Munich Security Dissonance

Munich Security Dissonance

Over the weekend, many of the world’s foreign policy decision makers gathered for the annual Munich Security Conference to discuss the most pressing global security challenges. The dissonance between major powers was particularly salient this year, highlighting the almost complete lack of consensus on key issues.


Three that came up…

North Korea: Nowhere is the failure of multilateral cooperation more glaring than on the Korean peninsula. The US says give up all of your nukes. North Korea says make my day. China will only push so far, fearing the consequences of a regime collapse. Meanwhile, US and Russian officials in Munich spent more time bickering over Russian election meddling than they did discussing Pyongyang. No new diplomatic proposals are forthcoming, it seems. More nuclear tests, it stands to reason, are.

Syria: The civil war in Syria has entered a new, more dangerous phase as the various external actors — Iran, Israel, Russia, Turkey, US — are locked in an increasingly dangerous final scramble for leverage ahead of any peace negotiations. Turkey and the US are this close to open conflict in Northern Syria. US forces have already killed Russian nationals. And Iran and Israel are for all intents and purposes at war in Syria now too. Meanwhile, the regime is pounding the last strongholds of rebels and jihadists. Where, exactly, is the “international community” of which we used to speak?

Cyberwar: As actual conflict rages in the Middle East, a more nebulous battle is playing out in cyberspace where — by comparison with conventional war — there are still relatively few rules of the game. Beyond gamely broaching the subject, there’s little desire among the major cyber powers to cooperate in limiting this new form of conflict.

So far, somewhat miraculously, none of these crises has resulted in a direct, sustained conflict between major powers, in part because the international system is proving just resilient enough to prevent catastrophe. But in a world of increasingly fragmented prerogatives and interests, how long can that hold?

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The Taliban’s never-ending crisis

Afghanistan has now become what the UN is labeling the planet’s worst humanitarian disaster. Indeed, last week the world body issued its largest-ever donor appeal for a single country to battle the worsening crisis there, caused by freezing temperatures, frozen assets, and the cold reception the Taliban have received from the international community since they took over last summer.

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Governments around the world are offering creative incentives for getting a jab.

If you happen to live in New York and are one of the city’s 18% of unvaccinated residents, now might be a good time to go get jabbed. But not just because of omicron.

In late December, now former NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio announced the city would start offering gift cards, free roller coaster rides on Coney Island and trips to the Statue of Liberty to those who get their shots. And it’s not just the Big Apple.

As infections jump, vaccination incentive programs have been brought back around the world. Officials in vaccine-hesitant Missouri have earmarked $11 million dollars for gift cards worth $100. Vermont is awarding schools with per-pupil bonuses if they hit rates higher than 85%.

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What We’re Watching: China's problems, UAE vs Houthis, Nord Stream 2 split

China's mounting problems. Xi Jinping is not off to a good start in 2022. First, Chinese economic growth slowed down to 4 percent in the last quarter of 2021, almost a percentage point less than the previous period. While annual GDP was up 8.1 percent year-on-year, beating government expectations, the trend is worrying for the world’s second-largest economy. Second, annual population growth fell in 2021 to its lowest rate since 1949, when the ruling Communist Party took over. Although Xi probably saw this one coming, he's running out of ideas to encourage Chinese families to have more children — which the government needs in order to sustain growth and support the elderly over the long term. Third, and most immediate: the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics canceled ticket sales for domestic spectators — foreigners were not invited — as the more transmissible omicron variant has driven up COVID infections in China to the highest level since March 2020. It's only the latest sign that Xi's controversial zero-COVID policy is setting itself up for failure against omicron without mRNA vaccines. What'll it take for China to reverse course?

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Hard Numbers: Tongan volcano, Ukrainian cyberattack, Zemmour fined over hate speech, NK-China border reopens

100,000: We're still waiting for news from the Pacific nation of Tonga, two days after a massive underwater volcanic explosion triggered a tsunami that was felt thousands of miles away and sent a plume of ash 100,000 feet into the sky. With communications mostly cut off, Australia and New Zealand have sent airplanes to assess the damage.

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Iran’s nuclear program runs hotter

Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.

The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.

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Omicron is here. The bad news is that it's more contagious. The good news is that mRNA vaccines work against death and hospitalization. COVID may soon become endemic in some parts of the world.

Not in China, where Xi Jinping's zero-COVID approach faces its toughest test to date with omicron. Why? Because China lacks mRNA jabs, and so few Chinese people have gotten COVID that overall protection is very low.

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January 6 laid bare "the deep divisions, the partisan infighting, the polarization within our society," says Fiona Hill, the former US senior director of the National Security Council. In a GZERO World interview, she spoke with Ian Bremmer about her concerns about the state of democracy in the United States.

Hill famously testified against her impeached boss, Donald Trump, who stayed in power after being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. She also notes that divisions actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Watch this episode of GZERO World: American strife: Will US democracy survive? Fiona Hill explains post-Jan 6 stakes

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