What We're Watching: Ethiopia dam dispute, India-Pakistan ceasefire, upheaval in Armenia

Map of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which flows through Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan

Egypt and Sudan want some dam help: Cairo and Khartoum have called on the US, EU, and UN to intervene in their ongoing dispute with neighboring Ethiopia over that country's construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the Nile. Egypt and Sudan, which are downstream of Ethiopia and worry about their farmers losing water, want binding targets and dispute resolution mechanisms, while Ethiopia, which sees the dam as a critical piece of its economic future, wants more flexibility and has given little ground in talks. Efforts by the African Union to mediate have failed as Ethiopia presses ahead with filling the dam even after being sanctioned by the Trump administration last year for doing so. The dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, as it is called, has threatened to spill into military conflict at several points in recent years. Can the "international community" turn things around?


US airstrike on Iran-backed militias: On Thursday, President Biden ordered an airstrike against "multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups," according to the US military. The US side has called this a "proportionate military response" to three rocket attacks launched from Syria on US forces in Iraq. The first of those three attacks killed an American civilian contractor and wounded five others. If Iran is testing the new US president, this strike is meant to signal that the US will hit back if tested, but still hopes both sides can de-escalate. We'll be watching to see how many more punches Iran's proxies in Syria want to throw before Washington and Tehran move to restart nuclear talks.

India-Pakistan ceasefire: Longtime foes India and Pakistan have agreed to a ceasefire in the predominantly Muslim area of Kashmir for the first time in almost two decades. (A 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control was consistently violated.) In theory, this means that armed forces from both South Asian nations have agreed to stop exchanging fire across the border by midnight Friday, in a bid to end a low-grade conflict that's killed hundreds of locals and military personnel over the past few decades. Relations between the two sides have long been hostile but soured further in 2019 when New Delhi blamed Islamabad for a terror attack that killed 30 Indian military personnel, resulting in a series of tit-for-tat attacks and cross-border skirmishes. The row between the two nuclear powers went from bad to worse that same year, when India revoked Kashmir's special status in an attempt to integrate the region into India, irking Islamabad and sparking an uptick in violence. However, the two sides have committed to halting hostilities and sorting out the status of disputed Kashmir before — it would be a massive feat if they can pull it off this time around.

Coup in Armenia? Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has accused the army of attempting to stage a coup after the military establishment called on him to step down over the PM's alleged foreign policy blunders in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan. The PM — who has been under pressure to resign for months over his ill-fated decision to surrender some territory to the Azeris in order to stop the conflict and ensure a longterm truce — responded by firing the head of the armed forces. Meanwhile, thousands of Pashinyan's supporters heeded his call to turn up on the streets of the capital, Yerevan, where they were met by a similar number of anti-government demonstrators. With the two main opposition parties supporting the army's demand for the PM to call it quits, Pashinyan is fast running out of options to stay in power. Meanwhile, of the two main outside players involved in Nagorno-Karabakh, so far Turkey has condemned the coup attempt, while Russia has kept mum. Indeed, Pashinyan's political survival could in part depend on Russia, which has forces and military bases in Armenia. What will Vladimir Putin do?

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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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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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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