Protesters call for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a Victorian imperialist, in Oxford, England, June 9, 2020 (AP photo by Matt Dunham).

“From our vantage point, the transition from empire to nation in the 20th century appears inevitable,” writes the political theorist Adom Getachew. In the 30 years after World War II, membership in the United Nations expanded from 51 to 144 countries, an astounding transformation. But in her recently published book, “Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination,” Getachew argues “against the standard view of decolonization as a moment of nation-building,” painting a picture of anti-colonial nationalist movements that sought not only to build independent states, but also to undo global structures of hierarchy and subjugation that had become […]

Kwame Nkrumah, the first president and prime minister of Ghana, during a press conference at the White House, in Washington, March 8, 1961 (AP photo).

In a recent article for The New York Times, the political theorist Adom Getachew observes that in “the past few years, decolonization has gained new political currency—inside the borders of the old colonial powers.” In many European capitals, statues of former imperialists have been defaced, toppled by protesters or removed by authorities, contributing to a resurgence of discussions about what “decolonization” means and how it can be put into action today. This week on Trend Lines, Getachew joins WPR’s Elliot Waldman to talk about the history of anti-colonial nationalist movements that tried to remake the world in an egalitarian mold, […]

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From spyware wielded by autocrats to expanded surveillance by police states under the cover of the coronavirus pandemic, new technologies are helping authoritarian governments entrench their power and target their critics. They are also amplifying the spread of disinformation. Yet many democracies are also using these same technologies in troubling ways. This WPR report provides a comprehensive look at how these state-of-the-art tools are being harnessed by different governments around the world. Download your FREE copy of Surveillance, Control and Disinformation Technology to learn more today. For years, activists, academics and watchdogs have characterized the spyware industry as out of […]

Flames from the LNU Lightning Complex fires jump Interstate 80 in Vacaville, Calif., Aug. 19, 2020 (AP photo by Noah Berger).

California prides itself on being a national and global trendsetter. Unfortunately, the state is also setting the pace for climate change disasters, with searing heat and intense wildfires now regular features of its endless summer. Last Sunday, Aug. 16, the aptly named Furnace Creek ranger station in Death Valley posted the highest temperature ever reliably recorded on Earth, when the thermometer hit 130 degrees Fahrenheit. That same weekend, lightning strikes north of Lake Tahoe set off the massive Loyalton Fire in desiccated Lassen and Sierra counties, producing a rare “fire tornado” as high winds whipped flames into a violent, all-consuming […]

Employees at work in the Honda car plant in Celaya, Mexico, Feb. 21, 2014 (AP photo by Eduardo Verdugo).

The special protection that investors based in the United States have long enjoyed when they do business abroad seems to be on its way out, and it’s about time. Unlike other private parties, including workers and consumers, foreign investors have access to special arbitration arrangements to protect their businesses in partner countries that sign bilateral investment treaties or preferential trade agreements with the U.S. This mechanism, known as investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, has attracted increased scrutiny since the U.S. insisted on including an expanded version of it in the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s. Now, both […]

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Jan. 16, 2019 (AP photo by Peter Dejong).

There are many templates for achieving transitional justice, the broader purpose of which is to help a society reckon with a legacy of human rights abuses in the aftermath of dictatorship or conflict. These efforts might take the form of a criminal trial, a truth commission or a reparations program, in an effort to document horrific violations—and reckon with them. The specific goals of transitional justice have evolved over time. Early initiatives emphasized criminal justice, with the most well-known example being the post-World War II trials of German and Japanese war criminals. More recently, however, the purpose of transitional justice […]

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2019 (AP photo by Richard Drew).

When the United Nations commemorates its 75th anniversary next month, it will be in a somber mood. Well before COVID-19 hit, the Trump administration’s “America First” policies had deprived the world body of its traditional leader, the United States, while rising geopolitical frictions had paralyzed the U.N. Security Council. The coronavirus pandemic has reinforced these dynamics, accentuating U.S. unilateralism and exacerbating an increasingly heated rivalry between the U.S. and China. Much of the U.N.’s productive work has been brought to a standstill. The Security Council dithered for months on a noncontroversial resolution to freeze violent conflict during the pandemic, thanks […]

Migrant workers line up for buses to travel back to their home states, at Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, Mumbai, India, May 22, 2020 (AP photo by Rafiq Maqbool).

From the coronavirus’s initial outbreak in the sprawling city of Wuhan in central China, urban areas from New York and Sao Paulo to London, Moscow and Johannesburg have been the primary epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the Trend Lines podcast this week, WPR’s Elliot Waldman spoke to Ronak B. Patel, the founder and director of the Urbanization and Resilience Program at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, about the historical trends that have made large cities more susceptible to outbreaks of disease, and how municipalities can protect their residents from future pandemics. Listen to the full conversation here: And if you […]

A security guard stands behind the gates of a temporarily closed park with a view of the New York City skyline, in Weehawken, N.J., April 28, 2020 (AP photo by Seth Wenig).

In 1950, less than one-third of the world’s population lived in cities. Today, that share has leaped to 55 percent, according to the United Nations, and is projected to grow further to 68 percent by 2050. Cities have also become much more globally interconnected and much more diverse, as improvements in transportation infrastructure and the ease of commercial air travel led millions of people to migrate to urban areas. In many countries, these trends have produced impressive economic gains, but have also come with significant damage to the environment, as well as risks to health, as we’re seeing now with […]

A volunteer sprays disinfectant to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, at the Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 10, 2020 (AP photo by Leo Correa).

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is testing and revealing the limits of state authority. Simultaneously elevated and enfeebled, the nation-state has been the principal organizing unit behind the global crisis response. But often, it has lacked the legitimacy and authority it needs to manage the pandemic in the territories it purports to govern. In disputed territories and conflict zones, on remote isles in archipelagos, in favelas and urban settlements, citizens may look to the state for protection. But there at the margins, where the world’s most vulnerable populations often live, communities are instead enduring the pandemic without help from, […]

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, left, and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Refugee Summit, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 17, 2020 (AP photo by B.K. Bangash).

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Richard Gowan is filling in for Stewart M. Patrick, who will return next week. What books should admirers of the United Nations and international cooperation dive into this summer? Tomes about international institutions rarely make great beach reads. But with pandemic staycations still keeping the beach out of reach for many of us, they are not as heavy a lift this year as they were in summers past. And with foreign policy pundits sounding the alarm over a “crisis of multilateralism,” it can even be refreshing to dig into books that explain how the organizations involved […]

A Nature Conservancy staff member walks through land purchased by conservation groups in the Lower Carpenter Valley near Truckee, Calif., July 25, 2017 (AP photo by Rich Pedroncelli).

California’s State Senate is slated to vote this month on a monumental piece of environmental legislation that, if approved and signed into law, would reaffirm the state’s status as a pacesetter in global conservation. AB 3030, which has already cleared the State Assembly, would commit the state to permanently protect 30 percent of its land and coastal waters by 2030. At a time when the Trump administration is rolling back environmental regulations, opening wild public lands to drilling and mining, and abandoning the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Golden State is betting that environmental conservation and economic dynamism are […]