A girl wearing Kurdish colors waits with her mother in a queue at a polling station during a vote for Kurdish independence, in Kirkuk, Sept. 25, 2017 (AP photo by Bram Janssen).

On Nov. 22, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the Confederation of British Industry, a local business organization, in a speech that was intended to focus on the U.K.’s role in the “green industrial revolution”—the global shift to environmentally friendly energies and technologies. Instead, the talk quickly collapsed into incoherent rambling. At one point, Johnson, having lost his place in his notes, even went on a tangent about his love of Peppa Pig World­, a family theme park based on the well-known children’s cartoon.  This was undoubtedly comedic, but as the country reveled in the prime minister’s latest embarrassment, I couldn’t help […]

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks in Kearny, New Jersey, Oct. 25, 2021 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

Next week, U.S. President Joe Biden will convene his Global Summit for Democracy, a virtual gathering of global leaders that aims to promote human rights, counter corruption and discuss ways to strengthen democracy against a rising tide of authoritarianism across the world. The event fulfils a campaign promise made by then-candidate Biden to organize a summit of democracies during his first year in office. The gathering has been dismissed in some quarters as a hollow performative exercise, rendered meaningless by the inevitable controversy over the guest list. But arguments about the substance of the summit, as well as which countries were […]

China’s Peng Shuai reacts during a first-round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Jan. 21, 2020 (AP photo by Andy Brownbill).

Late last week, I found myself at a university podium participating in an unusual event, invited by a conservative group to argue against the proposition that the United States should apply a greatly stepped-up boycott, divest and sanction—or BDS—approach in its relations with China. The person arguing the other side in this debate began by stating that he supported going much further even than BDS. But after this emphatic opening sally, he offered scarce few details of what this might involve or how it would work. Surprised at how little substance I was left to respond to, I began by […]

Women march while holding a banner calling for the abolition of prostitution at the Plaza Fuente Dorada in Valladolid, Spain, Oct. 17, 2021 (Europa Press photo by Claudia Alba via AP Images).

MADRID—Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is vowing to outlaw prostitution, arguing that it “enslaves” women. While Spain decriminalized the practice in 1995, Sanchez’s Socialist Party now wants to go the way of Sweden, where it is illegal to buy sex but not to sell it.  The Spanish government’s about-face illustrates how in the past few decades, Europe has become a laboratory for policies to address not only prostitution itself, but also the ways in which it goes hand-in-hand with human trafficking. Whereas countries like Norway and France have followed Sweden’s lead in trying to ban the practice on the demand […]

China’s Peng Shuai reacts during a women’s tennis singles match at the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, Nov. 21, 2010 (AP photo by Vincent Yu).

The mysterious disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai from public view since she accused a top Chinese Communist Party official of sexual assault is growing into a diplomatic crisis for Beijing, amid concerns about her safety and the broader scrutiny of freedoms and the #MeToo movement in China. Earlier this month, the former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion and three-time Olympian disappeared from public view after posting a lengthy message on Weibo—the Chinese microblogging site—accusing former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of having sexually assaulted her three years ago. She subsequently reappeared in photos and videos released on China's […]

Delegates attend the opening session of the 33rd African Union Summit, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Feb. 9, 2020 (AP photo).

A number of recent developments, including the civil war in Ethiopia and a spate of military takeovers in Mali, Guinea, Sudan and Chad, have exacerbated longstanding concerns of democratic backsliding, the return of military coups and the viability of the nation-state in Africa. The reactions of regional bodies and the African Union to these developments have been typified by carefully worded diplomatic statements, suspension of erring member states from group activities and weak sanctions, evoking familiar criticisms of those organizations as “dictators’ clubs” beholden to national leaders at the expense of the citizens they ostensibly serve. The inability of these bodies to […]

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, accompanied by first lady Cilia Flores, speaks at a press conference after he voted in the ruling party’s primary elections, in Caracas, Venezuela, Aug. 8, 2021 (AP photo by Matias Delacroix).

Many Latin American countries have grappled with democratic backsliding in recent years. But recent sham elections in Venezuela and Nicaragua marked a new low.  On Sunday, the regime led by Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro held municipal and regional polls that were widely seen as rigged, resulting in ruling party candidates taking a vast majority of gubernatorial, mayoral and local council seats.  And earlier this month, Nicaraguan strongman Daniel Ortega oversaw his own rigged elections. After putting seven opposition candidates behind bars during the campaign, Ortega claimed a fourth consecutive term in office. According to an independent voting rights group, turnout […]

A virtual high-level meeting of the United Nations Security Council is seen on a computer monitor at U.N. headquarters, New York, Sept. 24, 2020 (AP photo by Mary Altaffer).

As the world gradually distributes COVID-19 vaccinations and starts to reevaluate coronavirus-related restrictions, many in the international community are pushing for societies to go back to “normal.” Leaders at the helm of the international system want to return to the comfort zone of structured interactions in their New York offices; they are tired of days filled with  back-to-back Zoom meetings and the chaotic distractions of working from home. But should we really welcome “normal” back with open arms?  The pandemic has uprooted everyone’s usual work patterns. This has been traumatic, certainly—but also disruptive in positive ways. Much of what I […]

U.S. soldiers sit in a C-17 aircraft at Sather Air Base in Baghdad as they begin their journey home after a year in Iraq, Nov. 30, 2010 (AP photo by Maya Alleruzzo).

