President Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens, in Washington, Nov. 12, 2021 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

President Joe Biden took office last year during one of the most turbulent times the United States had experienced in decades. Though his administration has tackled important foreign policy issues, it has also faced multiple domestic crises, so the primary focus of this first year has been on the urgent matters at home. In 2022, though, the world is likely to demand more of Biden’s attention, even as the domestic challenges remain far from resolved. Some of the foreign policy issues are expected and already evident. To start, Biden will have to work to help the entire planet, including poor […]

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the media after meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Pretoria, South Africa, Nov. 23, 2021 (AP photo by Themba Hadebe).

If anyone was hoping for a post-pandemic renewal of international cooperation in a world still feeling the aftershocks from Brexit, Donald Trump’s presidency, trade wars and global supply chain disruptions, they would likely be disappointed today. International relations in 2020 were driven primarily by the politics of aid and mask diplomacy. The second year of the coronavirus pandemic has been all about vaccines, geopolitical competition and travel restrictions.  In a July edition of my Africa Watch newsletter, I noted that the rhetoric of renewed multilateralism heard at global summits and other international fora at the onset of the pandemic ultimately […]

Climate activist Vanessa Nakate, third right, and other activists stage a protest at the COP26 U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 8, 2021 (AP photo by Alastair Grant).

Though many of us hoped that 2021 would bring some relief after the trials and tribulations of 2020, this year has been a bumpy ride. On Jan. 6, just one week into 2021, supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in Washington—an international beacon of liberal democracy. This seemed to set the tone for the rest of the year. Everywhere, anti-democratic, misogynistic and racist forces made gains; in particular, the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan this summer left many despondent about the country’s future. And all the while, the coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc, especially on the lives of those who are victims of global vaccine inequity. In the middle of all this chaos, though, […]

Scientists from the Puget Sound Restoration Fund hold kelp that naturally grew on a buoy line in Washington state’s Hood Canal, part of an experiment on whether a seaweed farm can help combat ocean acidification, April 8, 2016 (AP Photo by Manuel Valdes).

Could the oceans—where life once evolved—help save the planet and humanity from climate catastrophe? A new report suggests they might. Released on Dec. 8 by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, or NASEM, the study explores tantalizing possibilities for drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and sequestering it in the oceans through a mix of nature-based solutions and technological innovations. Getting these climate interventions to scale will of course be a significant challenge. But another challenge may be just as difficult to solve: reconciling these solutions with international law and state obligations. Notwithstanding incremental progress at last month’s United Nations climate […]

A protester dressed as as “Lady Justice” poses during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Oct. 26, 2016 (AP photo by Rodrigo Abd).

If you ask young people what they want, the word that comes up most often is justice. Across the world, at all levels of governance, young people are fighting for social, economic and environmental justice—not just in the abstract sense of achieving equity, but also in seeking justice as an everyday, essential government service. But too often, these advocates have been let down by the police, courts and other institutions whose roles in society are to ensure and promote this justice. In part, this is a story of neglect. In every country, justice systems are not equipped to deliver justice […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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, […]