Ian Bremmer: COVID-19 Is A Global Crisis

The lack of international political response, the politicization of the crisis, leads to less efficiency, to longer shutdowns, and extensive economic impact.

In the US: governors and mayors are doing different things. If decisions on what is or is not an essential good differ from state to state, it's hard to put together a supply chain for goods produced across states. The implications are larger. You can shut down all of California, but if you don't have control over the state borders (and you don't), people can move. What happens when you try to restart, & there are outbreaks in other states?


This is not a national crisis. It affects the entire world. We've not seen a crisis to this extent in our lifetimes. The 2008 financial crisis was a piece of the economy that racked global markets, but didn't impact every sector in the global economy. This is affecting the supply chain and global consumption. It's stopping people from traveling, from engaging in livelihoods.

If you want to respond to a global crisis, you need a global response. If you have cancer and you see an ophthalmologist who says, "I know how I can fix your eyes," - the cancer is still spreading. You've got to focus holistically, and we don't have a holistic response globally.

We have a lot of finger-pointing between the United States and China. President Trump sees that if we blame the Chinese, we can be on a war footing. Fighting an invisible war against the "Chinese virus". That's a way to improve Trump's approval ratings. Being on a war footing domestically usually leads to an improvement in popularity. We see that in South Korea, where they've been pretty effective, but also in France and Italy, where they're experiencing disaster economically. But the popularity of the governments has been going up - patriotic response, "we're at war." You can't win a war against terror, but you can win a war against coronavirus. You can find a vaccine. You can get rid of it, even at vast personal costs. That's why Trump is doing it. But - it needs to be a global war because it is a global pandemic and there is no global leader. We don't have global soldiers. There's no global arsenal to fight a global pandemic. The likelihood that this continues to spread gets higher.

This conversation about extending the curve, makes sense, because you want to ensure that health care systems are not overwhelmed, you need time to build them up so that the people racing to ICUs because they desperately need it, aren't turned away - that would lead to people with critical care needs untreated. But if they're not globally connected, then the likelihood that one country is successful, but cases pop up; we're now seeing that South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan are seeing larger numbers of cases again. I have no doubt they will respond effectively, but secondary outbreaks are coming in large part because the rest of the world isn't coordinated.

As the weather gets warmer in our part of the world, New York, the northern hemisphere, in sub-Saharan Africa, and South America, it's much more likely that you're going to have new breakouts. Those breakouts will be larger without international coordination. We are a year minimum away from functional vaccines. We're much closer to that to the ability to, at scale, treat people that have coronavirus. But reducing some of the effects of coronavirus is not healing it. If we had something that responded well to flu, we'd be giving it to people with flu. We don't.

And so, the early stage, medicines being talked about, including at press briefings by President Trump, may have some success for people that have already already gotten the virus. But that's very different from saying that this is somehow going to change. So, I do think that we're now looking at a shut down in the United States, not just for a matter of weeks, but for months. You're going to see that in Europe and the potential that hitting the southern hemisphere is growing.

The human spirit is indomitable. I have no doubt we will eventually get a vaccine. But this is going to be a very trying time, made much more trying by the fact that the politics are so inefficient & so misaligned. I wish I could say it was just about the US election. It's not. It's a global and structural issue.

"I think there are certain times where you have tectonic shifts and change always happens that way."

On the latest episode of 'That Made All the Difference,' Vincent Stanley, Director of Philosophy at Patagonia, shares his thoughts on the role we all have to play in bringing our communities and the environment back to health.

One of the biggest threats to 21st century international peace is invisible. It recognizes no borders and knows no rules. It can penetrate everything from the secrets of your government to the settings of your appliances. This is, of course, the threat of cyberattacks and cyberwarfare.

During the coronavirus pandemic, cyberattacks have surged, according to watchdogs. This isn't just Zoom-bombing or scams. It's also a wave of schemes, likely by national intelligence agencies, meant to steal information about the development and production of vaccines. Attacks on the World Health Organization soared five-fold early in the pandemic.

