Gideon Rachman


5:45 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Palmer House Hilton Hotel
17 East Monroe Street

To purchase a copy of the book:

Zero-Sum Future: American Power in an Age of Anxiety

The financial and economic crisis unleashed by the Wall Street crash of September 2008 annihilated the assumptions that globalization was a win-win for all. "Globalization" had promised rising living standards across the globe resting on common interests among the most powerful nations. With the Cold War over, America was indisputably the dominant global power and the guarantor of the stability of the international system, ready and able to discourage all challengers.

The crash changed that logic. It is no longer clear or even likely that globalization benefits all. It is certainly no longer the case that the U.S. has no serious rivals for dominance. At the same time, the world is facing urgent global problems -- among them climate change and nuclear proliferation--that are raising sharp new rivalries and divisions. A sustained period of relative international cooperation has given way to zero-sum logic of political and economic struggle, increased competition and conflict.

Zero-sum logic shows that one country's gain is another's loss -- and it has led to a sharp rise in tensions, particularly between China and the United States. Zero-sum also threatens the future of the European Union, as countries fight over the costs of managing a single currency. Zero-sum prevents a meaningful agreement on global warming: No one nation wants to move first for fear of crippling their economies and boosting their rivals. The same goes for dealing with nuclear proliferation, and access to energy sources, food and water.

Zero-sum undermines all the assumptions of U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. It threatens increased tensions and conflict, wars, environmental disaster and economic shocks. Obama in his first major address to the United Nations summed up the dangers: "Extremists sowing terror in pockets of the world. Prolonged conflicts that drag on and on. Genocide and mass atrocities. More and more nations with nuclear weapons. Melting ice caps and ravaged populations. Persistent poverty and pandemic disease." To Obama's list Rachman adds trade wars, a rising number of failing states, the struggle for oil and other natural resources, in particular food; the renewed strength of authoritarian regimes and ideologies that threaten to clash with the democratic world; cross-border flows of refugees and illegal immigrants; the growing power of international organized crime.