Ian Bremmer from Munich: "Westless" angst from NATO allies

Ian Bremmer analyzes the discourse from the Munich Security Conference 2020:

It's interesting, a lot of existential angst at this year's conference because you've got all the NATO allies and they're not sure exactly what they want in the region or the world. NATO hasn't really changed all that much since the Soviet collapse, but it also hasn't had to in the sense that the real concern has been Russia and it's been the military balance in the region. If you're sitting in Europe and particularly Eastern Europe, that's been what you've been primarily exercised with. And so even though Trump has said, "ah, it's obsolete" - no, it's not anymore. They're spending more money and there's a lot of forward deployment.


But this year, the focus isn't Russia. The focus is China. It's Huawei. It's technology. Things that NATO isn't really good at. And the Americans, all of them, not just the Trump administration, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, but also Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the Democratic side, they're all coming here and saying China's the principal threat. And the Europeans, none of them are saying that. And they're deeply concerned that they're gonna be forced in the middle and squeezed by the Americans and hit hard on sanctions if they decide not to align with the United States.

The UK and the Germans have already said they want to work with Huawei. And Boris Johnson, who's trying to get a new trade deal done with the Americans, just canceled a trip to the White House because of a conversation gone horribly badly with Trump, specifically on China relations with the UK. He's not here today. Neither are any of his ministers. Wasn't at Davos, either. Lot of inward focus. Where is the special relationship if you don't have the United Kingdom?

Where's NATO? Macron is probably the most important leader here, but he's focusing on how Europe needs to have a stronger, more sovereign defense. But he is not leading anyone in particular. Merkel's going to be gone and her preferred successor, AKK, is not going to be there. The rest of the Europeans have different second and third order challenges and priorities. So, as a consequence, it feels like the institutions are increasingly not fit for purpose. That's good for the Russians and good for the Chinese because they have stronger leaders, now for life. And even though they're weaker as countries, they know what they want, and they are able to project their power more internationally.

That's why the theme of this year's Munich Security Conference is "Westlessness." And of course, I feel a bit "westless," but it's also because we don't know exactly what the West wants, who the West is. And while you have the Chinese and the Russians being more assertive in different ways, you have the West with many parts of their populations, not even believing that their own institutions are legitimized. Never mind what they should be doing around the world. So anyway, that's me. That's your Munich In a little more than 60 Seconds. I'll be back again with your World, and shorter, next week.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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