What we learned, and didn’t, from (virtual) Munich

What we learned, and didn’t, from (virtual) Munich

A year ago, the annual Munich Security Conference was the last major international event to take place before the world locked down following the appearance of a mysterious new virus in Wuhan, China. Close to 2.5 million COVID deaths later, world leaders again gathered on Friday, this time virtually, to discuss the future of global cooperation, particularly between the US and Europe, in the post-Trump era. Here are a few takeaways.


America is back. Conference participants celebrated America's return to the global cooperation arena with Joe Biden now in the White House. Top European partners expressed delight at the US' fresh willingness to be a part of – and in some cases lead — various joint commercial and security projects and multinational organizations.

In short order, the US has rejoined the World Health Organization and Paris Climate Accord, and has pledged $4 billion to the COVAX global scheme to ensure equitable distribution of COVID vaccines. There will be fewer threats from Washington, and more cross-border collaboration. These developments are not quite as well received in China or Russia, whose leaders weren't invited to this particular Zoom call.

Make multilateralism great again. After four years of transatlantic tension under Donald Trump, and with the pandemic still raging, the 2021 Munich consensus is that multilateral institutions are indispensable for dealing with the world's problems. The top priority now is rolling out jabs for everyone, for reasons epidemiological, economic and political, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel also said America must also do more to help Europe counter Islamic terrorism in Africa, for instance.

Global cooperation was dismal in many respects in dealing with the pandemic last year, and multilateral institutions became an afterthought. But the nationalist and populist policies that UN Secretary-General António Guterres argues failed to contain COVID have added to the urgency for greater cooperation and policy coordination. Guterres has a global plan to give jabs to everyone, everywhere — a dramatic U-turn from the "country first" responses that were so prominent last year.

Change is gonna come. While a shared vision rooted in liberal democratic values is important, events of the past few years indicate that it's simply not enough to tackle 21st century challenges. There are areas where the interests of like-minded nations will diverge.

In Munich on Friday, for example, French President Emmanuel Macron noted that while the US and Europe will remain close allies with a common worldview, their respective priorities do not always align. The US, for instance, is increasingly turning its attention to the Pacific, while Europe has a bigger footprint and more at stake in Africa. Acknowledging this reality and accounting for it in policy-making will strengthen the transatlantic relationship, Macron suggested, not weaken it. The same is true for NATO, which the French leader says needs to change its "strategic concept" in order to better respond to evolving global challenges like cyber weapons, China's more assertive foreign policy, Russian aggression, and climate change.

In 2019, the French leader caused a stir when he said the NATO alliance was suffering from "brain drain," which many saw as a diss to the workable status quo. But a global economic recession and pandemic later, will world leaders be more susceptible to the belief that Europe needs to reimagine its institutions and regain its "military sovereignty."

Platitudes. These sort of global forums are ripe ground for trite remarks, but whether world leaders will keep promises made from podiums always remains to be seen. President Biden's new climate czar, John Kerry, pledged an inclusive approach to climate action that helps low-income countries like Bangladesh and island nations that are most vulnerable to climate displacement. But the US has flip-flopped on climate commitments in the past. Can it be trusted this time? Lurking behind the satisfaction that Biden has replaced Trump is understandable concern that America might abruptly shift course again after the next election.

European and American leaders alike reiterated their commitment to a global vaccine distribution effort. Their words were heart-warming, sure, but vaccine hoarding by rich countries remains a big problem (130 low and middle-income countries haven't even started rolling out vaccines). Reversing this trend will take time, money, and an even scarcer and more precious resource — political will.

Bottom line: (Most of) Europe is relieved that the era of standoffish America is over — at least for now. But a shift of political gears and a surge of hopeful rhetoric alone won't change the game. Enormous global challenges remain, and Brussels and Washington won't always see eye-to-eye on how to address them going forward.

The impact of Covid-19 is being felt in every household, changing the way we live our lives. The pandemic continues to reinforce the drive for cooperation between communities, governments and businesses in order to combat the threat.

Microsoft responded to the pandemic in its home state through efforts like donating protective equipment, making boxed lunches for families and using technology to better understand the spread of the virus over the last year. Now, we're sharing six ways Microsoft is pulling together with the community to lend a hand to fellow Washingtonians in 2021 including helping with vaccination efforts. To read more, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Europe has been hit by a green wave in recent years. Green parties in countries as varied as Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, Finland, and Sweden have made sizable electoral gains, with some now sitting in national governments.

The Green phenomenon seems to be gaining yet more momentum in the lead up to some crucial European elections (Germany, France) in the months ahead. What explains the green shift, and where might this trend be headed?

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Guilty: Eleven months after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, on a Minneapolis street corner, we finally have a verdict in the murder trial. On Tuesday, a jury found Chauvin guilty of all three charges: second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter. The verdict was celebrated by advocates for racial justice and police reform. Last summer, video footage of Floyd suffocating to death as he cried out "I can't breathe" galvanized anti-racism protests across America (some of which turned violent) that went global. We're watching to see if the jury's verdict gives fresh impetus to the nationwide movement for police accountability and broader criminal justice reform, both of which have been met with fierce resistance from law-and-order conservatives and police unions. And we'll also be keeping an eye on the sentence, as Chauvin faces up to 75 years in prison for his crimes.

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120,000: Ukraine warns that Russia will soon have as many as 120,000 troops on its eastern border, a larger presence than when Moscow seized Crimea in 2014. Kyiv wants to join NATO to deter the Russian forces from invading the Donbas region, where about half the population are ethnic Russians.

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During a pandemic, the work of reporters around the world is particularly important to ensure transparency about the scope of outbreaks and the measures that governments are taking to contain them. But in many countries, press freedom has been declining since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Press freedom took a bit hit over the past year, as governments across the world doubled down on censoring media that criticized their handling of the pandemic, and locking up reporters for reporting the facts. Reporters Without Borders today published its annual World Press Freedom Index, which takes a microscope to every country, ranking the ability of its media to report freely and independently. Here's a look at how countries' scores have changed over the past year.

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on World In 60 Seconds (aka Around the World in 180 Seconds) and discusses Xi Jinping's message to the US, Russia's buildup at the Ukraine border, and Cuba's new leader.

What did you make of Xi Jinping's message to the US at China's annual Boao Forum?

Well, he didn't mention the United States directly, but he basically said that we don't accept hegemonic powers, we don't accept people that are setting the rules for other countries. Basically, consistently Xi Jinping saying that the Chinese want to be treated as equals with the United States. They're going to be rule makers for themselves. The Chinese political and economic system, every bit as legitimate as that of the United States. This is going to be a real fight. The American perspective is that the relationship between the two is going to be very competitive, whether it's a happy competition or an unhealthy competition depends on the Chinese. Xi Jinping's perspective is the Americans are not treating the Chinese with due respect. And that's going to play out on security, it's going to play out in climate, on the economy. I mean, you name it.

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One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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The Biden administration's much ballyhooed Earth Day Summit this week promises to be revealing. We're going to learn a little about what additional action a few dozen of the world's largest emitters are willing to take on climate change, and a lot more about which countries are willing to take such action at the behest of the United States.

Call it a situational assessment of the status of American power just shy of Biden's 100th day in office.

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