GZERO Media logo

A Western War of Words - And Worldviews

A Western War of Words - And Worldviews

Last weekend, world leaders, security experts, and business executives flocked to the Hotel Bayrischer Hof in Munich for the 55th annual Munich Security Conference. What's the Munich Security Conference? Think of it a bit like Davos, but with policymakers in dark suits rather than billionaires in Gore-Tex.


The backdrop to this year's gathering was the sense of a deepening divide between the Trump administration and Washington's traditional European allies. Back-to-back speeches from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice President Mike Pence threw that estrangement into stark relief.

Here's a quick breakdown on some of the most important rifts:

On the Middle East: Pence said "the time has come" for America's European allies to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join the US "as we bring the economic and diplomatic pressure necessary to give the Iranian people, the region, and the world the peace, security, and freedom they deserve." He also defended the US's decision to withdraw its troops from Syria as a "change in tactics, not a change in mission." But the campaign-style speech got a chilly reception from the Munich crowd. Merkel questioned the wisdom of scrapping the nuclear deal, rather than using it as leverage to get Iran to shutter its ballistic missile program and cut support for proxy fighters in Yemen and Syria. She suggested that the US withdrawal from Syria might only end up strengthening Iran and Russia. Her overriding message: real allies should sit down and talk about these tough problems before taking unilateral action.

On trade: The usually cautious Merkel directly criticized the Trump administration's threat to use national security concerns as a pretext to slap import tariffs on European cars. "Look: we are proud of our cars," said Merkel. Pointing out that South Carolina is home to one of the largest BMW factories in the world, the German chancellor said, "if these cars…are suddenly a threat to the national security of the United States of America, that shocks us."

On China: Pence made clear that the US intends to continue to play hardball with China on trade, intellectual property theft, and Beijing's technology and industrial policies. Fine, said Merkel, but in an implicit dig at Trump's more unilateral approach, she countered that multilateralism and cooperation between allies – painstaking though they may be – offer the best chance to grapple with China's rise. You can't, she said, "think that you can solve all things on your own."

Hey Joe! Mike Pence wasn't the only American making waves at Munich. A record-sized US delegation also included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leading members of the US defense and foreign policy establishment, many of whose views are closer to Merkel's than those of Pence or his boss. Former US Vice President and possible 2020 contender Joe Biden, attending in an unofficial capacity, attracted attention with a strongly pro-NATO speech in which he told anxious allies that "This too shall pass. We will be back."

Really? Tempting as it might be for the Europeans to pin their hopes on waiting for a change of administration in 2020, it's a risky strategy. Merkel is on her way out – but Trump might not be.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan region, stretching for more than 2,000 miles, is home to the world's highest mountains. The mountain range is also home to the world's third-largest concentration of snow and ice, earning it the moniker the third pole; only the North and South Poles contain more. The glaciers of the Hindu Kush Himalayas are the main source of fresh water for around two billion people living in the region. However, by the end of this century, two-thirds of that snow and ice could be lost because of climate change. A network of data scientists and environmentalists around the world, and on the ground in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, are working to understand the extent of glacial melting in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, its effects and what can be done to minimize its impact. To read more visit Microsoft on the Issues.

When Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned Tuesday — plunging the country into chaos as it faces once-in-a-generation public health and economic crises — he became the fourteenth Italian to vacate the prime ministership in three decades. (For contrast, Germany has only had three chancellors since 1982, and France has had five presidents.)

But Conte, who had no previous political experience until he was tapped for the top job in 2018, is not so much throwing in the towel as he is taking a massive gamble that President Sergio Mattarella will again appoint him to head Conte's third coalition government in less than three years.

The recent dysfunction is unique even within the context of instability-prone Italian politics. How did Italy get here, and what might come next?

More Show less

The Democrats shocked the country by eking out a 50-50 majority in the US Senate earlier this month, securing control of the House, Senate and Executive. But do they have enough power to impose the kinds of restrictions to Big Tech that many believe are sorely needed? Renowned tech columnist Kara Swisher is not so sure. But there is one easy legislative win they could pursue early on. "I think it's very important to have privacy legislation, which we currently do not have: a 'national privacy bill.' Every other country does." Swisher's wide-ranging conversation with Ian Bremmer was part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:

What did you think of Xi Jinping's speech at the virtual World Economic Forum?

Well, his last speech at the real World Economic Forum in Davos, I remember being there four years ago, and given that Trump had just been elected, Xi Jinping gives this big, "We want to stand up and be leaders while the Americans are doing America first." And generally speaking, was probably the most important speech of the week. People liked it. This is a pretty different environment, not so much because Trump has gone, but rather because support and belief in Xi Jinping is pretty low. I will say one thing that was generally well responded to was the call not to enter into a new Cold War. Anybody in the business community generally supports that. There's so much integration and interdependence between the US and the Chinese economies that when Xi Jinping says, "We need to find ways to continue to work together," I mean, this is the pro-globalization audience he's speaking to. They generally agree. But otherwise, the message fell pretty flat. So, the idea that China is going to be globally useful on issues of leadership, especially when it comes to anything that might threaten Beijing's sovereignty, they check global norms at the door. And a few examples of that, when Xi called for support for the rules-based international order, that's in obvious contrast with China's violation of the one country, two systems framework in Hong Kong. And they said, "Well, that's a domestic issue." Well, actually that's not what your agreement was with the British handover. And just because you're more powerful doesn't mean that norm doesn't matter anymore.

More Show less

Over the weekend, some 40,000 people in Moscow and thousands more across Russia braved subzero temperatures to turn out in the streets in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. More than 3,000 protesters were arrested, and Navalny called on his followers to prepare for more action in the coming weeks.

But just who is Alexei Navalny, and how significant is the threat that he may pose to Vladimir Putin's stranglehold on power in Russia?

More Show less
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal