Dr. Ian Bremmer je ameriški politični znanstvenik in avtor ter ustanovitelj in predsednik Eurasia Group, vodilne raziskovalne in svetovalne firme na področju globalnih političnih tveganj. Klemen Balanč se je pogovarjal z njim o ameriški politiki, ameriško-kitajskem rivalstvu in tehnološki hladni vojni, geopolitični sliki sveta po covidu, vlogi Evropske Unije na geopolitičnem parketu in priložnostih za Slovenijo, ki bo naslednje leto predsedovala EU.

Leta 2009 so Republikanci problematizirali Obamin 750 milijard USD težek sveženj pomoči za reševanje gospodarstva, letos pa niso imeli problema s Trumpovo državno pomočjo gospodarstvu v višini 2,2 bilijona USD. Kako si razlagate takšen politični tribalizem?

Obe strani se veliko prepirata, toda Združene države Amerike (ZDA) so imele enega najmočnejših ekonomskih odzivov na korona krizo izmed vseh držav na svetu. Dejanski izid dosedanjih gospodarskih spodbud so ogromni zneski podpore za brezposelne, ogromni zneski podpore za mala in srednja podjetja ter ogromna finančna podpora velikim korporacijam. Kljub dejstvu, da se obe strani sovražita in si vsak dan odrekata kakršnokoli podporo, je bil ameriški ekonomski odziv v resnici zelo enoten in močan.

Zdi se, da so v ZDA ekstremne ideologije iz obeh polov političnega spektra ugrabile javno sfero za promocijo svojih partikularnih interesov. Je možna vrnitev v normalo, nekakšna tretja pot?

Država je zelo politično razdeljena, brez dvoma. Zaradi politizacije odziva na epidemijo koronavirusa – karantene, nošenja mask, hospitalizacij – je bil odziv ZDA bistveno slabši, kot bi moral biti. Kar zadeva gospodarski odziv, so se Demokrati in Republikanci v Kongresu združili za sprejem zelo pomembnega in obsežnega sveženja državne pomoči, kar je ameriškemu gospodarstvu resnično pomagalo in pričakujem, da se bo v naslednjih nekaj mesecih zgodil še en sveženj pomoči. Tako da ZDA niso razočarale na vseh frontah.

Želel bi si reči, da bo ta kriza dovolj velika, da bo ustvarila novo obliko vladovanja v ZDA, vendar mislim, da to ni uresničljivo, saj so ZDA preveč močne in dobro pozicionirane na svetovni ravni. Poglejte samo vlogo ameriškega dolarja na svetovni ravni, naša tehnološka podjetja – nekatera od njih so najpomembnejša na svetu, vlogo ameriških bank, ki so veliko močnejše od evropskih ali drugih bank,…vse to pomeni, da lahko ZDA prenašajo veliko višje ravni družbenih kritik, neenakosti in disfunkcionalnosti, ker sta mednarodna moč in domače bogastvo ZDA tako ogromna. Mislim, da se bomo ozrli na to krizo in si rekli: meh, ZDA so jo nekako prebrodile in stvari se v resnici niso spremenile toliko, kot bi človek pričakoval. Podobno kot leta 2008, s tem da je ta kriza nekoliko večja.

ZDA bodo torej ekonomsko preživele to krizo ne glede na izid novembrskih predsedniških volitev?

Veliko ljudi trpi, o tem ni dvoma. To je kriza, ki bo najbolj prizadela revne ljudi in manjšinsko prebivalstvo, hkrati pa bo še povečala neenakosti v ZDA. To je država, ki ne deluje dobro na področju zdravstva in izobraževanja za revne Američane. Če si bogat, ni problema. Če pa ste reven Američan, potem pač niste del ekonomije znanja. In ravno slednje je gospodarstvo, ki tako močno uspeva v ZDA in za ZDA po vsem svetu. Zato mislim, da bo ta kriza poslabšala situacijo za revne Američane. Toda ameriška moč – agregirana ameriška moč po vsem svetu – ni ogrožena.

Zdi se, da politika v ZDA preusmerja pozornost javnosti od gospodarskih problemov do kulturnih vprašanj. Ali Trump to kulturno vojno potiska predaleč?

