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Given the state of U.S.-China relations these days, most observers had low expectations for Thursday’s call between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping. The list of issues causing tensions is long, and the areas for cooperation have narrowed. Unsurprisingly, then, the call resembled a conversation from the terminal stage of a bad romance.

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While governments around the world have tried to coordinate their efforts to rein in the emissions causing climate change, critics rightfully argue that the targets they have agreed to are too modest. But structural obstacles to the kind of cooperation needed to address the problem make it unlikely that a solution will be reached.

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The coronavirus pandemic and other global challenges have highlighted the importance of addressing the fractures and failures within the U.S. agencies tasked with implementing the Global Fragility Act. A good place to start is by applying some of the act’s components to the United States’ own institutions and programming.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, left, speaks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, before ministerial meeting on growing food insecurity around the world, May 18, 2022, in U.N. headquarters (AP photo by John Minchillo).

Last week, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in Istanbul for what he described as “probably the most important” event of his tenure at the U.N. to date. He visited Turkey for the signing of agreements by Russia and Ukraine that are meant to allow agricultural shipments to resume from Black Sea ports, helping to alleviate a growing global food crisis. While Turkish officials played a major part in these talks, Guterres has been personally involved in the negotiations “every day” since April. This initiative may come to be considered a turning point in his career as the U.N.’s top official. […]

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, center, leads a rally condemning the economic sanctions imposed by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump on Venezuela, in Caracas, Venezuela, Aug. 10, 2019 (AP photo by Ariana Cubillos).

Lately, energy companies have been acting as if U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry are likely to end soon. Last month, two U.S. investment firms—Gramercy Funds Management and Atmos Global Energy—formed a joint venture with the Venezuela-based Inelectra Group to engage in oil and gas exploration. The ownership of Citgo’s refineries in the country were a key point of contention for several years between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his opposition, but the U.S. oil giant’s management has nevertheless said it would accept crude exported from Venezuela if sanctions are indeed lifted. Their apparent belief that sanctions will be lifted is a […]

U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a working session with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Al Salman Royal Palace, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, July 15, 2022 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S. President Joe Biden’s “summer of diplomacy” continued last week, this time with stops in the Middle East, where he visited two long-term U.S. regional partners, Israel and Saudi Arabia. But unlike recent stops in the German Alps for the annual G-7 meeting or in Madrid for the NATO leaders’ summit, Biden’s meetings in Riyadh, in particular, generated a great deal of criticism and even opprobrium. Ahead of the trip, critics had warned that visiting Saudi Arabia went directly against Biden’s campaign promise to no longer give the kingdom a “blank check” when it comes to its human rights record. […]

Flames advance during a wildfire in Ferreras de Abajo in northwestern Spain, July 18, 2022 (AP photo by Emilio Fraile).

This past weekend a friend from Paris came to visit us in the north of England for an unusual reason. Though we were all happy to spend time together, the main purpose of his stay was to get away from the punishing heat wave that was due to hit Western Europe. We took advantage of the pleasantly warm weather to show him some of the local attractions, including a visit to Hadrian’s Wall, which 2,000 years ago marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire. I jokingly referred to him as our first “climate refugee,” a nod to the well-established […]

A Ukrainian serviceman steps on the barrel of a destroyed tank near the village of Malaya Rohan, Ukraine, April 1, 2022 (AP photo by Andrew Marienko).

In the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many military analysts found that their prewar predictions about the Russian military’s performance were wildly off the mark. Even if many had expressed doubts about Russia’s ability to sustainably achieve its strategic objectives in Ukraine, most experts shared the widespread expectation that the superior firepower and mobility of Russian forces’ combined arms operations would quickly overwhelm the Ukrainian military. In the months since then, endless post-mortems have dissected the particular Russian blunders and Ukrainian successes that determined the course of the war’s first weeks, and why military analysts were unable to […]

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid address the media following their meeting in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

U.S. President Joe Biden made his first presidential trip to the Middle East this week, stopping in Israel for a three-day visit that was refreshingly uncontroversial, before heading on to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that has raised hackles in Washington since it was announced several weeks ago. The contrasting atmospherics of the two legs of Biden’s trip serve to underscore how much has changed in the region in recent years, but also paradoxically how much has stayed the same. Coming a year after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, […]

