiwan any time soon, according to Bremmer. Economic growth in China has slowed, and the country likely won’t overtake the U.S. anytime soon. “China is not an investable economy. They have a closed economy. Their currency is not convertible. I don’t see any threats to the dollar.” Chinese dominance of the world’s supply of rare earth elements needed for new and emerging technologies is a concern, but new supplies of the needed materials are being discovered.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The advent of AI technology is nearly comparable to electricity in its potential societal impact. Going forward, it could drive a “second globalization” in 10 to 20 years. “Not only is it transformative in creating new companies but within existing ones—making everything more efficient by working better and smarter without disrupting things.” The potential downside? “I also think there will be a proliferation of the ability to use AI by bad actors.”
American Political Dysfunction
During his Omaha visit, which came on the eve of the ouster of California Representative Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House, Bremmer recalled that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, America was heralded as the place other countries wanted to be like. He said that while America still leads the world in most respects, the current political climate is troubling. “Today it pains me to say that no one looks at Washington and says, ‘I wish our political system was like that.’ That is a laugh line, but it’s so sad!” he said. “It hurts me to say, as someone who considers himself a true patriot of this country, which has given me every opportunity and more than I could ever imagine, that I’m not proud of what our political system has become.” Bremmer said three things are contributing to the situation:
1. Feelings of economic disenfranchisement by many Americans due to inequity between rich and poor,
2. The decline of societal institutions—the church, family, community, and higher education, and
3. “The rise of the algorithm,” he said, hoisting his cellphone—the pervasive influence of digital technology and social media.
“Civic values matter so much!” Bremmer said. He likened the University’s Kirkpatrick Signature Series courses to the jury system, where jurors learn about justice through engagement. “It turns out that when everyone gets in the room, they actually try to do right by their fellow Americans. I think that’s what the country was founded on,” he said. “There are so many good people that continue to engage in public service for the right reasons. We need to keep making a path our young people want to be on.”