Tako je zmagal – pri kulturnih vprašanjih je šel predaleč. Trump ima neverjeten oprijem svoje politične baze. Po mojem mnenju je bil Trump najbolj nekompetenten in neprimeren ameriški predsednik v zgodovini. Nihče drug ni niti blizu, Demokrat ali Republikanec. Kljub temu je njegova podpora v zadnjih treh letih in pol ostala neverjetno stabilna, okoli 40 %. Kdor ga je gledal med kampanjo, je vedel, kakšna oseba je, in ni se spremenil. Gibanje Black Lives Matter v ZDA je sicer precej priljubljeno, tudi pri številnih belcih, toda Trumpovi odzivi – zakon in red, nemiri, podpiranje zastave konfederacije, vse te rasistične pasje piščalke, ki so se zgodile med to krizo – so ljudem povzročili čustveno škodo. Deželo boli, ker kot politični lik tako razdvaja. Mislim pa, da ni on povzročil te težave. Izvoljen je bil, ker je ta težava že obstajala in so jo desetletja zanemarjale elite tako na strani Demokratov kot Republikancev. Pravo vprašanje je torej, kako so ZDA prišle do tega, da nekdo, kot je Trump, uživa 40 % podporo, ne glede na to, kaj počne?

Kaj pa Trumpove in Bidenove zunanjepolitične strategije? Kako se razlikujeta v pogledu na mednarodni politični red? Kaj so njune strategije za soočanje z mednarodnimi prijatelji in sovražniki?

Velika razlika med njima je, da Trump deluje veliko bolj transakcijsko. Je bolj odprto unilateralističen. Verjame, da mednarodne institucije – tudi tiste, ki jih je ustanovila ZDA – omejujejo ZDA in njihove možnosti, da delajo, kar želijo. Prav tako je veliko bolj ravnodušen do človekovih pravic in narave političnih sistemov drugih držav. Ne verjame toliko v mehko moč in usklajevanje vrednot. Na nek način je Trumpova zunanja politika v smislu gledanja na in razumevanja sveta bolj podobna kitajski. Prav tako nekako zavrača tradicionalno ameriško izjemnost. “Najprej Amerika” temelji predvsem na surovi moči, ne na neki notranji naravi in omikanosti ameriške družbe. Veliko bolj nasprotuje Evropi, v resnici mu EU ni všeč – podpiral je Brexit, podpira evroskepticizem in vse njegove manifestacije, kot je na primer Viktor Orban na Madžarskem. V tem pogledu vidim močno razlikovanje od Bidena.

Glede Kitajske sta si Trump in Biden zelo podobna. Oba bi zavzela trdno stališče proti Kitajski, toda Trump je bolj unilateralen, Biden pa bi bil bolj multilateralen. Moramo pa se zavedati omejitev: Biden bi morda želel pustiti večji vojaški odtis ZDA po vsem svetu, a povprečen Američan tega ne podpira. Biden bi morda želel podpreti trans-pacifiško partnerstvo, vendar mislim, da ga ne bo predlagal, če postane predsednik, saj obe strani v Kongresu preprosto ne podpirata več proste trgovine v dovoljšni meri – zagotovo ne toliko kot pred 20 ali 30 leti.

Mislim, da so glavno področje, v katerem bi bil Biden drugačen, mednarodni sporazumi. Biden bi ZDA priključil nazaj k Iranskemu jedrskemu sporazumu in Pariškemu podnebnemu sporazumu. Podobno je s Svetovno zdravstveno organizacijo, Sporazumom o odprtem nebu, Vmesnim sporazumom o jedrskih silah itd. Vendar moramo priznati, da se vloga teh institucij šibi in je manj usklajena s trenutnim geopolitičnim redom, zato je potrebna reform. In ne verjamem, da bi lahko Biden v tem okolju dosegel te reforme. Čeprav bi bila zunanjepolitična pristopa obeh kandidatov drugačna, nisem prepričan, da bi bili rezultati tako različni, kot bi človek pričakoval.

Za moč ZDA po svetu torej niti ni toliko pomembno, kdo bo naslednji predsednik?

