UNGA WATCH: Who's gonna vaccinate "the world"?

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, U.S., September 21, 2021

Well, we're in the thick of "high-level week" for the United Nations General Assembly, known as UNGA. As always, the busiest few days in global diplomacy are about more than just speeches and hellish midtown traffic in Manhattan. Here are a few things we are keeping an eye on as UNGA reaches peak intensity over in Turtle Bay.


Biden's COVID Summit: The US president wants to "vaccinate the world" — but who precisely is going to do that? On the sidelines of UNGA, Biden is holding a virtual COVID summit on Wednesday in hopes of hashing out a more coordinated global pandemic response. That includes expanding the production and distribution of vaccines and medical equipment, investing in healthcare infrastructure, and establishing global benchmarks for pandemic progress. One target is to vaccinate 70 percent of adults in the world by September 2022. A lofty goal, as the current mark is barely 30 percent. Part of the problem is that wealthy countries have bought up lots of shots to vaccinate their own people first. And although the US has donated more vaccines globally than any other country, Biden's own administration is now weighing whether to recommend boosters at home. If the US does so, it'll be hard for other rich countries' governments to say no to boosters for their own people — meaning fewer shots available for billions of unvaccinated folks in poorer countries. Can Biden square all of these circles?

Hustling to revive Iran nuclear talks: Talks between the US and Iran have stalled since Iran's hardline president Ebrahim Raisi took power in June. But there are signs that side hustles aimed at getting negotiations back on track are afoot at UN HQ this week. On Monday, UK foreign secretary Liz Truss met with her Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian — both are new to their posts — to chart a path forward on the nuclear front, as well as to discuss the release of arbitrarily detained British nationals. US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, told the General Assembly that Washington won't allow Tehran to build a bomb, but he is willing to return to compliance with the deal if Iran does the same. Tehran seems game to start talking again: Iran state TV confirmed this week that the long-stalled talks could resume negotiations in the coming weeks. This development comes just weeks after Iran, which has breached most of the nuclear deal's terms since former US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, agreed to allow UN inspectors to monitor various sites linked to its nuclear program, sidestepping a threat of formal censure from the US, UK, France, and Germany if it failed to comply. Still, chasms remain between the two sides. Can sideline work at the UN narrow the gap?

Climate (in)security: Just a month ago, a new UN report called climate change a "code red for humanity." This week, there are two high-level meetings dedicated to doing something about it. First, the Security Council will hold a meeting Thursday morning on "climate and security." That's because climate change now threatens peace itself by heightening conflicts over increasingly scarce water and crops, and by exacerbating political tensions through forcing larger migrations of people fleeing war, famine, or flooding. Then, the UN hosts a high-level dialogue on Energy, where countries will try to hash out more detailed approaches to cutting carbon emissions. All of this is really just a warmup for the UN's COP 26 meeting in November, the critical forum for addressing that Code Red alert. Outside of the meetings, a big announcement from Xi Jinping: China, the world's top polluter, will stop building coal-fired plants everywhere... except in China.

Should governments set limits on the use of artificial intelligence? Definitely, says UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who's asking member states to hold off on further development of AI technology until all the "negative, even catastrophic" risks that come with it can be ironed out. But it's hard to imagine strong agreement from countries like China, the US, or Israel which already have powerful AI industries and are wary of handcuffing them with global regulation. Still, there's no question that AI can cause harm in a number of ways, from algorithms that codify harmful biases all the way up to AI-driven killing machines (Israel recently built a doozy to kill Iran's top nuclear scientist). UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres mentioned AI specifically in his speech on Tuesday, let's see if it crops up elsewhere in the next few days.

During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

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Former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi was killed by rebels on 20 October, 2011, after a NATO intervention designed to protect civilians helped strengthen an uprising against his regime. Since then, the country has been mired in chaos as different factions have battled for control, resulting in extensive destruction and human causalities. Libya has been nominally governed since 2014 by warring administrations backed by foreign powers in the west and east of the country. Last year, UN mediation efforts finally began to gain traction with an agreement on a cease-fire and a roadmap for elections to be held later this year. We talked with Eurasia Group expert Ahmed Morsy to find out how things are going.

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China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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6,000: Poland has doubled the number of troops guarding its border with Belarus to almost 6,000 because of a surge in migrants trying to cross over (there were 612 attempts on Monday alone). Warsaw accuses Minsk of sending non-EU migrants into Poland as payback for EU sanctions against Belarus.

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Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

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