The big question for the 2020s

On August 16, 1953, Dwight Eisenhower walked into Washington's Statler Hotel to give his first formal speech as president, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He used that address, which he titled "Chance for Peace," to make the case to both Soviet leaders and the American people that a US-Soviet Cold War was a bad idea—and not inevitable.

In it, he detailed how many schools, hospitals, and power plants could be built for the cost of a single bomber plane. He warned that "every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired" represented a "theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," and warned that a life spent arming for potential conflict was "not a way of life at all, in any true sense... it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."


It's worth remembering Eisenhower's warning as we close one decade and open another, because, whatever interim trade agreement Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping may sign in coming days, US and Chinese leaders look to be locking themselves into an expanding geopolitical conflict: in trade, in security, and particularly in development of the technologies that will shape our lives and define the global balance of power in coming decades.

The next war is more likely to be waged with cyber-weapons and trade tools than with conventional weapons, but the costs are no less prohibitive.

Some will blame Trump for this path toward confrontation, but growing US suspicion of China long predates his presidency. And while Democrats criticize Trump for a thousand things, most share his fears of China's growing economic and technological power. Others will point at Xi and the "new era" he has proclaimed for a more internationally assertive Beijing. But China has been growing and expanding its influence for 40 years.

A US-China rivalry is inevitable, but a conflict is not. Limiting the rivalry to "managed competition" would allow the US and China to devote more resources toward meeting the expanding needs of the American and Chinese people – not to mention challenges like climate change, which not even a superpower can solve alone. Constructive competition would also spare other governments the need to choose sides in ways that stunt the growth of their countries too.

Where will the current and future US and Chinese leaderships steer this most important of all international relationships? This is the biggest question now facing the United States, China, and the world as we open a new decade.

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.

Read our roundup of COVID-19 themes and stories from around the globe.

Europe skirts US sanctions to help Iran: While the US insists on tightening the sanctions noose around COVID-stricken Iran, European countries are now sending medical equipment. To do so, they are using for the first time a system called INSTEX, a back-channel financial mechanism created a year ago that allows Europe to maintain trade ties with Iran despite US sanctions. Recall that in 2018 the US pulled out of the multilateral Iran nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions – the Europeans stayed in the deal and have tried to salvage it. To date, Iran has suffered more than 3,000 deaths from COVID-19, one of the highest tolls in the world. Some say that Iran's failure to contain the contagion has been complicated further by US sanctions, which have thwarted the Islamic Republic's ability to fund medical imports. Tehran has urged the US to ease sanctions to no avail, but Ayatollah Khamenei has also, citing some wild conspiracy theories about the coronavirus' origin, refused medical aid from Washington.

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Laid-off hospitality workers tell their stories in their own words.

Ian Bremmer breaks down the massive economic toll the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on the hospitality and service industries in America and around the globe. In the U.S. alone, millions could face unemployment as businesses struggle to stay afloat.

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.

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