China’s restriction of global access to its deposits of rare earth elements starting in 2010 changed the status of these materials in the global economy, creating new diplomatic alliances across Asia and increasing the importance of mining in trade agreements. A series of trade agreements in Central and Southeast Asia, announced over the past month, reveal the ways manufacturers and mining conglomerates are coping with potential shortages two years after China’s rare earth consolidation. Nevertheless, difficulties inherent to extraction and processing mean that delays will hamper access to new sources of rare earth supplies even when supported by strong investments. […]

For a man who regularly receives disturbing reports from war zones, last week was a particularly bad one for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. As fighting escalated in Gaza and rebel forces launched new offensives in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo — where U.N. peacekeepers are on the front line — Ban also had to manage the fallout from an internal report (.pdf) on the U.N.’s performance during the final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009. The report tells an appalling story. U.N. officials in Sri Lanka, the report shows, avoided confronting the government over the fierce […]

Commentary on generational conflict and the radicalism of youth goes back at least as far as the ancient Greeks — from the tragedies of Oedipus to the comedies of Aristophanes, we find the younger generation contesting the power and morals of their elders. Such conflict is probably always present to some degree in every family and every generation. Yet the coalescence of individual youthful impatience with the ways of the older generation into social movements of rebellion or revolution is something that happens more rarely and only when certain economic, political and social conditions prevail. It is far too simple, […]

When assigning homework exercises for a survey course that I teach on American foreign policy, I tell my students that no matter how strong the arguments they use to defend their positions, if they neglect to examine how demographic trends will affect their proposals, they will get an F. What is true for my students is true for global policymakers: Demographic trends will shape our future in a much more profound sense than most of the developments we see on the front page of the New York Times. Four major demographic trends in particular will shape the global security landscape […]

In the early 1970s, demographers began to spot a new pattern of human behavior that they had never seen before. In 1970, when Sweden, Finland and Denmark conducted their annual tallies of births and deaths for the previous year, the numbers suggested that young adults were having so few children that they would not succeed in replacing their generation. This finding contradicted all reigning theories of human population. Until then, demographers, as well as thinking people in general, had always believed that human beings would inevitably produce more than enough children to sustain the population — at least until plague, […]

Ahead of a World Health Organization summit bringing 100 countries together for the first meeting of member states on falsely labeled medical products, a group of public health experts is calling for an international treaty on substandard and counterfeit medicines. Some countries have laws prohibiting the sale of fake medicines, but, as the BBC reports, the lack of an international treaty allows organized criminal networks to sell fake drugs out of countries with weak laws. There have been multiple instances of mass deaths due to fake drugs, including in 2008, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration documented 81 deaths […]

Editor’s note: This is a response to WPR’s Global Insider interview with Alan D. Hemmings, “Marine Reserve Failure Undermines Antarctic Treaty States’ Credibility.” Characterizing the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) as a “failure” due to its inability to agree on marine reserves in the Antarctic is unnecessarily alarmist and a misrepresentation of the enduring robustness of this group of decision-makers. While there is a need for Antarctic marine protections, the existing process is working. The CCAMLR’s members are bound by obligations contained within the international Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and […]

Global Insider: Marine Reserve Failure Undermines Antarctic Treaty States’ Credibility

A meeting in Hobart, Australia, of countries charged with protecting marine life in the waters around Antarctica closed last week without a vote on a joint proposal by New Zealand and the United States to create a marine protected area in the Ross Sea.* In an email interview, Alan D. Hemmings, an environmental consultant and specialist on Antarctic governance and environmental management, discussed the bid to protect the Ross Sea. WPR: What is at stake in the discussion over creating a protected area in the Ross Sea? Alan D. Hemmings: At stake is, critically, the Ross Sea ecosystem — what […]

The White House has reportedly ordered the Pentagon to reposition drones for possible retaliatory strikes in Libya — the latest evidence that drones are dislodging manned aircraft from the central role they have played in U.S. warfighting since World War II. After a decade of wars that have cost billions of dollars and claimed thousands of American lives, the American people overwhelmingly support this transition to an unmanned air force. After all, unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) deliver a lethal punch at low economic cost, with zero risk to American personnel. That explains why 83 percent of the country approves […]

More than half of the world’s total population, currently roughly 7 billion, now lives in cities. As the world’s population increases to a projected 9 billion by 2050, so too will the trend toward greater urbanization. Urban growth is most rapid in the developing world, where cities grow by an average of 5 million residents every month. By 2050, urban dwellers will likely account for 67 percent of total population in the developing world and 86 percent in the developed world. Many of the world’s cities, and some of its biggest, may be particularly vulnerable to climate change and the […]

This summer’s drought in the U.S. has triggered the third major food price spike in the past five years, leaving the world’s poor to wonder if global leaders learned anything from the first two. To judge by their actions so far, they haven’t. The food crisis of the past five years has indeed energized food and agricultural policymakers, bringing long-overdue attention to chronic problems, from underinvestment in smallholder agriculture to overreliance on high-input industrial production. It has seen welcome new institutions brought into being and existing ones revitalized, stimulating new investment in agricultural research and serving as a reminder that […]

Education has been found to have two categories of influences. In terms of monetary influences, the higher one’s level of education, the less likely one is to be unemployed or in poverty, and the more likely one is to be advantaged in terms of income and income security. Moreover, what is true of individuals is also true of communities and nations. In terms of nonmonetary influences, education has been found to affect personal health and nutrition practices, child rearing and participation in voluntary activities. It also influences the efficiency of public communications and the degree to which adults seek new […]

During last week’s presidential debate on foreign policy, Republican nominee Mitt Romney missed an opportunity to criticize one aspect of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy that has gone largely unnoticed: the shift away from U.S. international radio broadcasting in favor of more high-tech media outlets. The dangers of the shift were underscored by a new law spearheaded by Russian President Vladimir Putin that will ban radio broadcasting in Russia starting Nov. 10 by companies that are more than 48 percent foreign-owned. Without protest, the American station Radio Liberty — Radio Svoboda in Russian — has decided to comply with the […]

In recent years, democratic legitimacy has become a requirement for wielding power in an increasing number of countries. Populations that endured years of dictatorship now demand the right to elect their leaders. In a growing number of cases, however, politicians with authoritarian tendencies have found a way to game the system, extending their rule, seemingly indefinitely, while technically preserving their claim to democratic and constitutional lawfulness. The most remarkable aspect of this new trend is how well it works, and how much it seems to be spreading. Politicians in places as different and distant as Venezuela and Russia have successfully […]