TIME foreign affairs

Quiz: What’s the Right Role for America in the World?

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding with Tunisian Minister of Political Affairs Mohsen Marzouk at Blair House, the presidential guest house, on May 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives for a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding with Tunisian Minister of Political Affairs Mohsen Marzouk at Blair House, the presidential guest house, on May 20, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Take an interactive quiz to discover what you think America's role in the world should be

In his new book Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer diagnoses the drift in U.S. foreign policy—and offers a few alternatives for the next President. But where do you want to see the U.S. go? Take this quiz and find out:

 

TIME 2016 Campaign

How the Presidential Candidates See America in the World

Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts a small business forum with members of the business and lending communities at Bike Tech bicycle shop on May 19, 2015 in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts a small business forum with members of the business and lending communities at Bike Tech bicycle shop on May 19, 2015 in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

From Hillary Clinton to Jeb Bush to Scott Walker, charting the 2016 candidates by their foreign policy preferences

The Presidential candidates are finally talking about foreign policy, but, not surprisingly, they aren’t yet saying much. “America must lead. We must combat tyranny and defend freedom. Our allies are counting on us. Our enemies are watching.” We’ve heard all this before.

They have good reason, of course, to avoid detailed descriptions of their policy plans. A candidate’s message is crafted to maximize fundraising and vote counts, not to enlighten the public, and foreign policy is the area where candidates are most likely to go light on substance. Even in an uncertain world, the American voter cares much more about hot-button domestic issues like health care, immigration, tax policy, entitlement reform, gay marriage and gun rights than they do about Syria, Ukraine, trans-Atlantic relations, or China.

More importantly, the United States has been a superpower so long that many voters appear to think that successful foreign policy is mainly a test of toughness and will. They don’t see the need to make tough choices—or why those choices will matter so much for the lives and livelihoods of their children and grandchildren.

We’ll hear more about America’s role in the world in 2016, in part because Hillary Clinton served as President Obama’s secretary of state. That encourages Republicans to talk about foreign policy issues that voters would otherwise prefer to ignore. And that’s a good thing, because we need to talk more about foreign policy—and with a new sense of urgency. The next president will make crucial decisions in an increasingly complicated world—and without reliable public support for plans that demand a long-term U.S. commitment.

In my book Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, I put forward three possible paths for the future of U.S. foreign policy:

  • Indispensable America: No other nation can provide the leadership that the world desperately needs
  • Moneyball America: We can’t do everything, but we must defend U.S. political and economic interests where they’re most threatened.
  • Independent America: We must rid ourselves of international burdens and focus on improving the country from within.

To help voters think about the top candidates and where they fit in on foreign policy, consider the following:

 

Jeb Bush: Indispensable America

Everywhere you look, you see the world slipping out of control,” warned former Florida Governor Jeb Bush in February 2015. This was not the first time he has argued that America must lead to set things right. “America does not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world…Our security, our prosperity and our values demand that we remain engaged and involved in often distant places. We have no reason to apologize for our leadership and our interest in serving the cause of global security, global peace, and human freedom. Nothing and no one can replace strong American leadership… …If we withdraw from the defense of liberty anywhere, the battle eventually comes to us.

This emphatic and unapologetic appeal to defend liberty anywhere it’s threatened comes from a candidate who has coined the term “liberty diplomacy” to describe his foreign policy aspirations. He has called for arms for Ukraine’s government and an aggressive approach against ISIS: “We have to develop a strategy that’s global, that takes them out. Restrain them, tightening the noose and then taking them out is the strategy. No talking about this. That just doesn’t work for terrorism.” While Rand Paul and Ted Cruz often speak to the Libertarian leanings of younger Republican voters with assertions of Constitutional limits on executive power, Bush, who has never served as a legislator, offers a more traditional Republican appeal for strong presidential leadership for a more forceful American role in the world.

 

Hillary Clinton: Edging from Moneyball to Indispensable America

As President Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton offered a Moneyball-inspired vision of America’s future, one that set aside risks in favor of opportunities, emphasized economic rather than military power, and focused on political and economic inroads in East Asia rather than a global assertion of American values. She firmly rejected an Independent America approach: “There are those on the American political scene who are calling for us not to reposition, but to come home. They seek a downsizing of our foreign engagement in favor of our pressing domestic priorities. These impulses are understandable, but they are misguided. Those who say that we can no longer afford to engage with the world have it exactly backward — we cannot afford not to.”