Mislim, da je Trump poslabšal in pospešil G Ničlo (G Zero). Unilateralnost politike »Najprej Amerika« je povzročila, da so se recimo Filipini bolj usmeril h Kitajski, tudi odnos ZDA z Nemčijo se je zaradi Trumpa hitreje poslabšal. Vendar ne smemo pretiravati. Prav danes (torek, 14.7.2020, op. a.) so v Veliki Britaniji izjavili, da Huaweiju ne bodo dovolili dostopa v njihov sistem 5G, kar je za velika zmaga za ZDA v tehnološki hladni vojni. Enako je s Kanado, kar vidimo v novem trgovinskem sporazumu CUSMA, tudi Avstralci in Japonci se pri tem vprašanju usklajujejo z Američani. Mislim, da so ZDA vse bolj asimetrično močnejše v primerjavi s svojimi zavezniki, predvsem zaradi moči ameriških tehnoloških podjetij, vloge ameriškiga dolarja, moči ameriških bank, ameriške proizvodnje in izvoza energije ter proizvodnje in izvoza hrane. Toda ZDA ne vodijo več z zgledom. Pravzaprav večina Američanov sploh ne ve več točno, za kaj se zavzemamo kot država in zagotovo nas danes ne gre postaviti za zgled reprezentativne demokracije v svetu. Ameriška izjemnost se vse bolj osredotoča na trdo moč, vendar ameriška trda sila ne bo minila. Za vojsko porabimo več kot naslednjih 7 držav skupaj, naša tehnološka podjetja postajajo vse bolj prevladujoča, in ne verjamem, da bo Kitajska izšla iz te krize močnejša.

Ne vidite Kitajske kot potencialne zmagovalke te korona krize?

Kitajska bi iz te krize lahko prišla šibkejša. Mogoče je.Veliko bolj bodo zadolženi.Večina revnih držav, katerim je Kitajska posodila denar, teh posojil ne bo zmožna vrniti.Njihova domača zadolženost je vse bolj nevzdržna, zlasti na korporativni strani.Verjetno bodo dosegli ZDA glede na gospodarsko sposobnost, saj se letos njihovo gospodarstvo ne bo skrčilo, medtem ko se ameriško gospodarstvo bo.Toda Xi Jinping je imel grozno leto, njegovo najslabše doslej.Skrbi me trajnost kitajske rasti po tem res grobem letu.Zakrili so izbruh koronavirusa in to je škodilo tudi njihovim lastnim ljudem.Te situacije niso dobro obvladali.Zato ne verjamem, da je zaton ZDA pravilen narativ o korona krizi.

Pri raziskovanju me je fasciniralo, da je znesek tuje pomoči, ki so jo ZDA in Kitajska namenile drugim državam v zadnjih 20 letih, približno enak, okoli 400 milijard USD. Vendar je ameriški portfelj pomoči sestavljen iz večinoma nepovratnih sredstev, medtem ko kitajskega sestavljajo večinoma posojila. Rekli ste, da bo imela Kitajska težave pri terjanju teh posojil. Če upoštevamo še politični upor mednarodne skupnosti, ki ga Kitajska doživlja, 21. stoletja ne vidite kot kitajskega stoletja?

Politični koncept 21. stoletja ne obstaja. Svet se prehitro premika. Presenečen bom, če bo na koncu 21. stoletja še vedno obstajal sistem nacionalnih držav. Če pomislite samo na eksponentno eksplozijo tehnologije in kaj to pomeni je jasno – kdor misli, da lahko govori o azijskem ali kitajskem ali ameriškem stoletju,…s tem smo končali. Trenutno živimo v izjemnem obdobju. Naslednjih 20 do 40 let bo določilo prihodnost človeštva na planetu in o tradicionalni geopolitiki ne bomo več govorili.

Vaš medij se imenuje GZero (G Ničla), ki kot koncept predstavlja odsotnost mednarodne velesile.

Predstavlja koncept odsotnosti globalnega vodje in vodenja. ZDA so velesila, ni pa več globalnega vodje in vodenja. ZDA ne želi biti več svetovni šerif, ne želi biti arhitekt globalne trgovine, ne želi biti navijač za globalne vrednote. To vlogo so bile pripravljene igrati večino povojnega obdobja, vendar ne več. Do neke mere je sploh niso več sposobne. In mislim, da ti dve stvari skupaj ustvarjata G Ničlo, ker ni druge države, ki bi v tej vlogi morebiti nadomestila ZDA. Nobena ni niti blizu.

