ISM World 2024: Ian Bremmer on Global Tensions and a ‘Multipolar’ Economy

April 30, 2024
By Dan Zeiger

As Ian Bremmer took the stage for his keynote address on Tuesday at the ISM World 2024 Annual Conference at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, his entrance music was “Life Is a Highway,” the 1991 hit by Tom Cochrane.

Perhaps R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” was a more appropriate soundtrack, given the seemingly unprecedented level of global turmoil that the president and founder of Eurasia Group, a political risk research and consulting firm, and GZERO Media, which covers international affairs, was there to discuss.

“For most of my life, economists represented the dismal science,” Bremmer said. “Today, the economists feel better, but for political scientists, life is horrible.” However, he told attendees that despite the challenges to supply chains, there is reason to feel fine.

“Around the world, things are more stable than you might think,” Bremmer said during a 50-minute address in which he — without aid of notes or a teleprompter — detailed geopolitical hot spots from Russia to the Middle East to India to China.

Clearly, the areas of turbulence and their potential impacts on global trade are numerous and daunting. The war between Israel and Hamas could escalate, and the recent missile strikes between Jerusalem and Iran could easily have become a full-blown conflict, Bremmer said. Despite recent aid from Washington, Ukraine might cede more territory to Russia. And distrust between the U.S. and China, though better-managed as of late, remains as elevated as ever.

Bremmer said, “More than 90 percent of the issues impacting supply chains, which make them more expensive, disruptive and inefficient, are impacted by three political issues.” They are (1) Russia’s exclusion from the global economy following the Cold War, (2) the losing bet on a Westernized Chinese economy and (3) growing distrust of democracy in some countries.

The good news, though, is that in many ways, technology will trump politics. Bremmer explained that two technologies — green energy and artificial intelligence (AI) — are driving globalization. China dominates the technology and production of solar and wind energies, as well as electric vehicles. The U.S. owns the global AI space (large language models, data and talent), in big part because Beijing’s information restrictions are limiting the technology’s potential in China.

With neither of the world’s two biggest economies able to corner the global technology market, Bremmer says, “How will that work out? Pretty well. One is owned by China, the other by the U.S.” With the rest of the world as customers, he adds, “That means you can’t fight another Cold War because no one else wants to fight it.”

In this “multipolar” global economy, tensions between the U.S. and China will remain, but “globalization will keep working,” he said.

Bremmer pointed to other positives, including upcoming elections in India (soon to be the world’s third-largest economy) and Mexico that are likely to bolster U.S. and Western alliances. Despite the turmoil in Ukraine, the European Union is stronger.

As a result, it was somewhat surprising that Bremmer did not discuss the upcoming U.S. presidential election, but noted that it is still six months away and that anything can happen. “The issues are structural,” he said. “The leaders are a symptom, not the cause. And the issues have persisted for decades.”

He continued, “The idea that if only we had the right leader, we could go back to the old style of globalization with more open markets and trade … in other words, let the economists go free — that is not doable with one election. It’s going to take a decade or two.”

About the Author

Dan Zeiger

About the Author

Dan Zeiger is Senior Copy Editor/Writer for Inside Supply Management® magazine, covering topics, trends and issues relating to supply chain management.