A Moroccan U.N. peacekeeper patrols Bangassou, Central African Republic, Feb. 14, 2021 (AP photo by Adrienne Surprenant).

2021 has been a dispiriting year for advocates of multilateral conflict management. The ignominious end of the international intervention in Afghanistan was an embarrassment not only for the U.S., but also for those institutions, including NATO and the United Nations, that had supported it. The U.N. Security Council has bickered fruitlessly over how to deal with crises ranging from the coup in Myanmar to the war in Ethiopia. Regional bodies such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, and the African Union have done little better at handling conflicts on their doorsteps. As if that weren’t enough, as […]

An Afghan man walks at the Afghanistan-Iran border crossing of Islam Qala, Nov. 24, 2021 (AP photo by Petros Giannakouris).

More than 22 million Afghans, many of them children, are at risk of starvation and exposure to cold this winter, The New York Times reported this week. Afghanistan was already experiencing food insecurity prior to the United States’ withdrawal, due to drought and harvest failure, but now, according to the United Nations Development Program, more than 8 million are facing famine.  Poor governance by the Taliban and their restrictions on women have contributed to general insecurity. But the country’s dire economic situation—which saw millions of dollars of foreign aid, constituting 43 percent of its gross domestic product, disappear overnight—has also dramatically worsened due to three […]

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the White House during the opening of the Democracy Summit, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, looks on, Washington, Dec. 9, 2021 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Leaders from government, civil society, journalism and the private sector in 17 African countries have been invited by U.S. President Joe Biden to join their counterparts from nearly 100 other nations at a two-day virtual summit on democracy. While campaigning for his party’s presidential nomination, Biden made the defense and promotion of democracy at home and abroad a cornerstone of his agenda. In particular, Biden pledged to host a summit for democracy in his first year in office, a promise this gathering fulfills.  Biden administration officials described the summit as offering an “affirmative agenda for democratic renewal” focused on three […]

President Joe Biden speaks from the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex for the opening of the Summit for Democracy, Washington, Dec. 9, 2021 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Hi, everybody. I’m Judah Grunstein, WPR’s editor-in-chief, and this is our Weekly Wrap-Up newsletter, recapping the highlights from our coverage this week and previewing what we have planned for next week. Two major stories dominated the news this week, both putting U.S. President Joe Biden in the spotlight. The first is his Summit for Democracy, a two-day virtual gathering of leaders from 100 countries that began Thursday and will focus on promoting human rights, resisting authoritarianism and fighting corruption. The second is the heightened tensions in Eastern Europe due to a Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine amid […]

Supporters hold up signs during an abortion rights rally outside Federal Plaza in Chicago, Dec. 1, 2021 (AP photo by Nam Y. Huh).

Just as the U.S. Supreme Court prepared last week to hear one of the most contentious abortion cases since Roe v. Wade, which legalized the procedure in 1973, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a scathing verdict on an abortion case in El Salvador. In its ruling, it held the Salvadoran government responsible for the death of a 33-year-old woman, identified only as “Manuela,” who died in prison in 2010 while serving a 30-year sentence for the “aggravated homicide” of a fetus through a miscarriage. El Salvador strictly enforces one of the world’s most draconian anti-abortion laws. At a […]

Muslim devotees shout slogans during a protest over an alleged insult to Islam, outside the country’s main Baitul Mukarram Mosque in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Oct. 15, 2021 (AP photo by Mahmud Hossain Opu).

On Oct. 13, as Bangladesh’s Hindu community celebrated a five-day religious festival, an image circulated on Facebook that showed a Quran placed on the statue of the Hindu deity Hanuman. The photo, which was taken at a shrine in the southeastern city of Comilla, was seen by some social media users as evidence of an act of blasphemy against Islam, and it inspired a mob to attack the shrine and several Hindu temples nearby. The incident became the opening salvo of one the deadliest periods of religious violence Bangladesh has seen in recent memory. Since then, mobs have torched and […]

A Mozambican soldier rides on an armored vehicle at the airport in Mocimboa da Praia, Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique, Aug. 9, 2021 (AP photo by Marc Hoogsteyns).

Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi created a stir in early November, when he dismissed Defense Minister Jaime Neto and then Interior Minister Amade Miquidade within 24 hours of each other. This shake-up in the country’s security leadership, coming less than two years after both had taken up their posts, likely signals the start of a broader effort at managing Mozambique’s image abroad as it seeks to reassure would-be investors that the government has a handle on internal security.  The tenures of both Neto and Miquidade coincided with a period of rapid expansion of the Islamic State affiliate Ahlu-Sunnah Wa-Jama, or ASWJ, […]

Iran’s national security adviser, Ali Shamkhani, and the UAE’s national security adviser, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, shake hands prior to their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Dec. 6, 2021 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

High-level diplomacy has intensified among competing Middle East regional powers, a flurry of bilateral talks that increasingly suggests what a “Plan B” would look like if, as seems likely, the U.S. and Iran fail to revive the deal that briefly constrained Tehran’s nuclear program. The pace of contacts and meetings between the region’s prime movers has stepped up a notch in recent weeks, in a tangible sign that governments in the Middle East are responding to what they see as a clear downsizing of Washington’s role in the region. The most visible example of this adjustment was a meeting that […]

President Joe Biden meets with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, Nov. 18, 2021 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

After five years and a nearly 20-month border shutdown, the heads of government of Mexico, Canada and the United States gave a sense of restored normalcy to trilateral relations last month, when they joined up in Washington for the first summit of its kind since a 2016 gathering—featuring a famously awkward handshake—in Ottawa. Then again, by the time Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, met with U.S. President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on the sidelines of what has been dubbed the Three Amigos Summit, they were already capping off a period filled with renewed, high-level bilateral […]

Activists display posters and defaced portraits of the leader of Myanmar’s junta, Min Aung Hlaing, during a rally protesting an emergency summit between him and Southeast Asian leaders, Jakarta, Indonesia, April 24, 2021 (AP photo by Tatan Syuflana).