Kaj pa Rusija? Kaj je njena strategija v tej globalni igri, boju med Zahodom in Vzhodom?

Njihovo gospodarstvo je malo manjše od kanadskega, malo manjše od italijanskega. Država je v zatonu in zaradi tega so jezni. ZDA so z Rusijo narobe ravnale v post-sovjetskem obdobju in jim v resnici nismo preveč pomagali postaviti se na noge. Krivijo nas za številne njihove težave, v nekaterih primerih upravičeno, v nekaterih ne. Delajo na tem, da bi na domačem parketu spodkopali ZDA in evropske države in tudi razširili delitve v čezatlantskih odnosih. So aktivno sovražni do kakršnekoli predstave o Zahodni hegemoniji ali prevladi bodisi v regiji ali širše. Delujejo kot uničevalec vzdušja. Njihov lastni vpliv na svetovni ravni se desetletja zmanjšuje in se bo še naprej. Putin sicer razume, da bo država, ki bo nadzorovala umetno inteligenco, najmočnejša država na svetu, vendar so ruski znanstveniki večinoma zapustili državo. Rusi ne vlagajo pravilno v svoj človeški kapital ali v izobraževanje, njihovo gospodarstvo temelji predvsem na proizvodnji vojaške opreme in črpanju dragocenih stvari iz zemlje. Resnično žalostno je, kaj se je z ruskim gospodarstvom dogajalo v zadnjih 30 letih, medtem ko jih Kitajci vse bolj presegajo. Rusi Kitajcem v resnici ne zaupajo, a nimajo nikogar več, h komur bi se lahko obrnili. So v res težkem položaju.

Kje v tej sliki vidite Evropsko Unijo (EU), predvsem v luči vzpona desnega populizma v državah nekdanjega vzhodnega bloka?

Dobra novica je, da se je EU na korona krizo odzvala dokaj dobro. Merklova je prevzela odgovornost in opravila fantastično delo v Nemčiji, najboljši svetovni gospodarski in zdravstveni odziv, voden po principih znanosti in ne navijaštva. Dolga leta so podpirali varčevanje, vendar trenutno stanje zahteva trošenje in to tudi počnejo. Trošijo doma in podpirajo javno porabo po vsej EU, kar je po mojem mnenju v tem obdobju zelo koristno. To je spodkopalo evroskepticizem tako znotraj Nemčije kot zunaj, na primer v Italiji. Nemčija je pripravljena z nepovratnimi sredstvi podpreti države na jugu in vzhodu Evrope in nobena država si ne bo odrekla takšne pomoči, saj jih je točno pomanjkanje takšne pomoči v zadnjih nekaj letih razjezilo – se pravi da severne države niso hotele prerazporediti bogastva po vsej EU.

Kar zadeva desne populiste, kot so Orban, Vučić in Janša – mislim, da je prisoten močan element oportunizma. Mislim, da je Orban še posebej dober pri uporabi ostrega jezika v madžarskih medijih. Skoraj se zdi, da se vseskozi pripravlja za nek končni obračun, vendar je na zasedanjih vrha EU zelo ponižen. Podobno je z Vučićem. V korona krizi je odigral dvojno igro, pri čemer je obtožil EU, da ni storila ničesar za pomoč Srbiji in se obrnil proti Kitajski, nato pa naredil popoln preobrat, ko se je kitajska pomoč izkazala za površinsko. Sam mislim, da v tem evroskepticizmu ni veliko substance. Je veliko bolj pragmatičen, uporablja se za vzvod moči v odnosu z EU in ga ne vidim toliko kot sistemskega strukturnega izziva.

Ali vidite potencial EU, da v mednarodni skupnosti deluje kot samostojen igralec?