She was a forceful advocate of “economic statecraft” which she described like this: “first, updating our foreign policy priorities to take economics more into account; second, turning to economic solutions for strategic challenges; third, stepping up commercial diplomacy — what I like to call jobs diplomacy — to boost U.S. exports, open new markets, and level the playing field for our businesses; and fourth, building the diplomatic capacity to execute this ambitious agenda. In short, we are shaping our foreign policy to account for both the economics of power and the power of economics.” To promote a “pivot to Asia,” she said that “The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action.” She argued that “A focus on promoting American prosperity means a greater focus on trade and economic openness in the Asia-Pacific. The region already generates more than half of global output and nearly half of global trade.” She favored a pragmatic “reset” of relations with Putin’s Russia.

But in anticipation of the 2016 presidential campaign, Clinton’s rhetoric has become more universalist and more ambitious. In her book Hard Choices, she wrote that “To succeed in the 21st century, we need to integrate the traditional tools of foreign policy–diplomacy, development assistance, and military force–while also tapping the energy and ideas of the private sector and empowering citizens, especially the activists, organizers, and problem solvers we call civil society, to meet their own challenges and shape their own futures. We have to use all of America’s strengths to build a world with more partners and fewer adversaries, more shared responsibility and fewer conflicts, more good jobs and less poverty, more broadly based prosperity with less damage to our environment.” Voters are left to wonder whether a President Hillary Clinton would pursue a shrewd, targeted foreign policy or one built atop a foundation of comprehensive global leadership.

 

Ted Cruz: Marching from Moneyball toward Indispensable America

Before he began to hone his message for a presidential campaign, Texas Senator Ted Cruz was an articulate advocate of a Moneyball foreign policy. In 2013, he opposed action against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. “Assad’s actions, however deplorable, are not a direct threat to U.S. national security. Many bad actors on the world stage have, tragically, oppressed and killed their citizens, even using chemical weapons to do so. Unilaterally avenging humanitarian disaster, however, is well outside the traditional scope of U.S. military action….it is not the job of U.S. troops to police international norms or to send messages…U.S. military force should always advance our national security.

It’s hard to imagine a more forceful articulation of Moneyball foreign policy. Yet he added that “No other country is capable of putting together a coalition of like-minded nations and leading the fight against tyranny.” Political rhetoric aside, advocates of Moneyball America don’t call for a fight against “tyranny.”

Yet, as campaign season approached, the rhetoric began moving toward an Indispensable approach: “I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. I don’t agree with him on foreign policy. I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world… The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.Or this: “One of the things [US] Ambassador [to the United Nations Susan] Rice said that was absolutely correct is that America is the indispensable leader. But what our allies are expressing over and over again is that leadership is missing… When America’s weak, when the American President is weak, it leaves our friends and allies vulnerable.” That statement and others like it leave him squarely in the Indispensable camp, where he will likely remain throughout the 2016 campaign.

 

Rand Paul: Caught between Independent and Moneyball America

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul offers a complex foreign policy vision, one poised uneasily between the Independent America approach his father advanced in past election campaigns and the Moneyball viewpoint more common within the mainstream of the Republican Party. In 2013, he wrote that, “America’s national security mandate shouldn’t be one that reflects isolationism, but instead one that is not rash or reckless, a foreign policy that is reluctant, restrained by Constitutional checks and balances but does not appease.” That’s an excellent articulation of Moneyball foreign policy.

One sentence later, he moves squarely into Independent America territory: “This balance should heed the advice of America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams, who advised, ‘America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.’” Anyone who supports Independent America will find truth in this statement: “We should not succumb to the notion that a government inept at home will somehow become successful abroad.” Or this: “We cannot continue to try to bully allies or pay off our enemies. So many of the countries we send aid to dislike us…and openly tell the world they will side with our enemies.

Paul has, however, supported airstrikes against ISIS and a get-tough approach on Iran, a country he once said was “not a threat. Iran cannot even refine their own gasoline.” Senator Paul often appears uncomfortable with a full embrace of Independent America, but no candidate in the race offers a more forceful defense of this approach on individual questions of policy and principle.

