THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: FAR FLUNG CONTINGENCY PLANS​

THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: FAR FLUNG CONTINGENCY PLANS​

You’ve got to have a backup plan. Always a backup plan. And sometimes a little backup means towing massive objects to your shores, or sending improbably large sums through the skies…


First to the Irish Sea where British officials are considering towing in thousands of electricity generators on barges to supply Northern Ireland with power in the event that Brexit talks collapse and the UK leaves the European Union with no deal on future economic relations. Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, imports most of its electricity from its southern neighbor, the Republic of Ireland, under common EU electricity market rules.  But if the UK leaves the EU (taking Northern Ireland with it) those rules would no longer apply, meaning that utilities in the Irish republic could decide to shut off the flow of electricity to the North. The fate of the Irish border affects a lot more than just electricity, mind you. Free travel and commerce between Northern Ireland, the Irish republic, and the rest of the United Kingdom is a lynchpin of the 1998 Good Friday agreement which ended decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland. Reimposing that border – in any form or location – could stoke long dormant tensions in Belfast.

Second, to Iran where authorities are looking to fly in some 300 million euros in cash from an Iranian-linked bank located in Germany. With the fate of the Iran deal unclear after the US decided to ditch it, and economic troubles continuing to foment protests at home, Tehran is concerned that any new sanctions might make it impossible to access money stashed abroad in the future. Cash is king, and they want it now. But the request has put Germany in a tough spot. At a time when relations with Washington are already under strain, the US ambassador to Berlin is pressuring Berlin not to approve the transfer. German officials, for their part, could be on the hook for violating sanctions if the money ends up being used to support terrorism.

Lastly, to South Africa where the second-largest city, Cape Town, is running out of drinking water and there is a crazy plan to do something about it. For background, a severe drought has forced the government to impose water restrictions in order to avoid a “Day Zero,” the point where taps run completely dry in the city of nearly 4 million. One evidently feasible plan involves dressing an Antarctic iceberg in a protective shawl, towing it about 1,200 miles to Cape Town, and grinding it into slurry that could supply up to 30 percent of the city’s annual water demand. A recent rise in dam levels has already postponed Day Zero until at least 2019, so it’s not clear how urgently the iceberg is needed – but the problem of megacities running out of water is hardly limited to South Africa. At least 14 of the world’s largest metropolises are facing Day Zeroes of their own, and there aren’t enough icebergs to go around.

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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Get insights on the latest news about emerging trends in cyberspace from Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center and former European Parliamentarian:

This week we talk about one of my favorite topics, regulation. Laws are often framed as a barrier to innovation and not always recognized as a key enabler of freedoms and the protection of rights. But what's more is that regulation is a process, and one that can have tons of different outcomes. So, being in favor or against regulation doesn't mean anything. Except that those who oppose any changes are apparently benefiting from the status quo.

Is the world at a tipping point when it comes to regulating big tech?

And I would say absolutely. The outsized power of big tech is recognized more broadly because the harms are so blatantly clear. Harms to democracy, public health, but also to fairness in the economy are all related to the outsized power of unaccountable and under-regulated big tech. Now, what's significant is that this debate has finally hit home in the United States after it was already recognized as a problem in many other parts of the world.

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Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

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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