Rekel bi, da ja, na regulativni ravni. Evropejci niso vojaška velesila, niti blizu. Niso niti tehnološka velesila, vendar imajo največji skupni trg na svetu. S svojo birokracijo o(ne)mogočajo dostop do tega trga. Imajo najbolj pametno in sposobno tehnokratsko birokracijo na svetu. Ko pogledate področje tehnologije vidite, da so Evropejci vodilni na področju regulacije – na primer GDPR, ki ureja zasebnost – kar Kalifornija, peto največje gospodarstvo na svetu, prevzema, saj Evropejci vedo, kaj počnejo, ameriška podjetja pa nočejo ostati izven Evrope. Evropejci enako počnejo na področju podnebja. Vodijo na področju novih zelenih spodbud, ki ne bodo usmerjena samo na področje v evropske politike, ampak bodo vodile tudi tiste trgovske partnerje Evrope, ki želijo dostop do njenega trga – morali se bodo prilagoditi Evropejcem. Zato mislim, da bodo Evropejci lahko globalno uspešni, ko gre za birokracijo in določanje pravil. In ker Američani ne postavljajo veliko pravil – ukvarjamo se sami s sabo – Kitajci pa ne marajo določanja pravil, ampak gredo po svoji poti, so Evropejci najmočnejši oblikovalci pravil na svetu. To je pravzaprav zelo močan položaj.

Če se globalno razmerje moči prevesi preveč v prid Zahoda, bi bil razpad EU v interesu Kitajsko-Ruske osi?

Če bi to lahko dosegli, seveda. Nisem pa prepričan, da zmorejo. Kitajci si že dlje časa prizadevajo, da bi se države južne in vzhodne Evrope bolj usmerile k njim. Grkom, Srbom in drugim so zagotovili precej naložb, vendar države vzhodne in južne Evrope še vedno niso niti približno tako odvisne od Kitajske kot podsaharska Afrika ali jugovzhodna Azija, kjer je njihova izbira Kitajska ali nič. Razumem, da pristopanje držav v članstvo EU traja dolgo časa, Kitajska ter drugi geopolitični nasprotniki pa znajo to izkoriščati v svoj prid. Kitajska financira pomembne infrastrukturne projekte na Zahodnem Balkanu, Rusija je vzgojila globoko zasejane simpatije – ortodoksne, slovanske in nacionalne konzervativne identitete v regiji – medtem ko se vsi pripravljajo in čakajo na članstvo v EU. Vendarle pa ima EU še vedno ogromno moč in privlačnost za te države. Nisem prepričan, da bodo Rusi ali Kitajci uspešni pri delitvi Evrope.

Slovenija bo naslednje leto predsedovala EU. Ali vidite kakšno možnost za Slovenijo, da izkoristi to priložnost za kakšen vidnejši učinek in boljše pozicioniranje znotraj EU?

Majhne države v Evropi običajno organizirajo odlična predsedstva z organizacijsko-vodstvenega vidika. Toda njihove agende so običajno pozabljene. Mislim, da je pomembno, da ne gojite previsokih upov glede svojih potencialnih dosežkov. Po drugi strani predsedovanje večini ministrov ponuja, da vodijo sestanke, da so del razprav ob odmorih za kavo, kjer se včasih dosegajo kompromisi, kar bo tudi priložnost za oblikovanje razprav o pristopanju novih držav članic, kar je resnično pomembno zaradi geografije Slovenije in njene zgodovine. Kar zadeva profil Slovenije v EU, je ta že sedaj kar dober, saj niste povezani s pobalinskimi državami članicami, ki povzročajo probleme. V Sloveniji obstaja tudi ugodna investicijska klima in je tudi odlična destinacija za turistični obisk. Mislim, da bi moral biti vaš poudarek na ohranjanju dobrega ugleda.

Dr. Ian Bremmer is an American political scientist and author with a focus on global political risk. He is the president and founder of Eurasia Group, a leading global political risk research and consulting firm. Klemen Balanč talked with him about American politics, Sino-American rivalry and the technological cold war, post-covid geopolitical world, European Union’s role in the geopolitical world and opportunities for Slovenia regarding its presidency of the EU next year.

In 2009, Republicans had a problem with Obama’s 750 billion USD stimulus package but had no problem with Trump’s 2,2 trillion USD stimulus package this year. How do you explain this kind of political tribalism?

