Today we'll check in on the state of "the West," track the coronavirus surge, click on a free speech crackdown in Ethiopia, and look for money to fight locusts.
For the next three days, some of the world's most powerful leaders are gathering in Munich, Germany, to discuss an important question: is "the West" in trouble? And if so, is that a problem?
This year's Munich Security Conference – an annual gathering of key leaders and policy experts that's been held since the Cold War's heyday– is dedicated to the theme of "Westlessness."
No, that's not the mindset of an antsy Elmer Fudd, it's the idea that "the West" – that is, a group of European and North American countries united by a common, if not always consistent, commitment to liberal democracy, free markets, and the post-war international institutions set up for global trade, finance, and security – is fraying. That's happening for two reasons:
Internal divisions: Inequality and social polarization have fueled the rise of populist and "illiberal" parties within "the West." They are skeptical of the traditional, US/European-led international institutions and instead put national interests first. This is the story of Brexit and of Donald Trump, but it's also the rise of avowedly "illiberal" democracies like Poland and Hungary (which until 1989 were in the "East," but don't confuse the cartographer!).
External rivals: Authoritarian China's ambition to take center stage globally as the world's largest economy – and to dominate 21st technologies like 5G and A.I. – presents some implicit challenges to the Western-led global order. Meanwhile, a revanchist Russia has challenged "Western" power in Ukraine and Syria, while working to exacerbate social polarization and undermine democracies in both Europe and the US.
Is this a problem? For the Munich organizers, a fragmented "West" makes it more difficult to tackle a whole host of global problems like climate change, A.I. regulation, and the threat to democracies around the world. (Of course, from the perspective of the rising "non-West," many of the global institutions developed in the West are outmoded and exclusionary.)
One big question we'll see at Munich: What's the global future of Europe? Given the fragmentation of "the West," and the emerging rivalry between the US and China, as well as Washington's uncertain commitment to European security, is it time for the EU to play a larger global role on its own? Can it? We'll likely hear about this from French President Emmanuel Macron, one of the high profile attendees, as well as from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
But here's a question, for you: do you buy the idea of a coherent "West"? Do you think there is a risk of "Westlessness" in the world, or are there different perspectives you'd take? We are westlessly intewested in your thoughts.
Follow Munich with us! GZERO media will be covering the conference, which runs from Friday through Sunday, on our Twitter feed. Follow us for the latest.
Thirty years ago, China accounted for barely four percent of the global economy. In the years since, that has soared to nearly 20 percent. China's bid to use that economic clout in order to reshape the world more in its own image is one of the defining aspects of global politics today. Here's a look at who dominated the world economy thirty years ago, versus now.
This month, Eni launched a totally redesigned website. Its aim is to explain the world of energy and the challenges ahead in the energy transition. "The new eni.com symbolises the transformation Eni is undergoing, in which innovation plays a fundamental role," says Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Eni.
Coronavirus flare up: Officials in China's Hubei Province on Thursday added almost 15,000 new reported cases of coronavirus to their tally, the largest single-day increase on record. That brings the total number of cases in the outbreak epicenter to over 50,000. This week's steep increase highlights how difficult it is for Chinese health workers to grasp the scope and severity of the deadly illness and it has also raised doubts about the Chinese government's transparency and preparedness: specialized kits for diagnosing the infection are in short supply in Hubei. As the human and economic toll of the virus continues to rise (there are now more than 60,000 reported cases worldwide) the World Health Organization says that a coronavirus vaccine is still at least 18 months away.
Ethiopia stifles free speech: Ahead of national elections slated for August, Ethiopia's parliament has passed a bill that prescribes up to five years in prison for anyone who posts or shares online content that might stir social unrest. It's a seeming step back for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 promising to spearhead Ethiopia's democratic awakening and has since released thousands of political prisoners and journalists while lifting the country's ban on opposition parties. But recent months have also seen a resurgence of religious and ethnic tensions that have left dozens dead and displaced more than two million people. Proponents of the new social media law say it's necessary in order to avoid violence in the run-up to elections. But the law's critics, including the United Nations, say it's a flagrant violation of free speech.
This classic love letter from Angela Merkel: She was a young chemist. He was a bored young KGB agent. This Valentine's Day, we are rewatching the missed connection that may have shaped our world.
What We're (trying to) Ignore
Two rich guys destroying each other on Twitter: US President Donald Trump says media tycoon and presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg is short and boring. Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, says Trump is a fraud and a laughing-stock in his own hometown. As Bloomberg storms into the fragmented field of Democratic presidential contenders, you can expect a lot more of this in the coming months, particularly if Bloomberg rises in the polls. Try to ignore it, just try.
Puppet Regime: What to get Melania for Valentines?
President Trump isn't sure what to get his wife for Valentines, so he invites over a few friends to help him – but Kim Jong-un has other ideas. Check it out here.
61: By one measure, the Age of Trump seems to have been pretty good for most Americans, as 61 percent say they are "better off" than they were before Trump took office, according to a new Gallup poll. That number is higher than Gallup recorded in other reelection years: only half said the same in 1992 (Bush), 1996 (Clinton) and 2004 (G.W. Bush). In 2012 (Obama) the number was 45 percent.
20: The Amazon rainforest is emitting more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, with around 20 percent of the total forest area now a net source of CO2 in the atmosphere, according to a new decade-long study. The main cause, it says, is deforestation, which raises further concerns about Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's policy of prioritizing development of the Amazon over conservation.
19: At least 19 children were wounded by heavy shelling in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where clashes between government forces and local ethnic groups have intensified in recent weeks. Last month, the International Court of Justice ordered Myanmar's government to take immediate steps to protect long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims.
76 million: The United Nations says it needs $76 million "now" to fend off a once-in-a-generation locust infestation in East Africa that's decimated cropland, creating a food scarcity emergency. The money, which would go to increasing spraying capacity, is needed before April to avoid a full-blown humanitarian crisis, the UN warned.