 

Marco Rubio: Indispensable America

Ironically Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a candidate who often demonstrates an ability to connect with younger voters, appears to have fully embraced the Indispensable America point of view favored by his party’s establishment and so many older Americans. Consider these three statements. On the Middle East: I always start by reminding people that what happens all over the world is our business. Every aspect of [our] lives is directly impacted by global events. The security of our cities is connected to the security of small hamlets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.On the needs of America’s economy: We’re 4 to 5 percent of the world’s population. So for us to grow our economy robustly and provide more economic opportunity to more people, we need to have millions of people around the world that can afford to trade with us, that can afford to buy our products and our services. On relations with non-democracies like Iran, China, and North Korea, Rubio has said that “There is only one nation on earth capable of rallying and bringing together the free people on this planet to stand up to the threat of totalitarianism.” For those who favor an Indispensable America, Marco Rubio is a compelling choice.

 

Scott Walker: Incoherent America

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker belongs in the Incoherent file. At times, he talks as if he might embrace the Indispensable. On ISIS, he has said, “We need to take the fight to ISIS and any other radical Islamic terrorists in and around the world….We have to be prepared to put boots on the ground if that’s what it takes…. When you have the lives of Americans at stake and our freedom-loving allies anywhere in the world, we have to be prepared to do things that don’t allow those attacks, those abuses to come to our shores.” During a trip to Britain, Walker answered a question on sending weapons to Ukraine’s government by insisting, “I have an opinion on that … but I just don’t think you talk about foreign policy when you’re on foreign soil.”

Walker has said he would scrap any deal President Obama signs with Iran’s nuclear negotiators, even over the objections of America’s closest allies: “If I’m honored to be elected by the people of this country, I will pull back on that on January 20, 2017, because the last thing — not just for the region but for this world — we need is a nuclear-armed Iran.” Maybe it’s just that candidate Walker is simply a political opportunist. Every candidate is guilty of that. Or maybe he has an unrealistic view of what’s possible. In response to a question about his ability to handle ISIS, Walker once claimed that “If I can take on 100,000 protesters [in Wisconsin], I can do the same across the world.” Let’s hope his worldview has since deepened.

In his new book Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, TIME foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer diagnoses the drift in U.S. foreign policy—and offers a few alternatives for the next President. But where do you want to see the U.S. go? Take this quiz and find out:

 

TIME Middle East

These 5 Facts Explain the Troubled U.S.-Arab Relationship

Obama Hosts Gulf Cooperation Council Summit at Camp David
Kevin Dietsch—AP Obama encourages Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah to make a statement alongside Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, following the Gulf Cooperation Council-U.S. summit at Camp David on May 14, 2015.

A summit in Camp David shows the growing gap between the U.S. and its Arab allies, thanks to changing oil politics and aging leaders

President Barack Obama just concluded a two day summit with America’s Arab allies. The meeting wrapped up a rocky week that started when Saudi Arabia’s King Salman publicly withdrew from the summit and sent his son and his young nephew in his place. These 5 stats explain the tense relationship between the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies, and the challenges those alliances will face going forward.

1. It’s the Oil, Stupid.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia comprise the grouping of monarchies in the Persian Gulf known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). They are all major oil producers, with Saudi Arabia the heavyweight of the lot. Together they account for 24% of the world’s crude oil production. But after decades of critical dependence on their oil, America, thanks largely to the mid-2000s shale boom, has surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia to lead the world in oil production. The GCC has felt this acutely—Saudi Arabia saw its oil exports to the US plummet 23.74% between 2008 and 2014. The Saudis are not content to take this lying down. Riyadh is busy ramping up its own production (achieving a record high of 10.3 million barrels per day this past April) in an effort to drive down oil and price more expensive U.S. shale producers out of the global market.

(Middle East Monitor, Bloomberg, Energy Information Administration, Financial Times)

2. The Paradox of Plenty

While Saudis are increasing production largely to strengthen their long-term market position, the gambit poses significant short-term risks. Oil prices had already been tumbling for months, and the price of oil directly affects economies like that are heavily reliant upon the commodity. 45% of Saudi Arabia’s GDP comes directly from oil and gas, 40% of the UAE’s, and around 50-60% each for Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. By keeping production high, Saudi Arabia is helping to keep oil prices low.