There is a lot of fighting, but the United States of America (U.S.) had one of the strongest economic responses of any country in the world. The actual outcome of the economic stimulus that we’ve had so far is massive amounts of unemployment support, massive amounts of small and medium business support and massive support for big corporations. Despite the fact that both sides hate each other and usually don’t provide any support for each other day to day, the U.S. economic response in reality was very united and strong.

In the U.S., it seems that extreme ideologies from both sides of the political spectrum have hijacked the public sphere for the promotion of their particular interests. Is a return to normal possible, a sort of a third way?

The country is very politically divided, there is no question. The politization of the coronavirus response – lockdowns, mask wearing, hospitalizations – had made the U.S. response considerably worse than it should have been. As for the economic response, Democrats and Republicans came together in Congress for a very significant and extensive relief and bailout, which has really helped the American economy, and I expect that will continue with an additional significant tranche in the next couple of months. So the U.S. has not been failing on every front.

I wish I could say that this crisis is going to be big enough to create a third way and a new type of governance in the U.S., but I don’t think it’s realistic, because the U.S. is so powerful and well positioned globally. If you look at the role of the U.S. dollar globally, our tech companies – some of them are the most important in the world, the role of American banks, which are much stronger than European or other banks,…all of that is to say that the U.S. can tolerate much higher levels of social dissent, inequality and dysfunctionality, because its power base is so much larger internationally and its wealth is so much greater domestically. It’s unfortunate – I think we’ll look back at this crisis and say: meh, U.S. kind of got through it and things didn’t really change as much as one would expect. Kind of 2008, but bigger.

So the U.S. will economically survive this crisis no matter what the results of the presidential election will be in November?

A lot of people are suffering, there is no question. This is a crisis that is hurting the poorest people. It’s hurting the minority population and is going to make inequality worse in the U.S. This is already a country that is not functioning well in terms of healthcare and education for poor Americans. If you’re rich, no problem. But if you’re a poor American, the knowledge economy is not what you’re a part of. And that’s the economy that is succeeding so strongly in the U.S. and for the U.S. around the world. So I think this crisis will make it worse for poor Americans. But for U.S. power – aggregated U.S. power around the world – is not under threat.

Domestically, it seems that the politics is diverting attention of the public from the economic problems to cultural issues. Is Trump taking this culture war too far?

That’s how he won – taking it too far. Trump has an incredible hold on his political base. In my view, Trump has been the most incompetent and unfit U.S. president in history. No one else is even close, Democrat or Republican. And yet his approval ratings have stayed incredibly stable in the course of the past three and a half years, at more or less 40 %. Anyone who looked at him during the campaign knew what kind of a person he is, and he hasn’t changed. The Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. is reasonably popular also with many white people, but Trump’s response – law and order, rioting, supporting the confederate flag, all of these racist dog whistles that happened during this crisis – caused emotional damage to people. He’s hurting the country by being so divisive as a figure. But I don’t think he caused this problem. He got elected because the problem existed in the first place and was being unaddressed by establishment Democrats and Republicans for decades. So the real question is how did the U.S. get to the point that someone like Trump gets 40 % of the popular vote no matter what he does?

What about Trump’s and Biden’s foreign policy strategies. How do they differ in their views of the international political order? What are their strategies for dealing with international allies and foes?

The big difference between them is that Trump is much more transactional. He’s more overtly unilateralist. He believes multilateral institutions – even those created by the U.S. – constrain the U.S. and its abilities to do what they want to do. He is also much more indifferent to human rights and the nature of other countries’ political systems. He doesn’t believe as much in soft power and the alignment of values. In some ways Trump’s foreign policy is more Chinese in orientation, in a way he thinks about the world. He also kind of rejects the traditional American exceptionalism. “America First” is primarily based on power, not some intrinsic nature of American society and civics. He is also much more opposed to Europe, he doesn’t really like the EU – he supported Brexit, he supports euroscepticism and all of its manifestations, like Viktor Orban in Hungary. So I see a strong differentiation from Biden in that regard.

On China, Trump and Biden are very similar. Both would take a hard stance against China, but Trump’s is more unilateral and Biden would be more multilateral. But we do have to recognize the constraints: Biden might want to be more assertive in terms of U.S. military footprint around the world, but the average American doesn’t support it. Biden might want to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but I don’t think he’ll advance it if he becomes president because both sides in Congress are just not supportive enough of free trade – not as much as they were 20 or 30 years ago.

