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.

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

More Show less

3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.

More Show less

North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.

More Show less

As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.

More Show less