Economists often talk about the “resource curse,” when a country’s abundance of natural resources stunts the rest of its economy. In a healthy and balanced economy, the private sector should drive research, development and innovation. But only 20% of Bahraini nationals work in the private sector. The rest of the GCC are worse: a pitiful 0.5% of UAE nationals have the misfortune of private employment. The GCC countries have relied so long on oil that their workforces can’t compete in a globalized world. The ruling powers are keenly aware of this fact.

(Forbes, OPEC – UAE, OPEC – Qatar, OPEC – Kuwait, EIA, Al Jazeera)

3. Arab Spring, Still Blooming?

The GCC countries had a front-row seat to the Arab Spring. Beginning in 2011, countries throughout the Arab World erupted in demonstrations and protests, even bleeding into Bahrain and Kuwait. One of the main drivers of the movement was mass unemployment, which afflicts the affluent GCC as well. Ernst & Young estimates that unaddressed unemployment of youths aged 20-24 could eventually reach 40% across GCC member states. Those are numbers ripe for revolution.

The only thing scarier than the uprisings to the Gulf monarchs must have been the U.S. response to them. For years the understanding was that so long as the Gulf countries would keep the world market flush with oil, the U.S. would provide them with protection. Egypt had a variation of this type of relationship with Washington, but Obama wasted little time in throwing Hosni Mubarak under the bus in 2011—at least as the GCC see it. If Egypt could be sacrificed at the altar of democracy, why couldn’t Saudi Arabia be next?

(Bloomberg, Ernst & Young)

4. The Threat of Iran

Looming over the GCC Summit is America’s reengagement with Iran. Washington’s greatest leverage over Tehran is the possibility of lifting sanctions in exchange for a nuclear deal. Experts estimate that Iran’s economy could grow anywhere from 2% to 5% in the first year after lifting sanctions, and then 7-8% the following 18 months. Those are rates on par with the remarkable growth of the ‘Asian Tigers’ in the 1990s.

It’s not just the additional economic competition that worries the GCC. Saudi Arabia has spent the better part of the last decade combatting Iran’s influence across Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, even Bahrain—the end of sanctions would give Tehran additional financing to escalate the regional rivalry. Further destabilizing the region are serious threats posed by groups like ISIS. This is why the GCC sought a formal, Japan-style security alliance with the U.S. The leaders who showed up in Washington couldn’t get the pact they wanted—a treaty requiring Congressional approval is a nonstarter—but they did get assurances of America’s continued military support and significant arms sales.

(Financial Times, Vox, Reuters, Economist)

5. Age Matters

The absence of the Saudi king, along with his counterparts from the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, sent the message that the status quo in the Middle East cannot continue. Their snub of Obama was intended to project an image of strength in the region. But the reality is that the oil-dependent GCC countries have serious structural problems that will take generations to solve. Instead of dealing with four rulers with an average age of 75, Obama sat across from representatives with an average age of 56. This younger generation is poised to lead their countries for decades to come. After 70 years of intense engagement, it is clear that the GCC countries need America as much as ever. The question is how much America needs them.

(Crown Prince Court – UAE, Kingdom of Bahrain (a), Kingdom of Bahrain (b) AlJazeera, Reuters, BBC, Forbes, Al-Monitor, White House )

TIME U.K.

A Disunited Kingdom

Britain’s election could mean an unruly exit from the E.U.

With the parliamentary elections behind us, we now have an unobstructed view of how one of the world’s most important political stories will unfold. Prime Minister David Cameron, who shocked pollsters by winning an outright majority in elections on May 7, promised voters a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether Britain will remain a member of the European Union. Some observers say that it’s all smoke, that Britons surely won’t vote to exit the E.U. Maybe. But the possibility of an exit–and the fear, anxiety and opportunism it generates–make this a story the world dare not ignore.

Britain’s economy is among the strongest in Europe. Its GDP grew by 2.6% last year, one of the best performances in the developed world. Employment stands at a record high. Yet Britain’s election results prove once again that the anti-E.U. populism now roiling European politics is alive and well in the U.K. Conservatives won their majority in part by promising a vote on E.U. membership that many party members don’t actually want. Labour, which carefully hedged its referendum bets, took a beating of surprising scale. The election’s biggest loser, the centrist Liberal Democrats, proved beyond a doubt that in this political climate, the middle of the road is the surest place to get hit by a truck.