I think the main area where Biden would be different is bringing the U.S. back to the Iranian nuclear deal and the Paris climate accords. Same with the World Health Organisation, Open Skies Agreement, Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement etc. But we do need to recognize that the role of these institutions is weakening and is less aligned with the geopolitical order and they do need reform. And it’s not clear to me that Biden would be able to precipitate that reform in this environment. So although their foreign policy approaches would be different, I’m not sure the outcomes would be as different as people might expect.

So in terms of U.S. global power it doesn’t really matter who the next U.S. president will be?

I think Trump has exacerbated and accelerated the G Zero. “America First” unilateralism caused the Philippines to hedge more directly towards China because of “America first” policies, the German relationship with the U.S. has deteriorated more quickly because of Trump. But let’s not overplay that. Just today, the UK stated they will not allow Huawei into their 5G system, which is a big win for the U.S. in the technology cold war. Same with Canada, we see the new CUSMA, we also see Australians and the Japanese aligning with Americans on this issue. I think that the U.S. is becoming more asymmetrically powerful compared to its allies because of the strength of American tech companies, the role of the U.S. dollar, the strength of American banks, the U.S. energy production and export, and food production and export. But the U.S. no longer leads by example. In fact, most Americans aren’t even sure what we stand for as a country and certainly you wouldn’t hold us up as the example of representative democracy in the world today. American exceptionalism is increasingly focused on hard power, but American hard power is not going away. We outspend the next 7 countries combined in military, our tech companies are becoming increasingly dominant, and I don’t believe China comes out of this crisis stronger.

You don’t see China as a potential winner of this corona crisis?

China might come out of this crisis weaker. It’s possible. They are going to be much more indebted. Much of the poor countries China lent money to won’t be able to repay them. Their domestic indebtedness is increasingly unsustainable, particularly on the corporate side. They are going to catch up to the U.S. in terms of economic capacity because they are not contracting this year while the U.S. economy is. But Xi Jinping has had a horrible year, his worst so far. I worry about the sustainability of China’s trajectory after this really rough year. They covered up the coronavirus and that also hurt their own people. They didn’t handle this well. So it’s not clear to me that the correct narrative of the corona crisis is American decline. At all.

What fascinated me when doing research is that the amount of foreign aid that the U.S. and China spent in the last 20 years is more or less the same, around 400 billion USD but U.S. portfolio consists of mainly grants, while the Chinese consists of mostly loans. You said China might have a problem getting those loans returned. With also the political backlash China is receiving, you don’t see the 21st century as the Chinese century?

There’s no such thing as the 21st century. The world moves much too quickly. I’ll be impressed if there’s still a nation state system at the end of the 21st century. If you think about the exponential explosion of technology and what that means, anyone who thinks they can talk about the Asian century or Chinese century or American century…we’re done with that. We’re living in an extraordinary period right now. The next 20 to 40 years will determine the future of humanity on the planet and we will not be talking about traditional geopolitics anymore.

Your media is called GZero, which is a concept of no international superpower.

No global leadership. The U.S. is a superpower, but there’s no global leadership. The U.S. does not want to be a world sheriff, does not want to be the architect of global trade, does not want to be a cheerleader for global values. It was willing to play that role for most of the post-war period, but it no longer is. To some degree it is not even capable. And I think those two things together give you a G Zero, because there is no other country that could possibly replace the US in that role, no one is even close.

What about Russia? What is their strategy in this global game, the struggle between the West and the East?

Their economy is a little smaller than Canada’s, little smaller than Italy’s. It’s a country in decline and they’re angry about it. The U.S. mishandled the post-Soviet period, we didn’t really help them get on track. They blame us for a lot of their problems, some of that is fair, some of it is not. They’re working to undermine the U.S. domestically, undermine European countries domestically and also to expand divisions within the transatlantic relationship. They are actively hostile to any notion of Western hegemony or supremacy either in the region or more broadly. They act as a spoiler. Their own influence globally has been decreasing for decades and continues to. Putin understands that whoever controls artificial intelligence will be the most powerful country in the world, but Russian scientists have largely left the country. They’re not investing properly in their own human capital or education, they are largely about military defense production and taking valuable stuff out of the ground. It’s truly devastating what has happened to the Russian economy over the last 30 years while the Chinese have increasingly surpassed them. The Russians don’t really trust the Chinese, but they have no one else to go to. They are in a really difficult position.