Why is the threat of cyberwarfare growing, and why isn't more being done to stop it?

Hacking is increasingly the business of nation-states. Not so long ago, hackers were mainly hooded freelancers sitting in their basements stealing credit card numbers. Now they are increasingly the employees of national intelligence services.

Why are countries investing more and more in the cyber game? For one thing, hacking is a cheap way to level the playing field with larger global rivals. For North Korea or Iran, you no longer need a powerful military in order to project power across the globe. You just need a laptop and a few good programmers. What's more, unlike missile launches or invasions, the targets can't always tell where a cyberattack has come from. Plausible deniability comes in handy, especially when attacking someone bigger than you.

Targets are getting fatter. As countries build out 5G networks, data flows will increase massively, as more than a billion more people move online over the next decade. The so-called "internet of things," the network in which everything from your watch to your (potentially self-driving) car to your refrigerator are being hooked up to the internet. (That said, huge gaps in internet access persist, as we wrote here.)

There are no rules. Conventional war has rules about whom you can and cannot attack, occupy, or imprison. They aren't always respected or enforced — but the cyber realm has very few rules, mainly because the world's major cyber powers don't want them. If you're Vladimir Putin, hacking has brought dividends that your flagging economy and mediocre military cannot. If you're the US, you're historically wary of any binding rules about the conduct of war. (If you're Gulliver, why tie yourself to the ground for the sake of Lilliput?) So, while various groups of countries have, under UN auspices, started to develop "norms" – they are not binding.

Unfortunately, it may take a catastrophe to create those rules. So far, the damage inflicted by hackers has mostly been economic. In 2017, the NotPetya virus, which targeted Ukraine, quickly spread around the globe, inflicting $10 billion worth of pain. It was, so far, the worst cyberattack in history.

But it's not hard to imagine a cyberattack on a hospital network, a power grid, or a dam that kills thousands of people and forces even more from their homes. How can those responsible be called to account? And what would it take to make future such attacks much less likely?

Will it take an event that inflicts that much human damage for governments and tech companies to sit down and hammer out cyber-rules of the road?

Malaysian political drama: Malaysia's (eternal) opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says he finally has enough votes in parliament to be appointed prime minister, seven months after the coalition that was going to support him collapsed amid an internal revolt that also forced out 95-year-old Mahathir Mohamed as head of the government. Two years ago, Mahathir — who governed Malaysia from 1980 to 2003 — shocked the country by running in the 2018 election and defeating his former party UMNO, which had dominated Malaysian politics since independence in 1956. After winning, Mahathir agreed to hand over power to Anwar — a former protégé with whom he had a falling out in the late 1990s — but Mahathir's government didn't last long enough to do the swap. Will Anwar now realize his lifelong dream of becoming Malaysia's prime minister? Stay tuned for the next parliamentary session in November.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:


Why can't Europe agree on Belarus sanctions?


I think they can agree but the problem is that Cyprus has blocked. There's a veto right inside the European Union and they have blocked everything. I mean, everyone agrees, all of other Member States agrees that we should have had those sanctions in place. But the Cypriots have their own views. And then they are blackmailing, they are saying you have to sanction Turkey as well, at the same time. And most other states say there's no connection between the two. So, we do have somewhat of a constitutional crisis over foreign affairs inside the European Union. Distinctly not a good situation.

LIVE 11a - 12p ET TODAY: Will the global challenges of 2020 lead to more inclusive multilateralism in the future?

At 11a ET/8a PT/4p BST, our livestream panel, "Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding," will discuss how government, companies, citizens and other organizations can partner to solve today's major crises.

Watch at: https://www.gzeromedia.com/unga/livestream

Governments can't tackle today's global challenges alone. Will 2020 be seen as a shaping moment for a more modern and inclusive multilateralism, or a retrenchment to "business as usual"?

Our panel includes:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by António Guterres, Christine Lagarde, and Trevor Noah.

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