Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space flight & the new space race

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week with a look to outer space, in a special edition of (Out of The) World In 60 Seconds:

Was today's Blue Origin space flight a big deal for humankind, or just a big deal for Jeff Bezos?

I'm not sure the space flight itself was such a big deal for humankind, but I do think the advances in space technology, which are increasingly stepping up, they're much quicker. I mean, reusable rockets that land exactly where they took off. That's very different from the space shuttle a couple of decades ago, and very exciting in terms of the ability to not just engage in space tourism, but explore both what's outside of our Earth and beyond. So yeah, I think the fact that's being driven by the private sector is a big deal for the United States, a big deal for the planet. I, having said that, the planet that we're right now all on, is the one that matters, I think, the most to everybody for the foreseeable future.


Did Richard Branson steal Jeff Bezos' thunder?

No, I don't think he did. I think more relevantly, Richard Branson saved his company, Virgin Galactic. They had a problem. One of their planes or rockets, if you will, had malfunctioned. There were huge delays, and now suddenly they showed right before Bezos. They got an enormous amount of media attention. Branson's always been a genius at that. I'm much happier that he decided to apply himself to outer-space travel or near-space travel and tourism rather than trying to run for political office, frankly. It's better aligned towards that, and I think it will get more attention to space. Frankly, as someone who always loved space stuff and dinosaurs, when I was a kid, I think that's a good thing.

Will this flight have geopolitical implications like the 20th-century Space Race?

Sort of in the sense that in the United States, NASA has long been seriously underfunded. A lot of scuttled missions, not a lot of grand vision and ambition like we used to in the days of the Apollo missions. The Chinese, the Indians, the Emiratis are doing a lot more of that than NASA is, but the United States is still, in many ways, way out in front of the space race because of Jeff Bezos, because of Elon Musk. In fact, I'd argue that it's the guy that's not in the headlines this week or last week that matters most for space. That's Elon. He's kind of dominating near-Earth orbit. The truly interesting thing about Elon Musk though, and this is geopolitical, is that SpaceX is really an arm of the American military. It's like over 90% of all of their contracts are with NASA and the Pentagon, while Tesla is doing enormous business with high tech in China, with Chinese partners. And the ability for Elon to engage in that geopolitical balancing act. It is probably the most problematic business model out there of all of the advanced tech players. I'm not sure it's sustainable and I'm not sure which one he's going to choose. So we'll see where that goes.

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Iran’s nuclear program runs hotter

Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.

The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.

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January 6 laid bare "the deep divisions, the partisan infighting, the polarization within our society," says Fiona Hill, the former US senior director of the National Security Council. In a GZERO World interview, she spoke with Ian Bremmer about her concerns about the state of democracy in the United States.

Hill famously testified against her impeached boss, Donald Trump, who stayed in power after being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. She also notes that divisions actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Watch this episode of GZERO World: American strife: Will US democracy survive? Fiona Hill explains post-Jan 6 stakes

Kevin Allison, director of geotech at Eurasia Group, is concerned about the rise of very powerful tech companies disrupting centuries of geopolitics led by the nation-state.

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The problem with China’s Zero COVID strategy: GZERO World with Ian Bremmer - the podcast

Listen: Xi Jinping's zero-COVID approach faces its toughest test to date with omicron. Why? Because China lacks mRNA jabs, and so few Chinese people have gotten COVID that overall protection is very low. A wave of lockdowns could disrupt the world's second-largest economy — just a month out from the Beijing Winter Olympics.

That could spell disaster for Beijing, Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. If things get really bad, though, Huang believes China will pivot to living with the virus, especially as the cost of keeping zero COVID in the age of omicron becomes too high.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Kiev, Ukraine

First question, how is the crisis in this part of Europe developing?

Not good. There's been a week of intense diplomacy with talks in Geneva, and Brussels, and Vienna that produced virtually nothing. The Russian, sort of key demands are outrageously unrealistic. They know that is the case. The US is trying to engage them on somewhat different issues. We'll see if there's any prospect there, but it doesn't look too good. I think the likelihood is that we gradually will move into the phase of what the Russians call military technical measures, whatever that is.

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For Angela Hofmann, practice head for Industrial & Consumer at Eurasia Group, the world's most visible brands are in for a very rocky year.

Navigating culture wars will be very tricky, as well as fighting with competing demands from consumers, employees, and regulators on issues like China, diversity, and voting rights.

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Political polarization in the US isn’t just a problem within the country, points out former US national security official Fiona Hill. Deep divisions, she says, actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

“Putin loves our disunity," Russian expert Hill tells Ian Bremmer. "It's incredibly useful as a tool to exploit in that toolkit that he has.”

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An emboldened Putin thrives on American disunity

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