A woman with a baby entering a temporary refugee camp in Kara Tepe, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Sept. 18, 2020 (AP photo by Panagiotis Balaskas).

When British Prime Minister Boris Johnson left the hospital in April 2020 after having been treated for COVID-19, he released a widely viewed video address in which he thanked the nurses that had cared for him. In singling out two for special mention—Jenny from New Zealand and Luis from Portugal—he shone a spotlight on the critical role that migrants have played during the pandemic. Throughout the world, migrants work essential jobs. Migrant women in particular play significant roles in the health care and domestic support industries, caring for patients and the elderly. Women make up nearly half of international migrants, […]

A health worker pauses in the ICU unit for COVID-19 patients at the Hospital das Clinicas in Porto Alegre, Brazil, March 19, 2021 (AP Photo by Jefferson Bernardes).

As COVID-19 starts to loosen its grip on the world, it makes sense to ask what we’ve learned from this punishing experience, so that we can be better prepared when the next pandemic strikes—which it will. Although it will take years to absorb the plague’s many lessons, here are four insights from the past year that should inform multilateral pandemic preparedness in the months and years ahead. The planet is out of balance, endangering human health. This pandemic has been severe, but it should not have come as a surprise. The past half-century has seen a surge in zoonoses, or […]

A Huawei store in Beijing, May 20, 2019, (GDA photo by Lam Yik Fei via AP Images).

Last week, Samsung announced that the rollout of its new Galaxy Note smartphone would be delayed, warning of a “serious imbalance” in the chip industry. It’s just the latest impact of a global shortage in the supply of semiconductor chips, caused by a unique combination of the coronavirus, climate change and Donald Trump. Semiconductors are the brains of all things electronic. Like the brain, they perform different functions—memory, processing—and range in sophistication from standard, repetitive routines to high-performance chips that can support machine learning, artificial intelligence and high-end graphics. All things electronic these days are pretty much all things chips. […]

Workers cover a glacier with oversized plastic sheets meant to keep it from melting during the summer months, on the peak of Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, May 10, 2011 (AP photo by Matthias Schrader).

Humanity’s collective failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is driving the world inexorably toward geoengineering, or the intentional, large-scale human manipulation of Earth’s climate system. Facing runaway global warming, individual nations will surely develop and deploy new technologies to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and the planet’s exposure to solar radiation. Playing with the environment and the atmosphere, however, is playing with fire. Without adequate rules, geoengineering will create massive, unintended consequences, deepen geopolitical rivalries and hasten the world’s division into climate winners and losers. To avoid these fates, the world must create a robust multilateral regime to govern the research, […]

Nursing staff administer COVID-19 vaccines to frontline health workers in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 29, 2021 (AP photo by Eranga Jayawardena).

As wealthy Western countries carefully guard their national stockpiles of COVID-19 vaccines, raising concerns about “vaccine nationalism,” China and Russia have moved aggressively in the opposite direction—toward vaccine diplomacy. Moscow and Beijing have used their homegrown formulas as powerful diplomatic tools, enabling them to curry favor with poorer nations that have largely been left out of the race to inoculate the world. Vaccine diplomacy, however, is not the exclusive domain of major powers. Aspiring regional powers, including some smaller countries, are increasingly stepping into the ring too, garnering goodwill by selling or donating vaccine doses. The result is a global […]

A map of the United States shows cyberattacks in real time at the headquarters of BitDefender, a leading Romanian cybersecurity company, in Bucharest, Romania, March 5, 2015 (AP Photo by Octav Ganea and Mediafax).

Over the weekend, something extraordinary happened. A working group within the United Nations, comprising all 193 of its member states, adopted a consensus report on norms for responsible state behavior in cyberspace. The report itself represents fairly limited progress, in terms of its contents, although there are some shiny objects for the cyber nerds like me who have been following this process closely. What is most significant is that there is consensus among all U.N. member states in a field that has been wrought with division and contention, especially for the past five years. Most surprisingly, this process originated from […]

The Nancy Foster, a U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship, travels over Gray’s Reef, about 20 miles off the coast of Georgia, Aug. 7, 2019 (AP Photo by Robert F. Bukaty).

As President Joe Biden’s administration moves to restore U.S. global leadership on the environment, it cannot afford to ignore the health of oceans. It must spearhead the successful conclusion of negotiations on a U.N. high seas biodiversity convention, which are currently adrift. To bring this treaty into port, the United States will need to forge global agreement on several contentious issues. It will also need to temper its neuralgic opposition to legally binding multilateral commitments, recognizing that the treaty poses no threat to U.S. sovereignty and is deeply in American interests. Although not entirely lawless, the high seas are poorly […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 17, 2017 (AP photo by Michel Euler).

In retrospect, the early 2000s can be considered, if not the high-water mark, then the golden age of contemporary globalization. Liberalized trade had achieved a quasi-theological status, with the catalogue of its benefits—both real and anticipated—extending far beyond its strictly economic impact. Trade, it was argued, would allow countries in the developing world to lift their populations out of poverty and into the “global middle class.” With this new affluence would come greater expectations for effective governance, generating protean demands for accountability that would eventually lead to political liberalization in countries where authoritarianism was the rule. Meanwhile, the lowered barriers […]

The new director-general of the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at a session of the WTO General Council in Geneva, Switzerland, March 1, 2021 (Keystone photo by Fabrice Coffrini via AP).