Where do you see the European Union (EU) in this picture, especially in light of the rise of right-wing populism in the former eastern bloc countries?

Good news is that the EU responded fairly well to the corona crisis. Merkel has taken charge and done a fantastic job inside Germany, the world’s best response economically and in terms of healthcare, leading by science and not cheerleading. They supported austerity for many years, but this situation demanded spending and they are doing that. They’re spending domestically and supporting spending across the EU, which I think is really helpful in this period. It has undermined euroscepticism both inside Germany and outside, like in Italy for example. They are willing to support countries with grants to South and East European countries and no country will deny such help. The lack of such help has been what angered them over the course of past several years – northern states refusing to redistribute the wealth across the EU.

Regarding the right-wing populists, such as Orban, Vučić and Janša, there’s a strong element of opportunism. I think Orban is particularly good at using inflammatory language in the Hungarian media. It almost seems like he’s building up for a showdown, but then is very docile in the EU summits. The same with Vučić. He played a double game in the corona crisis, castigating the EU for doing nothing and pledging to China, and then made a complete U turn when the Chinese aid turned out to be superficial. I just don’t think there’s much there in the euroscepticism. It’s much more pragmatic – used for leverage vis a vis the EU – than a systemic structural challenge.

Do you see the potential for the EU to be an independent player in the global political arena?

I would say I do, on a regulatory front. The Europeans are not a military superpower, not even close. They’re not a technology superpower, but they do have the largest common market in the world. They leverage access to that market through their bureaucracy. They have the smartest, deepest, most capable technocratic bureaucracy in the world. So when you look at technology, you see that Europeans drove a lot of the regulation around tech – GDPR for example, handling privacy – which California, the world’s 5th largest economy, takes on because Europeans know what they’re doing and the American companies don’t want to be left out of Europe. I see Europeans doing the same on climate. I see them leading the green stimulus that is not only going to drive European policy but will also drive those trading partners of Europe who want access to their market – they will have to align with the Europeans. So I think Europeans will be able to hit above their way when it comes to bureaucracy and rules setting. And at the time when Americans are not doing a lot of rules setting – we’re focusing on unilateralism – and Chinese don’t like rule setting, they go their own way, the Europeans are the strongest rules setters out there. It’s actually a powerful position to be in. 

If the global rebalancing of powers shifts in favor or the West would it be in the interest of the Sino-Russian axis to dismantle the EU?

If they could, sure. But I’m not sure they can. The Chinese have been trying to get the Southern and Eastern European countries to align more with them. They have provided a fair amount of investment, to the Greeks, Serbs,… but still the Eastern and Southern European countries are not nearly as aligned with China as Sub-Saharan Africa or Southeast Asia, where it’s China or nothing. I understand that it’s true that it takes a long time to ascend to the EU and China and other geopolitical adversaries have taken advantage of that. China is financing important infrastructure projects in the Western Balkans, Russia has cultivated deep seeded sympathies – orthodox, Slavic and national conservative identities in the region – while everyone is lining up for the membership in the EU. Ultimately, the EU still has an awful lot of power and attraction for these countries. It is not clear to me that the Russians or the Chinese will be successful in dividing Europe.

Slovenia will preside the EU next year. Do you see any options for Slovenia to exploit this opportunity and make a significant impact and better position itself inside the EU?

Small countries in Europe usually deliver excellent presidencies from an organizational perspective. But their own agendas are usually forgotten. I think it’s important not to get your hopes too high on what can be accomplished. On the other hand, presidency offers most of the ministers to chair meetings, be part of the coffeebreak discussions where compromises are sometimes reached, and that will provide an opportunity to shape discussions on accession, which is really important because of Slovenia’s geography and its history. As far as Slovenia’s profile in the EU is concerned, it’s already quite good and you are not associated with the troublemakers in the EU. There’s also a favourable investment climate and Slovenia is obviously a great place to visit. I think the focus should be on maintaining a good reputation.