The only pro-E.U. winner in Britain’s vote was the Scottish National Party (SNP), which won 56 of Scotland’s 59 contested seats just months after leading a failed effort to win Scotland’s independence from the U.K. Another winner was the Euroskeptic right-wing U.K. Independence Party (UKIP). The party won just one seat in the House of Commons, but its 12.6% of the national vote was more than either the Liberal Democrats or SNP could muster. Beyond its seat or vote count, UKIP has changed British politics by giving voice to public frustration with the E.U. and pushing the referendum to center stage.

Now the referendum is coming. What’s at stake? In many ways, E.U. membership has served Britain well–particularly its supersize banking sector, which has helped make London into a global city. In 2014, financial and insurance services brought in $193.7 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the U.K. economy, totaling 8% of the U.K.’s GVA. It’s little surprise, then, that fear of a British exit–which could seriously upset the international banking industry–has persuaded some U.K. financial institutions to send up warnings. Some 72% of British companies polled by the firm Grant Thornton say an exit would hurt business. HSBC has warned that it would consider relocating its headquarters from London should the U.K. leave the E.U.

No wonder British firms are on edge. By some estimates, “Brexit” would cost the U.K. $330 billion, or 14% of its GDP. After leaving, Britain would have to renegotiate trade relationships with individual E.U. members, and its government would lose much of its international clout. London would also become a less important ally for the U.S., which values Britain in part for its influence within the E.U. Finally, if polls suggest that a British exit is really possible, an empowered SNP might demand that overwhelmingly pro-E.U. Scots again get to vote on Scottish independence–and this time, they might well win.

The E.U. would also lose from a British exit, which would cost it 12.5% of its population, 14.8% of its economy and an experienced and engaged military power with the E.U.’s strongest ties to Washington. It’s also worth noting that Britain contributed more than $19 billion to the E.U. budget in 2013 while taking out just $7.1 billion. If Britain exits, Germany and others will have to make up the difference.

Right now, British voters are roughly split on an E.U. exit. In a recent poll by the consultancy Populus, 39% said they want to leave, while about 40% said they want to stay. That leaves a lot of undecided voters, and much will happen over the next two years. Bets will be hedged and preparations made, in Britain and across Europe. That alone will be a story worth following.

Foreign-affairs columnist Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy


This appears in the May 25, 2015 issue of TIME.
TIME Britain

These Are the 5 Facts That Explain the Surprising U.K. Elections

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) stands with former former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (C) and former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, as they line up to pay tribute at the Cenotaph during a Victory in Europe (VE) day ceremony in central London on May 8, 2015.
Dan Kitwood—Reuters Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) stands with former former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (C) and former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, as they line up to pay tribute at the Cenotaph during a Victory in Europe (VE) day ceremony in central London on May 8, 2015.

A possible Brexit, the growing chance of an independent Scotland and other results from the campaign

The British people have spoken—and they want the Conservative David Cameron to continue as Prime Minister. But we don’t know if they want to remain part of the EU, or even part of their own United Kingdom. These 5 numbers explain yesterday’s election results, and where the UK goes from here.

1. The Losers

The Labour Party captured only 232 seats—surprising, since projections had them neck-and-neck with the Conservatives, their main rivals, going into the polls. Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, has already resigned after the loss. But the biggest loser of the night was the Liberal Democrats, who absolutely imploded and lost 49 seats in Parliament compared to their last outing. There was hope that the centrist party could capture enough seats to help the Tories form a coalition government. Now it’s a serious question whether the Lib Dems are even a viable political movement going forward given Britain’s increasingly polarized politics.

(BBC, The Guardian, The Spectator)

2. The Winners

The Conservatives were the big victors last night, securing 331 seats and an outright majority in the House of Commons. (All results are still preliminary.) The other significant winner was the Scottish National Party (SNP) and its leader, Nicola Sturgeon. SNP is a regional party which actively campaigns for Scottish independence, so its big night—winning 56 seats out of the 59 contested in Scotland—may come as no surprise. Still, it is shocking that SNP’s massive showing comes on the heels of a Scottish independence referendum in September which saw Scots vote decisively to remain part of the United Kingdom. SNP’s strong performance and insistence on greater Scottish independence opens the door for another Scottish referendum down the road.