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump and then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold up hats reading “Donald and Shinzo, Make Alliance Even Greater” in Kawagoe, Japan, Nov. 5, 2017 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

The assassination of Abe Shinzo last week left the world in shock. As Japan’s longest-serving prime minister—having held office from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2012 until 2020—Abe left an indelible and controversial impact on Japanese politics and policy. This was particularly the case in foreign policy. Though he was never able to successfully revise Japan’s pacifist postwar constitution, he did move Japan along the path toward becoming a “normal country,” that is, one able to pursue its interests through all available means, including military force. But one of Abe’s greatest accomplishments, at least in the realm of international […]

Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, right, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Advocate (UNSGSA) for Inclusive Finance for Development, looks at a book with the Governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines, July 1, 2015 (AP Photo by Aaron Favila).

As diplomats and international officials head off on their summer vacations, most will want to stop thinking about world affairs for a few weeks. 2022 has been a grueling year, thanks to Russia’s war on Ukraine and a worsening global economic crisis. Foreign policy professionals will want to read nothing more taxing than a frivolous thriller. Nonetheless, the summer break—which will be no break at all if more major crises erupt—is a good moment to delve into books that can cast light on the state of geopolitics. This week, I’ll highlight a big-picture book on warfare, a memoir, a biography […]

President Joe Biden walks to the Oval Office of the White House after stepping off Marine One, June 13, 2022, in Washington (AP photo by Patrick Semansky).

I had planned this week to write about my impressions of Beirut from my first visit there in more than three years. But I’ll save that for next week’s newsletter, because U.S. President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to the Middle East is screaming out for corrective analysis. The problem with the trip is not so much the fact of its occurrence, but the framing of its purpose by U.S. officials, which appears to be based on an outmoded understanding of how foreign influence works in the region’s functional but eroding system of states. Biden is scheduled to make stops in […]

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It would be an understatement to say that the 21st century has not been a good one for democracy. As has been well-documented, democracy has been losing ground for years in ways both subtle and blunt. Now comes another growing trend, this one spreading quietly, in a seemingly innocent fashion, whose damage to democracy could be even more intractable, because it brings welcome changes to daily life along with its potential for harm. We’re talking here about the rise of artificial intelligence, or AI. Or, more to the point, we should be. AI is already an important part of daily […]

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Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health rolled back half a century of federally protected reproductive rights and reverted the authority to regulate abortion to the states. The ruling was celebrated by anti-abortion advocates and met with outrage from reproductive justice supporters. At the international level, it has been condemned by United Nations human rights officials and U.S. allies alike. It has also become a propaganda tool for U.S. enemies: The Taliban referred to the ruling to point out U.S. hypocrisy on women’s rights and argue that the sanctions against them should be […]

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Can we predict the future of United Nations peacekeeping by looking back at its Cold War origins? Over the past two decades, the U.N. has prioritized large, complex blue helmet operations in countries like Mali and South Sudan. But these missions seem to be in slow decline. The Security Council last mandated a big blue helmet force in 2014, in the Central African Republic. The U.N.’s largest operation, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is very gradually winding down after more than two decades. In parallel, some experts on peacekeeping are taking a fresh interest in the organization’s longstanding missions […]

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at a news conference to discuss the USMCA trade agreement, Dec. 10, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington (AP Photo by Andrew Harnik).

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which entered into force on July 1, 2020, contains some of the most innovative trade standards in any free trade agreement to date. Negotiated under the Trump administration, USMCA passed the U.S. Congress with widespread bipartisan support, gained the approval of the AFL-CIO—the largest U.S. trade union—and could become a template in negotiations for other trade deals. Yet, since then, the U.S. has retreated from pursuing further free trade agreements, or FTAs, whether under former President Donald Trump, who was hostile to them, or his successor, President Joe Biden, who has historically viewed them more […]

Abortion rights activists are seen through a hole in an American flag as they protest outside the Supreme Court in Washington, June 25, 2022 (AP photo by Jose Luis Magana).

By a 5-4 vote last week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling that had established the constitutional right to abortion in 1973. As a result of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, for the first time in almost 50 years, there are no national-level protections in the U.S. for women’s right to choose, with abortion policy now fully relegated to individual states. From Louisiana to Ohio to Texas, many states have already put in place strict restrictions, if not outright bans, on abortions. Because the five votes in the majority decision to overturn Roe v. […]