The World Trade Organization made history last month when its members chose Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as director-general, the first woman and first African to hold that position. A former Nigerian finance minister and senior World Bank official, Okonjo-Iweala enjoyed near-unanimous support, but her candidacy had been stalled by opposition from the Trump administration. One of President Joe Biden’s early actions after taking office in January, however, was to reverse Donald Trump’s veto and join the consensus behind her appointment. That, along with Biden’s overall preference for multilateral cooperation over unilateralism, opens space for the WTO to get out of the cul […]

A woman kneels in front of a riot police line as they block a rally of Belarusian opposition supporters in the center of Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 30, 2020 (AP photo).

A raging pandemic, an absent America and an emboldened China have exacerbated an ongoing global democratic recession. That is the message of “Freedom in the World 2021,” Freedom House’s latest status report on the fortunes of democracy. During 2020, democracy retreated for the 15th consecutive year, deteriorating in 73 countries and improving in only 28—a record margin according to Freedom House, which has been tracking these trends for more than 40 years. Reversing this decline will require established democracies to play both defense and offense, bolstering democracy where it is under siege and challenging the anti-democratic message of the world’s […]

Karim Khan in the courtroom of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, the Netherlands, June 4, 2007 (pool photo by Robert Vos via AP Images).

The member states of the International Criminal Court recently appointed British lawyer Karim Khan as the ICC’s next chief prosecutor. He is expected to start his nine-year term in June, replacing Gambian attorney Fatou Bensouda in the role. Khan is a veteran of the international legal world, having served as both prosecutor and defense counsel in a number of prominent cases. He also recently led a special U.N. investigation into crimes committed by the Islamic State group. But his upcoming stint as the ICC’s chief prosecutor will arguably be his most challenging assignment yet, given the many criticisms the court […]

A shipment of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by the COVAX Facility arrives in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Feb. 25, 2021 (AP photo by Diomande Ble Blonde).

Sometime this month, the U.S. Congress will likely approve the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, and with that will come the first real test of the new president’s favorite slogan: “America is back.” The return of the United States that Joe Biden has so frequently promised has always contained a strong whiff of nostalgia. It is a message that has mostly been directed outwardly to the world, saying that after a period of relative decline, of withdrawal and of drift through much of this century, the U.S. is eager to reassume its long-accustomed mantle as undisputed leader of […]

The International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Feb. 6, 2020 (AP photo by Peter Dejong).

Last month, after months of jockeying for influence, member states of the International Criminal Court held a secret ballot to determine the court’s next chief prosecutor. The winner was Karim Khan, a British lawyer with extensive experience on both the prosecutorial and defense side of international criminal cases. Khan will be only the third person to hold the job. He will take over from the current chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, at a time when the ICC faces some difficult questions about what kind of institution it will be. This week on Trend Lines, WPR’s Elliot Waldman is joined by Kyle […]

A rally near the United Nations Headquarters to protest Sri Lanka’s military offensive against the Tamil Tigers and civilian casualties, New York, April 17, 2009 (AP photo by Seth Wenig).

On a snowy afternoon in January, 24-year-old Thanujan Sellathurai delivered a speech in front of a small crowd of protesters from the Tamil community in Geneva. He called for the United Nations, which has several of its agencies headquartered there, to condemn the “brutal atrocity” that had just taken place in Sri Lanka. Authorities at the University of Jaffna, on the northern tip of Sri Lanka, had ordered the bulldozing of a memorial paying tribute to the victims of the Mullivaikkal massacre, a mass killing of Tamil civilians that took place in May 2009, during the last few days of […]

Huawei’s booth at the PT Expo in Beijing, China, Oct. 20, 2020 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

“Keep the politics out of the network”—that was the mantra of the tech community back in the day. There was wisdom in that sentiment, and it worked fairly well for the first 20 years of the internet’s build-out. But today, controversies over next generation 5G networks and how many of them will be built by China’s telecom giant, Huawei, have demonstrated how far geopolitics have infected digital infrastructure. The latest tensions are now over undersea cables. The argument over digital networks goes like this. It’s to be expected that politics, culture, language and all sorts of complex, contested issues will […]

U.S. President George H. W. Bush, front row center, is seen posing with other heads of state at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 13, 1992 (AP photo).

Nearly three decades after it emerged from the landmark “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro, the Convention on Biological Diversity has been ratified by 196 countries; the United States is the sole remaining holdout. This failure of global leadership is unconscionable and self-defeating, given continued, catastrophic declines in biodiversity that could see roughly 1 million species disappear in the coming decades. America must finally become party to this “Treaty of Life.” The Biden administration should promptly submit the U.N. biodiversity convention to the Senate for its advice and consent, while refuting several misconceptions that continue to underpin political resistance to […]