Another winner was the UK Independence Party, or UKIP. A Eurosceptic right-wing group, it looks to have managed to secure only one seat in the House of Commons. But while it lost the electoral battle, it won the political one—by dragging Cameron and the Tories further to the right, advancing its agenda to pull Britain out of the EU. Furthermore, its solid performance throughout the country—it took 12.7% of the popular vote, third most after the Conservatives and Labour—makes UKIP a political force to be reckoned with and will increase calls for serious electoral reform. After all, the SNP is now the third largest party in government, yet it won less than 5% of the popular vote.

(BBC, The Telegraph, The Telegraph)

3. The Specter of an EU Referendum

Cameron had pledged to hold a referendum on EU membership by 2017 if the Tories remained in power. Cameron floated the “Brexit,” or British exit, scenario in a bid to win over voters trending towards UKIP. But in the process, he opened some old wounds. The UK has had an uneasy relationship with the EU since it rejected the Euro currency in 1991 to keep the Pound Sterling. Unlike European heavyweights France and Germany, which both fully embraced the European project, the UK has spent decades hedging. While the country is forced to pay billions into Brussels’ coffers each year, Britain has undoubtedly benefitted from its relationship with the EU, in particular its banking sector. In 2014 alone, financial and insurance services brought in $193.7 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy, 8% of the UK’s total GVA.

(The Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Parliament of the United Kingdom)

4. London Calling Anymore?

With fear of Brexit looming over these elections, financial institutions began hinting at their disquiet. 72% of companies polled in Great Britain by the firm Grant Thornton believe a UK exit would hurt business. HSBC has warned that it would consider relocating its headquarters from London should the UK leave the EU. As it stands, the British people are roughly split on whether to exit the EU—in a recent poll 39% want to leave against 40% who want to stay. Some estimates have a British exit from the EU costing London $330 billion, or 14% of its GDP.

(Politico, The Guardian, Financial Times, The Guardian)

5. Unhung parliaments

Europeans are increasingly voting for anti-establishment parties. Hung parliaments (i.e. a situation where no political party has an absolute majority) are becoming the rule rather than the exception across Europe. Britain was expected to join them—Election Forecast UK had put the probability of a hung British parliament at 97%. Despite the Tories’ impressive victory, the impact of the SNP and UKIP on the election show that this trend continues to spread. Is this increasing political divergence a sign that democracy in Europe is breaking down or working better than ever? The success or failure of the next British government to resolve the country’s fractious relations with the EU and its governing institutions will help answer that question.

(London School of Economics, Business Insider)

TIME Nepal

These Are the 5 Facts That Explain Nepal’s Devastating Earthquake

Destroyed villages sit on mountain tops near the epicenter of Saturday's massive earthquake, in the Gorkha District of Nepal on April 29, 2015.
Wally Santana—AP Destroyed villages sit on mountain tops near the epicenter of the massive earthquake, in the Gorkha District of Nepal on April 29, 2015.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake will hamper Nepal for years

The earthquake that ravaged Nepal, killing at least 5,000 people, has revealed the best and worst both in the Himalayan nation and those rushing to its aid. These 5 facts explain what’s shaping the domestic and international responses to the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, and where Nepal goes from here.

1. Quick to aid

Aid pledges are pouring in: $10 million from the US, $7.6 million from the UK, and $3.9 million from Australia, among others. But as welcome as this influx of funds is, the sad reality is that Nepal is ill-equipped to make full use of these resources. That is why countries are lining up to donate technical expertise via disaster response teams as well. China has sent a 62-member search-and-rescue team to help the recovery effort. Israel has sent 260 rescue experts in addition to a 200-person strong medical team, while Japan has sent another 70 people as part of a disaster relief team. The United Nations, in addition to releasing $15 million from its central emergency-response fund, is busy trying to coordinate international efforts to maximize their effectiveness.

(TIME, Quartz, Wall Street Journal)

2. A weak base

Nepal’s infrastructure was critically feeble even before disaster struck. With per capita GDP less than $700 a year, many Nepalese build their own houses without oversight from trained engineers. Nepal tried to institute a building code in 1994 following another earthquake that claimed the lives of 700 people, but it turned out to be essentially unenforceable. To make matters worse, a shortage of paved roads in the country means that assistance can’t reach remote regions where it’s needed most. Local authorities are simply overwhelmed, as is Nepal’s sole international airport in Kathmandu. Planes filled with blankets, food and medicine are idling on tarmacs because there are not enough terminals available.

