A shipment of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility arrives in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Feb. 25, 2021 (AP photo by Diomande Ble Blonde).

Sometime this month, the U.S. Congress will likely approve the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, and with that will come the first real test of the new president’s favorite slogan: “America is back.” The return of the United States that Joe Biden has so frequently promised has always contained a strong whiff of nostalgia. It is a message that has mostly been directed outwardly to the world, saying that after a period of relative decline, of withdrawal and of drift through much of this century, the U.S. is eager to reassume its long-accustomed mantle as undisputed leader of […]

Mario Draghi speaks to the media after accepting a mandate to form Italy’s new government at Quirinale Presidential Palace in Rome, Feb. 3, 2021 (AP Photo by Alessandra Tarantino).

Italy fell into a political crisis in late-January, when, following disagreements in the coalition then headed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, a small but crucial part of the government withdrew its support. Without the backing of former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva party, Conte no longer had the required majority in Parliament. Given the dire straits of Italy’s health system and economy due to the coronavirus pandemic, the unexpected move raised concerns over the country’s ability to effectively continue its vaccination campaign and lay the foundations for economic recovery. Those fears were alleviated on Feb. 18, when Mario Draghi, […]

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On a snowy afternoon in January, 24-year-old Thanujan Sellathurai delivered a speech in front of a small crowd of protesters from the Tamil community in Geneva. He called for the United Nations, which has several of its agencies headquartered there, to condemn the “brutal atrocity” that had just taken place in Sri Lanka. Authorities at the University of Jaffna, on the northern tip of Sri Lanka, had ordered the bulldozing of a memorial paying tribute to the victims of the Mullivaikkal massacre, a mass killing of Tamil civilians that took place in May 2009, during the last few days of […]

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After nearly a decade of conflict, the extensive damage inflicted on Syria’s environment is emerging as another devastating, if less visible, tragedy of its civil war. Polluted soil and contaminated water are exacerbating the already severe suffering of Syrian civilians, undermining their ability to meet their basic needs and jeopardizing the country’s postwar future. While the war in Syria is far from over, the steep environmental toll will pose significant challenges to the country’s recovery when the fighting does eventually stop. Syrian and international experts are warning that the environmental impacts of war must be addressed with urgency—or the damage […]

Huawei’s booth at the PT Expo in Beijing, China, Oct. 20, 2020 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

“Keep the politics out of the network”—that was the mantra of the tech community back in the day. There was wisdom in that sentiment, and it worked fairly well for the first 20 years of the internet’s build-out. But today, controversies over next generation 5G networks and how many of them will be built by China’s telecom giant, Huawei, have demonstrated how far geopolitics have infected digital infrastructure. The latest tensions are now over undersea cables. The argument over digital networks goes like this. It’s to be expected that politics, culture, language and all sorts of complex, contested issues will […]

The banks of the Tekeze River, at the Sudan-Ethiopia border, Dec. 15, 2020 (AP photo by Nariman El-Mofty).

In mid-February, Sudan summoned home its ambassador to Ethiopia amid an escalating dispute over a stretch of agricultural land along the two countries’ border. Both sides have accused each other of seizing territory by force, and Sudanese authorities have reported at least a dozen deaths, including some soldiers, due to incursions by Ethiopian militias. There is now an uncomfortably high possibility of an open military conflict between the two neighbors, both of which have grappled with domestic unrest in recent months and are going through their own delicate political transitions. Such a border war would be a serious threat to […]

Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, center, at the closing ceremony of the 13th party congress in Hanoi, Feb. 1, 2021 (AP photo by Minh Hoang).

2020 was the year that Vietnam gained widespread recognition as a substantial player in the global economy and as a model “developmental state.” The world noticed because Vietnam effectively contained COVID-19 even while the disease wreaked havoc on the populations and economies of much wealthier nations. International media outlets normally pay Vietnam scant attention; the war that ravaged it ended nearly half a century ago, and the one-party regime in Hanoi discourages investigative reporting. However, its strikingly successful mobilization against the pandemic has prompted a spate of essays hailing Vietnam’s “breakout moment.” As Richard Heydarian wrote recently in Nikkei Asia, […]

Then-Vice President Joe Biden, left, and then-Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, now King Salman, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 27, 2011 (AP photo by Hassan Ammar).

Editor’s Note: Every Monday, Managing Editor Frederick Deknatel highlights a major unfolding story in the Middle East, while curating some of the best news and analysis from the region. Subscribers can adjust their newsletter settings to receive Middle East Memo by email every week. He called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” during the presidential campaign and promised to “reassess” America’s ties with the kingdom once in office. But when that time came—with the public release last week of a U.S. intelligence report concluding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had directly ordered the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi […]

U.S. President George H. W. Bush, front row center, is seen posing with other heads of state at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 13, 1992 (AP photo).

Nearly three decades after it emerged from the landmark “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, the Convention on Biological Diversity has been ratified by 196 countries; the United States is the sole remaining holdout. This failure of global leadership is unconscionable and self-defeating, given continued, catastrophic declines in biodiversity that could see roughly 1 million species disappear in the coming decades. America must finally become party to this “Treaty of Life.” The Biden administration should promptly submit the U.N. biodiversity convention to the Senate for its advice and consent, while refuting several misconceptions that continue to underpin political resistance to […]

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