If Washington is as committed as ever to its historical role as security guarantor in the Middle East, why do U.S. officials feel compelled to constantly reassure their regional partners that the U.S. isn’t pulling back from the region? The question speaks to the disconnect between Washington’s strategic interests in the Middle East and the priorities of its regional partners. It also reflects the difficulty U.S. policymakers face in seeking to exert influence in a region beset by poor governance and a multiplicity of state, nonstate and hybrid actors.  But it also reflects a paradox at the heart of U.S. […]

President Joe Biden prepares to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., June 9, 2021 (AP photo by Patrick Semansky).

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Mel Pavlik is filling in for Candace Rondeaux. The week before Sudan’s military leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, arrested his country’s prime minister and seized power in a coup d’etat, U.S. President Joe Biden finalized the invitation list for his upcoming Summit for Democracy. The summit, claimed administration officials, aimed to counterbalance powerful autocracies such as Russia and China, and “galvanize democratic renewal worldwide.”  The world is a far cry from anything resembling democratic renewal. To the contrary, democracy is threatened on multiple fronts: not only by illegal seizures of power by military strongmen, as in Sudan, […]

A man crosses a street blocked by a burning barricade during a protest to demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Oct. 24, 2019 (AP photo by Elmer Martinez).

On Nov. 28, Hondurans will head to the polls for one of the most consequential elections in the country’s history. After the 2017 polls were marred by fraud and violence, voters face a stark choice between a corruption-plagued ruling party that has enabled Honduras’ transformation into a violent narco-state on one hand, and an uncertain future on the other. The main opposition candidate, Xiomara Castro of the progressive Liberty and Refoundation Party—or Libre, as it is known in Spanish—will try to break the National Party’s 12-year stranglehold on power. The wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed in […]

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 18, 2021 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently on a five-day tour of sub-Saharan Africa, his first to the region since taking office in January. Having already visited Kenya and Nigeria this week, he will conclude his tour Saturday in Senegal. The trip comes amid intensifying challenges for U.S. policy across Africa, including a deadly new crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Sudan following last month’s coup, a persistent civil conflict in Ethiopia, and mounting concerns about instability, democratic regression and the viability of the state in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation. Washington is also concerned about China’s deepening relationship […]

Polish soldiers sit on an army vehicle as they drive past a checkpoint close to the border with Belarus in Kuznica, Poland, Nov. 16, 2021 (AP photo by Matthias Schrader).

There is cautious optimism in Brussels that the temperature seems to be dialing down on the crises with Belarus and Russia on the EU’s eastern border, as Minsk takes a step back in its long-running border standoff with Warsaw and Moscow has not yet made any military incursion into Ukraine, despite once again massing troops on the border. But there is also a feeling in Brussels and across the continent that the events of the past few weeks are a harbinger of dark days ahead. EU defense ministers met Tuesday to discuss both the “hybrid warfare” by Belarus at the […]

Saudi Arabian Minster of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud speaks at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit, Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 10, 2021 (AP photo by Alberto Pezzali).

The COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow that wrapped up Saturday was intended to draw the world’s attention to the slow-burning emergency of global warming, as well as create policies for mitigating and adapting to its worst effects. Above all, however, the international gathering illustrated the problems of timing and collective action that frustrate efforts to stop climate change.  At the summit, world leaders, scientists and activists called for urgent action to reduce emissions and slow the rise in average global temperatures before the world crosses a threshold into an unlivable future. Instead, the conference delegates drafted what amounts to […]

Youth climate activists protest that representatives of the fossil fuel industry have been allowed inside the venue during the COP26 U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 11, 2021 (AP photo by Alastair Grant).

Lately, leaders of all generations have been referring to the world’s shared obligations toward “future generations.” At the G-20 summit in Rome in late October, for instance, the U.K.’s Prince Charles reminded delegates of their overwhelming responsibility toward “generations yet unborn,” whose health, happiness and prosperity will be determined by the way today’s leaders respond to the climate crisis. More recently, during a Nov. 12 protest in Glasgow, 18-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg called for those attending the nearby COP26 climate summit to listen to the “voices of future generations” that are “drowning” in leaders’ “greenwash and empty words and promises.”  But who […]

Palestinian security forces participate in a drill at the International Police Training Center in al-Muwaqqar, Jordan, a country that receives U.S. support for key counterterrorism training programs, Mar. 17, 2018 (AP photo by Raad Adayleh).

In May of this year, thousands of Colombian citizens took part in weeks of widespread protests against a newly proposed tax reform plan and, more generally, the country's growing economic inequality. The demonstrators included teachers, doctors, students and labor union members, as well as many who were new to protesting. But instead of allowing them to peacefully express their opinions, the Colombian National Police cracked down, killing at least 24 people in clashes that resembled their fights against criminal organizations and insurgents.  Of course, Colombia’s police are not unique in their heavy-handed approach to law enforcement. In 2019, police violence […]

An Afghan inspects the damage at the Ahmadi family house after a U.S. drone strike killed Zemari Ahmadi and nine other family members on Aug. 29, Kabul, Afghanistan (AP file photo by Bernat Armangue).

Last week, the U.S. Department of Defense released a one-page summary of its findings from an investigation into a drone strike in Kabul that killed a family of 10 during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. U.S. military officials had received intelligence that a specific car had visited a “suspected” Islamic State safehouse and loaded what “appeared to be” explosives into its trunk.  After the vehicle was destroyed with explosives in the driveway of the house, it was determined that the driver was actually Zemari Ahmadi, an electrical engineer who worked for a U.S. aid organization. Ahmadi was killed in the […]

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