What We’re Watching: US vaccine patent U-turn, right wins big in Madrid, Biden weighs in on Russia-Ukraine

What We’re Watching: US vaccine patent U-turn, left gets pummeled in Madrid, Biden weighs in on Russia-Ukraine

US reverses course on vaccine patents: In a surprise move, the Biden administration will now support waiving international property rights for COVID vaccines at the World Trade Organization. Until now the US had firmly opposed waiving those patents, despite demands from developing countries led by India and South Africa to do so. Biden's about face comes just a week after he moved to free up 60 million of American-bought AstraZeneca jabs — still not approved by US regulators — for nations in need. It's not clear how fast an IP waiver would really help other countries, as the major impediments to ramping up vaccine manufacturing have more to do with logistics and supply chains than with patent protections alone. But if patent waivers do accelerate production over time, then that could accelerate a global return to normal — potentially winning the US a ton of goodwill.


The left gets pummeled in Madrid: The two leftwing parties in Spain's national government got massacred in regional elections in Madrid this week. Both the center-left PSOE and the far-left Podemos were steamrolled by the conservative Popular Party, which more than doubled its current seats to win 64, just four shy of a majority on its own in the Madrid legislature. The PP may now even turn to the upstart far-rightists of Vox in order to form a coalition government in Madrid. The defeat was a crushing blow for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the PSOE, who has often clashed with Madrid's pugnacious regional leader over the latter's disdain for economy-crippling lockdowns. Moreover, the surge in support for PP and Vox in Madrid — always an influential bellwether for national politics — will make him very reluctant to call early elections, which he was considering doing because the PP until recently was in big trouble following its dismal showing in the Catalan election just three months ago. Interesting times ahead for Spanish politics.

Biden, Ukraine, and Russia: I'd like to speak face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin sometime this summer, says US President Joe Biden. Not a bad idea, says the Kremlin. If it happens, the two leaders are sure to talk about Ukraine, and there have been suggestions this week that the US might join Germany and France in efforts to mediate the conflict and find a path to peace. US Secretary of State Tony Blinken is actually in Kyiv this week to assert "unwavering US support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's ongoing aggression." Russia has lately been dialing up the pressure on Ukraine – with a brief military buildup along the border between the two countries, military exercises in the disputed Crimea peninsula, and Russian threats to blockade key Ukrainian ports. These are reminders that the central challenge for any mediator is ending a conflict that Russia's government still finds useful for both domestic and international purposes.

What responsibility do wealthy nations have to ensure the least developed countries aren't left behind? Have we actually made any progress since the COVID-19 outbreak? Today at 11am ET/8am PT, join GZERO Media and Microsoft for a live Global Stage discussion: Unfinished Business: Is the world really building back better?

The New Yorker's Susan Glasser will moderate a discussion with Brad Smith, President and Vice Chair, Microsoft; David Malpass, President, World Bank Group; Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media; and Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme. Special appearance by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

Watch LIVE today, Wednesday 9/22 at 11am ET/ 8am PT/ 5pm CEST at gzeromedia.com/globalstage.

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Betrayal. Treason. Duplicity. These are some of the words used by the French government to describe the US' recent decision to freeze Paris out of a new security pact with the UK and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, which nixed a contract for Australia to buy French submarines.

Macron's subsequent tough stance against one of its oldest and closest allies is unusual, including his decision to briefly recall the French ambassador from Washington, the first time a French president has done so. But this headstrong strategy is also a deliberate diplomatic choice.

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1 billion: US House Democrats this week voted to cut $1 billion worth of military aid for Israel. The money — which was stuffed into a larger appropriations bill meant to fund the US government and raise the debt ceiling — was supposed to go specifically to Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system. The move sets up a showdown between progressives who want to slash US aid to Israel and the pro-Israel moderate wing of the party.

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Free internet for everyone sounds great, but what's really important is for it to be accessible, says Vickie Robinson, head of Microsoft's Airband Initiative to expand broadband access throughout the developing world. The problem, she explains, is that it costs money to build and maintain networks, so no costs for end users could have unintended consequences. "If you have a framework in which the internet is free for all, do we lose some freedoms? Do we lose innovation? Do we lose the use of the internet as a tool for empowerment?" Instead, Robinson would focus only on giving access to people who really need it and can't afford to be online.

Robinson weighed in during a Global Stage livestream conversation hosted by GZERO Media in partnership with Microsoft during the 76th UN General Assembly.

Learn more: Should internet be free for everyone? A Global Stage debate

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:

How will the QUAD leaders address the microchip supply chain issue during their meeting this week?

Well, the idea for leaders of the US, Japan, India, and Australia, is to collaborate more intensively on building secure supply chains for semiconductors, and that is in response to China's growing assertiveness. I think it's remarkable to see that values are becoming much more clearly articulated by world leaders when they're talking about governing advanced technologies. The current draft statement ahead of the QUAD meeting says that collaboration should be based on the rule of respecting human rights.

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On the one hand, UN Secretary-General António Guterres believes COVID has fractured trust between mainly rich and poor countries, especially on vaccines, as the pandemic "demonstrated our enormous fragility." On the other hand, it generated more trust in science, especially on climate — practically the only area, Guterres says, where the US and China can find some common ground these days. Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

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.

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Ahead of the 76th UN General Assembly, the US and the EU both agreed to cut methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by the end of the decade to reduce global warming. Will they convince other top emitters like China, Russia and India to do the same before the COP26 climate summit in November? This would be a big deal, because methane emissions, one-quarter of which come from agriculture, are the biggest contributors to climate change after carbon dioxide — and 80 times more potent in warming the planet. We take a look at the world's top methane emitters, compared with their respective carbon dioxide emissions.

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