Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

Turkey’s military buildup — As we wrote on Tuesday, Turkey’s President Erdogan has accused the US of working with Syrian Kurds to build a “terror army” near the Syrian-Turkish border. Erdogan fears that Syrian Kurds provide inspiration and tangible support for Kurdish separatists inside Turkey. Turkish troops and tanks are now massing along the border as Erdogan warns that he’ll order an attack on two Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria. What could go wrong?

A New Plan for Nukes — A new US nuclear strategy would allow the US to respond with nuclear weapons against “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” including those in cyberspace. It’s important that US strategy evolve to meet new kinds of threats, but it’s not always easy to determine a cyber-attack’s origin, and the introduction of nuclear weapons into such a murky environment raises lots of troubling risks.

Shinzo Abe’s Day Off — This week, Shinzo Abe, on the final leg of a tour of Eastern Europe, became the first Japanese prime minister to officially visit Bucharest, capital of Romania. But on Monday, Romania’s Prime Minister Mihai Tudose resigned. With no host to greet him on Tuesday, Abe and his wife spent part of the day at the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum, which documents life in the Romanian countryside. No word yet on whether they hit the gift shop on the way out.

What We're Ignoring

Carles Puigdemont — The secessionist would-be Catalan president, who remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels, tweeted a video this week that mixed footage of the heavy-handed Spanish police response to Catalonia’s independence referendum with footage of a 1940 meeting between Adolf Hitler and Francisco Franco. The video then cuts to footage of current Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. Signal has noted the excessive use of force by Spanish police before and during the referendum, but Puigdemont is now going out of his way to relieve us of any responsibility to take him seriously.

Venezuela Talks — Representatives of Venezuela’s government sat down with opposition leaders in the Dominican Republic yesterday. Yes, “meeting jaw to jaw is better than war,” as Winston Churchill once said, but we share the skepticism of the Mexican and Chilean mediators that much will come of talks between two sides that share virtually no common ground.

South Korean hockey fans –North and South Korea have agreed to ask the International Olympic Committee to approve a last-minute plan to allow them to form a unified women’s ice hockey team. But the South Korean team’s coach and conservative newspapers gripe that the plan will cost the South Korean team a shot at a medal. Thousands of South Koreans have signed online petitions to kill the idea. C’mon, folks. It won’t bring peace, but a North-South women’s hockey team would be much more fun and interesting to watch.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

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Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

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Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

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50: The US will aim to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. The Biden administration's commitment, double the goal set by Barack Obama almost six years ago, was announced to coincide with a virtual Earth Day climate summit attended by dozens of world leaders.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened an "asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh" response for anyone that dares to cross a "red line" with Russia.

What's the red line? Putin says he'll decide on a case-by-case basis. And the cases at the moment are growing: the US has sanctioned Russia over cyber crimes; Putin critic Alexei Navalny is near death in a Russian prison; the Czechs say Russia blew up a Czech munitions depot; and as many as 120,000 Russian troops are reported to be massing along Russia's border with Eastern Ukraine.

Which is to say: there's potentially a Sol Lewitt's-worth of red lines to ponder now.

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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