Last week’s special session of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), convened primarily to secure emergency funding for enhanced safeguards activities in Iran, provided an acute reminder of both the IAEA’s importance and its precarious financial situation. The international community demands ongoing high performance from the agency, while chronically failing to replenish resources perilously close to exhaustion. And yet, given the agency’s central role in key nuclear nonproliferation and security efforts, the stakes could not be higher. The IAEA is integral to international efforts as diverse as implementing the interim nuclear deal—and any potential follow-on […]

Governments have been collecting data on their citizens almost from the first moment that they came into being. Data was needed to determine what was out there that could be extracted: The Egyptian Pharaohs conducted a census to find out the scale of the available labor force to build the pyramids, and in the Roman Empire, the five-yearly census was all about finding out who was available for military service and what wealth existed to be taxed. But governments have also used data to find out what people needed: The ancient Babylonians collected data from their citizens nearly 6,000 years […]

Let us start with a simple question: What was the total fertility rate (TFR) for a given developing country in a given year? The total fertility rate—or the number of children, on average, a woman in a given population is expected to have in her lifetime—is a crucial indicator, as it, in conjunction with mortality and migration, determines the future size, growth rate and age structure of a population. It is a much more important and informative measure than the crude birth rate, which is simply a snapshot of the total number of births in a population divided by the […]

In a budget agreement reached this month, the U.S. Congress declined to approve a package of reforms for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that the fund’s members agreed to four years ago. In an email interview, Daniel McDowell, assistant professor of political science in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, explained the state of efforts to reform the IMF. WPR: What has been the recent state of efforts to reform the IMF? Daniel McDowell: In a word, stalled. The most recent push for reform began within months of the onset of the 2008 global financial crisis. The crisis revealed that […]

When diplomats gathered at the United Nations last week to launch a series of commemorations of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, there was much talk of the need for decisive responses to early signs of future mass atrocities. By contrast, actual diplomacy to manage today’s well-advanced crises in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR) was more tentative. The U.S. and Russia called for local cease-fires to ease the suffering in Syria. South Sudanese negotiatorsin Addis Ababa mulled a truce while fighting continued unabated at home. An agreement to appoint a new interim president in the CAR failed to […]

China’s Antarctic program has captured international attention in recent weeks amid the dramatic rescue of the trapped Russian research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy. China’s successful participation in the rescue, in which a Chinese icebreaker played a key role before itself getting trapped in Antarctic ice, made global headlines and brought a windfall of positive public relations for a country whose growing polar interests tend to arouse anxiety among traditional players in the Arctic and Antarctic. Meanwhile, on Jan. 10, China quietly released the draft environmental assessment report of its planned fifth Antarctic research station to the other consultative states in the […]

Since the conflict in South Sudan escalated in December, well-meaning governments and United Nations officials have repeatedly argued that only a political solution can end the fighting. “There is no military solution,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power told CNN on Christmas Eve. But the South Sudanese government does not seem entirely convinced. Over the past week it has ratcheted up its offensives against rebel-held areas, recapturing the economically important town of Bentiu. Bor, another major center in rebel hands, has also been under attack. The government is still in peace talks with rebel envoys, but it is evidently […]

Climate change legislation has had a tough time in the United States. But Secretary of State John Kerry, based partially on a conviction that climate change is causing more intense storms like the recent typhoon in the Philippines, still sees the conclusion of a successful global climate pact in 2015 with full U.S. participation as an important, legacy-defining goal. Last month, Kerry stood alongside his Philippine counterpart and told reporters that “what we face today is sufficient to say that developed nations in the world need to take the lead,” predicting, among other things, a pattern of increasingly intense storms […]

It is an absolute certainty that 2014 will be a turbulent year for the United Nations. The organization is struggling with crises ranging from the chaos in the Central African Republic (CAR) to the plight of Syrian refugees. There is little hope that these challenges will dissipate soon. Yet two sets of peace talks this month could well decide whether the U.N. faces a truly dreadful year ahead, or just a very difficult one. The first is already underway in Addis Ababa, where emissaries of the South Sudanese government and its opponents may or may not manage to reverse their […]

With the Obama administration moving toward its sixth year, the traditional nuclear arms control process—which has for the past several decades been driven in large part by a series of bilateral and multilateral treaties—appears to be lagging as nuclear threats and fears shift and as the U.S. political scene remains gridlocked. To move its broader nuclear agenda forward, the administration is pursuing mechanisms and institutions that allow the United States to build security and technical cooperation with partner nations without a time-consuming and politically bruising treaty ratification process. Some of these mechanisms are new, like the series of nuclear security […]