This Ain’t Your Grandad’s Superpower

This Ain’t Your Grandad’s Superpower

If there's one thing the Brits, the Russkies and the Yanks have all learned over the years, it's this: Being a superpower is hard. After all, it means not only projecting military, economic and cultural influence well beyond your borders, but also doing it in different parts of the world at the same time. Very few countries have been able to pull that off throughout history. And right now, the US is the only one that fits the bill in every category.

Still, being a superpower ain't what it used to be.


It was once all about armies, alliances and soft power, from diplomatic pirouettes to the strategic use of foreign aid. Those things still matter, sure, but world powers now require an extra set of tools that are both very different and accessible to a far wider range of people. When the term was first coined by a Yale Professor in the 1940s, few were pondering the ways big data, artificial intelligence, cyberwarfare, social media, and machine learning would affect the global balance of power.

Today, it's a different game.

And if there's one country with the means to play, it's China. Beijing has staked its own claim to global power in large part on dominating artificial intelligence by 2030, the year its economy is set to become the world's largest. Its mounting array of cyber tools and its lead on the 5G race could give it the edge it needs. What's more, with a $1.3 trillion dollar plan to build infrastructure across the globe, and massive investments in naval expansion, China certainly looks like it's getting ready to stake a fresh claim to global superpowerdom.

Still, if this is to be the "Chinese century," as The Economist predicts, a looming unknown remains: What kind of power does Beijing actually want? And what will it mean for the world if, for the first time in modern history, a superpower with the largest economy on earth is an authoritarian one-party surveillance state?

For now, China is still in many ways a regional power of Asia – but as President Xi Jinping eyes the prize of putting his country "at the center of the world stage," the answers to these questions will be a driving force behind how much of the world's future societies function.

And they are also precisely the focus of this week's show on GZERO World with Ian Bremmer.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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