(TIME, Washington Post, TIME)

3. Half a year’s output gone?

The economic cost of the earthquake is estimated to be anywhere between $1 billion to $10 billion, for a country with an annual GDP of approximately $20 billion. The economic impact will be lasting. Tourism is crucial to the Nepalese economy, accounting for about 8 percent of the total economy and employing more than a million people. Mount Everest, a dangerous destination under the best of circumstances, is the heart of that industry. The earthquake this past weekend triggered an avalanche that took the lives of at least 17 climbers, and as many as 200 people are still stranded on the mountain.

(Quartz, Deutsche Welle, Wall Street Journal, The Independent)

4. Internal political barriers

Nepal’s domestic politics are not helping. Nepal’s 1996-2006 civil war claimed the lives of at least 12,000 Nepalese, and the country’s political system has never really recovered. The government that stood before the quake was woefully ill-prepared to deal with a disaster of such scale. There have been no elections at the district, village or municipal level for nearly 20 years, and the committees in charge of local councils are not organized enough to deal with the difficult task of coordinating emergency assistance. Things are not much better at the national level, where Kathmandu has seen nine prime ministers in eight years.

(Washington Post, New York Times, TIME)

5. A competition for influence

Not all foreign aid is altruistic, and some countries never miss an opportunity to capitalize on tragedy. For years, Nepal has been an object of competition between India and China. For India, Nepal has been a useful buffer state between itself and China ever since Beijing gained control over Tibet. Relative to China, India and Nepal are much closer linguistically and culturally. Nepalese soldiers train in India, and New Delhi is a main weapons supplier to Nepal. For China, Nepal is an important component of its “New Silk Road” plan to link Asia with Europe, and offers a useful ally against Tibetan independence. China was already Nepal’s biggest foreign investor as of 2014. While in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake both Asian powers are providing significant assistance, it’s in the reconstruction phase where the true competition between the two will emerge. Pay particular attention to the race to build hydroelectric power plants: both Beijing and New Delhi have been positioning themselves to take advantage of Nepal’s 6,000 rivers to feed their respective energy needs.

(Quartz, BBC, TIME)

TIME pacific rim

How the U.S. Can Counter China in Asia

President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with leaders from the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the US Embassy in Beijing on Nov. 10, 2014 in Beijing. From left: US Trade Representative Mike Froman, Obama, and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with leaders from the Trans-Pacific Partnership at the US Embassy in Beijing on Nov. 10, 2014 in Beijing. From left: US Trade Representative Mike Froman, Obama, and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership offers a new solution

A historic debate over trade is now heating up in Washington. President Barack Obama hopes to persuade Congress to grant him fast-track trade authority to help complete negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive multilateral deal involving the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. The talks include nations on both sides of the Pacific, ranging from Japan to Australia to Peru. Together with the U.S., the group represents a third of world trade and 40% of global GDP.

Given those numbers, the political stakes are high, and emotions are running hot on both sides. Pro-business advocates who favor TPP say it will generate economic gains worth hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade by reducing barriers to trade and investment. Projected GDP growth in Japan and Singapore for 2025 would be nearly 2% higher with the deal than without it. Malaysia’s GDP might rise by more than 5%; Vietnam’s, possibly more than 10%.

TPP isn’t expected to move U.S. GDP much, but the White House insists the deal will boost exports by 4.39% over 2025 forecasts. Exports create the kinds of middle-class jobs that drive longer-term growth and reduce income inequality. TPP would also give the U.S. a firmer commercial foothold in the world’s most economically dynamic region, and it could aid U.S. efforts to negotiate future diplomatic agreements in Asia–even with China, which pointedly isn’t a part of the deal.

Those who oppose TPP–such as labor unions, human-rights groups and environmental organizations–warn that details of the agreement have been negotiated almost entirely in secret. They recall the tumultuous negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the early 1990s, and the confident predictions–which detractors believe went unfulfilled–that the pact would create millions of new jobs.

Both sides miss a critical point: unlike NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is much more than just a trade deal. It is the foundation for an intelligent reorientation of U.S. foreign policy, one that will help revitalize the entire global economy and reinforce security ties with Asian countries fearful of China’s growing regional dominance. It remains the centerpiece of President Obama’s long-delayed “pivot to Asia,” a smart plan that could extend American influence in East and Southeast Asia for many years to come.