After months of doing little to respond to the Feb. 1 coup in Myanmar—as well as the Myanmar military’s subsequent crackdown on civil society and murdering of opponents, and its overall mismanagement of the country—the Association of Southeast Asian Nations finally took a step toward a more resolute reaction in late October, when it disinvited Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing from its annual summit as well as the East Asia Summit immediately thereafter. He was also not invited to a meeting between ASEAN and European states in late November.  At the ASEAN summit, several Southeast Asian leaders also offered […]

Advocates for migrants’ rights light candles in front of a banner that reads, “309 dead on the France-U.K. border since 1999,” during a gathering outside the port of Calais, northern France, Nov. 25, 2021 (AP photo by Rafael Yaghobzadeh).

On Nov. 24, two devastating and separate, but ultimately interrelated, incidents took place in far-flung corners of the world. First, at least 27 people perished while attempting to cross the turbulent waters of the English Channel, which separates France from the United Kingdom. The dead were migrants from Africa and the Middle East whose fragile, flimsy raft sank before it reached the U.K.’s shores. This was the deadliest migrant crossing across the channel ever recorded, but it is not an isolated incident. Attempted channel crossings have spiked since 2018, resulting in hundreds of deaths.  On the same day, more than […]

A man walks through a deserted part of Johannesburg’s airport, South Africa, Nov. 29, 2021 (AP photo by Jerome Delay).

This week, the emergence of a new coronavirus variant potentially more contagious than the dominant delta strain caused widespread panic, as governments across the world closed their borders to travelers from Southern Africa, where the new variant was first identified. Named omicron, it contains even more mutations to its spike proteins than delta, causing some scientists to worry that it could also reduce the effectiveness of the currently developed vaccines. For now, the data is preliminary, and most of the alarm is based on speculation and the principle of precaution. But the rush to seal borders serves as a reminder […]

A Lithuanian soldier patrols a road near the Lithuania-Belarus border, Nov. 13, 2021 (AP photo by Mindaugas Kulbis).

While previous waves of migrant crossings, and the deaths that often accompany them, have mostly been concentrated in Europe’s south, the latter part of 2021 has seen the extension of that problem to the European Union’s eastern and western borders as well. The European Commission now says that, because of these extraordinary circumstances, the bloc’s normal rules on refugees and asylum shouldn’t apply. Yesterday, the commission proposed that EU member states bordering Belarus should be given more time than the bloc normally requires to register and consider asylum claims from refugees entering their territory—up to four weeks, instead of the […]

A watch tower stands empty inside Litoral Penitentiary, Guayaquil, Ecuador, July 22, 2021 (AP photo by Dolores Ochoa).

BOGOTA, Colombia—Ecuador made international headlines on Sept. 28, when a brutal prison riot left at least 119 inmates dead and more than 80 injured. The details of the uprising at the Litoral penitentiary in Guayaquil, on the Ecuadorian coast, were particularly gruesome, with images emerging of dismembered bodies and reports of inmates armed with chainsaws. A second riot at the same penitentiary on Nov. 11 left another 60 dead. Nearly 300 prisoners have died in gang-related violence in Ecuadorian prisons this year, making it the deadliest on record.  But Ecuador is far from the only country in the region to have experienced […]

Gambian President Adama Barrow addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at the United Nations headquarters, Sept. 25, 2018 (AP photo by Frank Franklin II).

Gambia will vote in a presidential election on Dec. 4 for the first time since former President Yahya Jammeh was defeated in December 2016 by incumbent Adama Barrow, ending 22 years of oppressive rule that was marked by widespread human rights violations. The ballot is expected to be a critical test for the country’s ongoing transition from dictatorship to democracy, amid concerns that interference from Jammeh, who is in exile in Equatorial Guinea, could threaten national cohesion and stability.  “We are facing a very uncertain moment,” Fatou Jagne Senghore, the West Africa director for the human rights NGO Article 19, […]

A protester supporting the “Vaccinate Our World” campaign holds a sign in front of the world headquarters of COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna, Cambridge, Mass, Nov. 18, 2021 (photo by Gretchen Ertl for AIDS Healthcare Foundation via AP Images).

As he watched his country flail early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nobel laureate economist Paul Romer argued that only by taking a dramatic, concerted step, carried out simultaneously nationwide, would the United States be able to stop the spread of the virus and contain its spiraling costs. At the time, in April 2020, Romer said that the United States should commit an estimated $100 billion dollars to a crash national testing program that would allow the quarantining of people who were positive and thereby stop the spread of the pathogen to others. This, he argued, was a pittance compared […]

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