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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.


Brad Smith on what global recovery from COVID-19 will look like:

We're living through a period of time when certain things are being accelerated by this crisis. One of the most obvious is digital technology. In some ways, it makes certain investment decisions for a digital technology company perhaps even somewhat easier than before, especially if one focuses on the long term. As this acceleration continues, I think we're clearly heading towards a world where this will end, eventually. We'll use the opportunity to be back together in person, but [for instance] the future of medicine I think has been altered for good.

António Guterres on the post-pandemic ideological divide:

[The pandemic] is exacerbating nationalism, populism, even xenophobia and racism in more extreme situations, and the denial of the needs of multilateral governments and institutions. The two things are now confronting each other. This will be a very important ideological battle in the months to come... I am not naïve and I know this is going to be a very tough ideological battle and it is not won. We might come out of it with the capacity to build back a world with more inclusive and sustainable perspectives, but we might come out of it with a world where chaos will become the main logic of international relations.

Jeh Johnson on the top global security risks in next six months:

Long term, in my view, the biggest risk to our nation and our world is climate change. As Barack Obama used to say, it's a slow-motion emergency. Therefore, our leaders fail to put it on the top of their inbox to address. Short term, we're in an election season. Our democracy is under threat both by external actors, those who seek to push out misinformation and extremist views. Frankly, the way Americans receive their information has led to the increased political polarization that we see right now [and] that very much affects our democracy.

Ian Bremmer on Russian disinformation in the US:

The Soviets historically did a lot more damage with disinformation than they did with their bomber jets. But the reason that we beat the Soviets is because ultimately, our ideas were better than theirs. Our values actually mattered more to their own people and to those that were behind the Berlin Wall. And that's what brought it down. Individual liberties, a free market that worked, and the ability to create opportunity both for those inside the country born and also those that tried so hard to get to the US. A lot of those ideas no longer feel as legitimate to the average American. The Russians are engaging in disinformation all over the world. But it's more effective in the US.

Christine Lagarde on the future of global governance in a post-pandemic world

I hope that [the pandemic] triggers momentum. I can tell you that from Europe, it has certainly encouraged and supported a much more collective and better governed collective response, irrespective of noise on the line, if you will (there will be, it's inevitable). At a global level, I hope that international organizations like the World Health Organization, or my favorite former institution, the International Monetary Fund, will come out of that hopefully stronger than they were when they went into the crisis, but the jury is out.

John Frank on closing the global digital gap:

[We hope that] the application of data science to medicine and the collaborations that are taking place will be sustained and change for the better, [as well as] the direction of therapies and the delivery of them to broad populations in the world. If people aren't connected you can't have telemedicine or online education. There's 4 billion people that aren't connected to the internet today, including 1.4 billion children who left the classroom. The needs are profound and that's not something one company can do [on its own], but by bringing in others and by raising these issues, we hope to see more progress.

Trevor Noah on whether we are better or worse after 75 years of the UN:

I always think the world is better off. I know it may not feel like it in the moment, but I think we steadily move forward as human beings and as a species. We have setbacks, we have moments that we really shouldn't have had, we have moments that we really wish we could delete from history and time and just bridge the gap to the more progressive moments, or moments where society moved forward. But I think we always are doing better.

This event was the second in a four-part livestream panel series about key issues facing the 75th United General Assembly. The next discussion, Digital Inclusion: Activating Skills for the Next Billion Jobs, will stream live on Wednesday, October 7, at 11 am ET.

See the schedule of upcoming events and watch our livestream panels here, and check out GZERO Media's special coverage of the 2020 edition of the world's largest diplomatic gathering, and the first ever virtual UNGA.

Microsoft announced earlier this year the launch of a new United Nations representation office to deepen their support for the UN's mission and work. Many of the big challenges facing society can only be addressed effectively through multi-stakeholder action. Whether it's public health, environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, terrorist content online or the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, Microsoft has found that progress requires two elements - international cooperation among governments and inclusive initiatives that bring in civil society and private sector organizations to collaborate on solutions. Microsoft provided an update on their mission, activities for the 75th UN General Assembly, and the team. To read the announcement from Microsoft's Vice President of UN Affairs, John Frank, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Ian Bremmer discusses the World In (more than) 60 Seconds:

Biden's first scheduled call with a world leader will be with Canada's Justin Trudeau. What's going on with the Keystone Pipeline?

Well, Biden said that that's it. Executive order, one of the first is that he will stop any construction or development of the Keystone Pipeline. This is of course an oil pipeline that would allow further oil sands oil to come to the United States. The infrastructure is significantly overstretched, it's led to backlogs, inefficiency, accidents, all the rest, but it also facilitates more energy development and keeps prices comparatively down if you get it done. So, there are lots of reasons why the energy sector in Canada wants it. Having said all of that, Trudeau, even though he's been a supporter of Keystone XL, let's keep in mind that he did not win support in Alberta, which is where the big energy patch in Canada is located. This is a real problem for the government of Alberta, Canada is a very decentralized federal government, even more so than the United States. The premier of Alberta is immensely unhappy with Biden right now, they've taken a $1.5 billion equity stake in the project. I expect there will actually be litigation against the United States by the government of Alberta. But Trudeau is quite happy with Biden, his relationship was Trump was always walking on eggshells. The USMCA in negotiations ultimately successful but were very challenging for the Canadians, so too with the way Trump engaged in relations on China. All of this, the fact that Trump left the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Paris Climate Accords, WHO, all of that is stuff that Trudeau strongly opposed. He's going to be much more comfortable with this relationship. He's delighted that the first call from Biden is to him. And it certainly creates a level of normalcy in the US-Canada relationship that is very much appreciated by our neighbors to the North.

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Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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