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.

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Listen: Can Big Government still rein in Big Tech or has it already lost control? Never before have just a few companies exerted such an outsized influence on humanity. Today's digital space, where we live so much of our daily lives, has increasingly become an area that national governments are unable to control. It may be time to start thinking of these corporations as nation-states in their own rights. Ian Bremmer speaks with Nicholas Thompson, CEO of the Atlantic and former WIRED editor-in-chief, about how to police the digital world.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

In the lead-up to this year's COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, much of the attention has been focused on last summer's wildfires across the US and Europe, and more recently skyrocketing European energy prices. But what about Asia, the world's biggest and most populated region, which also has the highest share of global carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming? Asia has unique climate risks but also many opportunities for solutions, and whatever happens at COP26, Asian countries led by China and India are primed to lead the world in the struggle to make the planet greener before it's too late. In a live discussion moderated by Shari Friedman, Eurasia Group's Managing Director of Climate and Sustainability, global experts discussed these and other topics during the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit sponsored by Suntory.

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We're just days away from COP26, the landmark global climate conference that's been dubbed the last chance to get the climate crisis in check. In the lead-up to the event in Glasgow, dozens of countries have released new ambitions to reduce their future carbon footprints. For years, climate activists and experts have called on governments to introduce carbon pricing schemes – either through taxes or emissions-trading schemes. So who's heeded the warning? We take a look at the top ten carbon emitters' share of global emissions and details about their respective national carbon pricing schemes.

Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center, Eurasia Group senior advisor and former MEP, discusses trends in big tech, privacy protection and cyberspace:

Do cryptocurrencies make it harder to enforce foreign policy sanctions?

Well, that is exactly what the Biden administration worries about. As part of growing concerns of whether unregulated currencies undermine a whole host of policies, sanctions and foreign or trade policy should be a priority area. And just like others who wish to evade tracing of their wealth or transactions, the very states or their sanctioned entities should be assumed to resort to all options to evade restrictions while continuing to do business. So having cryptocurrencies undermining the ability to enforce strategic goals logically raises eyebrows in Washington.

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Back in August, when the Taliban took over, we asked whether anyone in the international community would recognize them. Now it looks like things are heading that way.

This week, the Kremlin hosted a summit with the Taliban that was attended by China, India and Pakistan, as well as all five Central Asian Republics.

The domestically-focused US, however, wasn't there. The US continues to maintain that the Taliban can't be trusted. But does it matter? In 2021 does a Taliban-led government even need American recognition to function and thrive?

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For Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM and now CEO of the Asia Society, the science on climate change is pretty much done, so the only unresolved issues are tech and — more importantly — lack of political leadership. He can't think of a single national political leader who can fill the role, and says the only way to get political action on climate is to mobilize public opinion.

Rudd joined for the first of a two-part Sustainability Leaders Summit livestream conversation sponsored by Suntory. Watch here and register here to watch part two Friday 10/22 at 8 am ET.

Taking place on October 21 and 22, the Sustainability Leaders Summit will go beyond preexisting narratives and debate priorities for governments and industries ahead of COP26. Placing the spotlight on Asia's role in the global sustainability agenda, the event will address whether Asian countries and companies can achieve shared sustainability goals, and what is needed to help get them there. The summit will be co-hosted by Tak Niinami, CEO of Suntory Holdings, and Ian Bremmer, founder and president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media. We will address three key questions: How can Asian countries, with the help of the private sector, achieve shared Sustainability Goals? Why does this matter? And what are the policy changes needed to bring it about?

Attendance is free and open to the public. Register to attend.

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