That pivot is overdue. China’s rise has challenged the U.S. and its economy by promoting a system of state capitalism that gives political officials a powerful role in directing market activity. By using state-owned companies, state-run banks and loyal firms to achieve political goals, China has tilted the commercial playing field away from foreign companies and the U.S.

TPP can help counter the growth of Chinese-style state capitalism in Asia in much the same way that potential European Union membership once encouraged reform in former communist nations. Countries like Poland and Estonia learned to abide by E.U. rules that advantage private-sector competition and liberalized labor, trade and investment standards.

The deal would provide a landmark win for free markets, the rule of law and Western labor and environmental standards while inviting Beijing’s neighbors to hedge their bets on China by also strengthening investment ties with the U.S. and other TPP members. It would signal that America intends to remain in Asia as a stabilizer even as China becomes an ever more influential player.

And for President Obama, TPP would anchor the legacy of a leader who has often seemed adrift in global politics.

Foreign-affairs columnist Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy


This appears in the May 11, 2015 issue of TIME.
TIME Japan

Japan’s Shinzo Abe Is Talking in Washington — but He Needs to Talk to Asia

Shinzo Abe, Joe Biden, John Boehner
Carolyn Kaster—AP Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks before a joint meeting of Congress, April 29, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The Japanese Prime Minister is a hit in Washington, but the reaction in China and South Korea will matter more

Shinzo Abe landed in the U.S. this week to great fanfare. Delivering the first-ever speech by a Japanese Prime Minister to a joint session of Congress, Abe proclaimed his resolve to “to take yet more responsibility for the peace and stability in the world.” Japan is busy trying to shape a new foreign policy course for itself after years of relative isolation on the geopolitical stage, a result of its pacifist constitution that dates back to its defeat and occupation by the U.S. after World War II.

Yet while much attention has been focused on Abe’s overture to Washington, just as critical to Japan’s re-emergence on the global stage is its relationship with its Asian neighbors — especially China and South Korea. How these two economic powers respond to a more assertive Japan will go a long way in determining how far Abe’s ambitions will take Tokyo.

After decades of hostility, Japan-China relations have markedly improved over the past six months. Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping have had productive encounters over the past two years, and have agreed to keep the lines of communication open going forward. China and Japan have both promised to use “dialogue and consultation” to deal with territorial disputes in the East China Sea and to work towards developing crisis mechanisms to avoid escalation.

While this might not sound like much, it is a significant achievement for two Asian heavyweights who have long been at each other’s throats. China’s rise casts a long shadow over all of Asia, but Japan has signaled a willingness to collaborate, boding well for the future. Japan’s dramatically improved relationship with India should also make China cautious in its dealings with Japan. There remain a host of issues to work out — particularly over Japan’s actions during World War II — but the China-Japan relationship now has the best trajectory of any bilateral relationship in the G20.

Yet for all the progress Japan has made with China, its relationship with South Korea — technically an ally — remains strained. The trilateral relationship among the U.S., Japan and South Korea is critical to American plans for the region, but historical disputes have threatened this framework. During World War II, South Korean women were forced to work for the occupying Japanese army as “comfort women” — a euphemism for sex slaves.

While Abe said in a speech at Harvard University on Monday that his “heart aches even now” for the victims, he has stopped short of officially recognizing and apologizing for the practice, as Seoul has demanded. Abe maintains that previous government apologies for Japanese wartime aggressions are sufficient. The South Koreans clearly disagree, with a Korean newspaper denouncing Abe as “the root of the problem” on its front page this week. With a sputtering economy and a government weakened by scandal — South Korea’s Prime Minister resigned on April 27 after bribery accusations — it is no wonder that Seoul is eyeing Japan’s aspirations warily.

The U.S. has tried to stay out of this charged dispute, and is taking a page from its playbook with another key American ally: Turkey. Out of concerns for Turkish feelings, President Obama has refrained from uttering the G word to describe the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey early in the last century. That caution — even though most historians accept that a genocide occurred — is calculated to avoid damaging a strategically important relationship.

In Japan, Abe has the political capital to apologize for historical aggression, but chooses not to. Japan is too important to Obama’s “pivot to Asia” strategy to risk estranging its leaders, especially with the critical Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on the horizon.

If the pivot to Asia is to succeed and Japan’s new foreign policy ambitions are to be realized, America’s democratic allies in Asia need to find a way to move forward. Abe is talking in the U.S., but what matters is whether Asia is listening.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com