A municipal health worker sprays insecticide to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito, Joao Pessoa, Brazil, Feb. 22, 2016 (AP photo by Andre Penner).

The Zika virus is not new, but its spread and possible connections to microcephaly—a birth defect in which a baby has an abnormally small head—have caught the international community’s attention. Zika is not the same kind of challenge as Ebola, but it will require some similar measure of international cooperation to adequately address. While the World Health Organization’s declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Feb. 1 is a good start, there are still fundamental questions that could complicate the international community’s response. Why is Zika spreading now? The virus, which emerged out of its relative geographic […]

Bolivian President Evo Morales at a press conference at the government palace, La Paz, Bolivia, Feb. 24, 2016 (AP photo by Juan Karita).

On Sunday, Feb. 21, Bolivians rejected a referendum that would have allowed long-serving President Evo Morales to run for a fourth term in office, continuing a recent trend across Latin America of citizens voting for change. As the country’s first president of indigenous descent in a nation where between 40 percent and 62 percent of the citizenry self-identify as indigenous, Morales remains popular but is term-limited and must leave office in 2019. The president anticipated victory. What he did not factor in, apparently, was being overtaken by Latin America’s anti-incumbency wave. Since his first election in 2006, Morales has assiduously […]

Christian families living in a refugee camp in Kaga-Bandoro, Central African Republic, Feb. 16, 2016 (AP photo by Jerome Delay).

Faustin Touadera, the newly elected president of the Central African Republic, has a big job on his hands. Elected comfortably last weekend with almost 63 percent of the vote against his rival Anicet-Georges Dologuele’s 37 percent, the former math teacher, who served as prime minister in the years preceding CAR’s 2013 descent into violence, has been given a strong mandate to tackle the country’s immense problems. But even that may not be enough, given the scale of CAR’s recent history of conflict and ongoing mistrust between religious communities. Touadera’s victory in the second round of presidential election is expected to […]

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi during the inaugural session of parliament, Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Feb. 8, 2016 (AP photo by Aung Shine Oo).

Earlier this month, on Feb. 1, Myanmar’s first democratically elected parliament in more than half a century held its first session since landmark elections last November. Dominated by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and longtime democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which won nearly 80 percent of its seats, the parliament faces a host a challenges, from internal ethnic conflicts to the plight of the minority Rohingya Muslims. But when it comes to international affairs, no issue is perhaps more delicate and consequential than dealing with Myanmar’s powerful neighbor and patron, China. Beijing signaled its interest […]

An Iranian woman walks past electoral posters of parliamentary election candidates, Tehran, Iran, Feb. 22, 2016 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

On Friday, Feb. 26, Iranians will take part in a complicated and contradictory drama in their country: voting in elections. They will cast ballots for candidates in the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, where all 290 seats are contested every 4 years, and the Assembly of Experts, in which its 88 members—all senior religious scholars—are elected every 8 years. The Majlis race is of short- and medium-term importance, mainly affecting President Hassan Rouhani’s ability to enact his political agenda. Whether the new parliament will work with him or not has implications for developing Iran’s post-sanctions economy and other key domestic issues. The […]

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with Revolutionary Guard officers who were involved in the detention of U.S. Navy sailors in Iranian waters, Tehran, Jan. 24, 2016 (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader photo via AP).

The lifting of economic sanctions on Iran has raised concerns that Tehran will use its newly released funds on vast military spending, threatening stability in the Middle East. Given escalating tensions with its Gulf Arab neighbors, the presence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State along its borders and ongoing military operations in Syria, Iran is indeed likely to spend a significant portion of its unfrozen assets and the unknown billions generated from renewed foreign trade on its military. Even so, it faces an enormous modernization bill and a host of bureaucratic, political and military-doctrinal challenges before it can effectively turn cash […]

U.S. President Barack Obama at the U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders summit, Rancho Mirage, Calif., Feb. 16, 2016 (AP photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais).

The growing closeness between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) sends some very mixed messages. The California venue for last week’s first-ever U.S.-hosted summit with ASEAN heads of state—the Sunnylands Resort at Rancho Mirage—seemed to illustrate the essential confusion: Is the relationship bright and hopeful, or just illusory? Prior to the summit, U.S. State Department officials were at pains to declare that it was “not about China,” which became more difficult to maintain with the revelation, late in the summit’s proceedings, that Beijing had placed surface-to-air missiles on an island in the South China Sea. […]

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza during a meeting, Bujumbura, Burundi, Feb. 23, 2016 (AP photo).

Violence has enveloped Burundi since last April, when protests broke out following President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial announcement that he would run for a third term, despite a constitutional two-term limit. On Tuesday, after meeting with Nkurunziza in the capital, Bujumbura, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that Nkurunziza had agreed to hold talks with the opposition. Nkurunziza also said that he would release 2,000 people detained by authorities amid the unrest. The president’s decision last year to run again was met with outcries from Burundi’s opposition, which called the move unconstitutional. In May, rogue military officers attempted a coup, which the […]

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny addressing the staff of Paypal at Xerox Technology Park, Dundalk, Ireland, Feb. 16, 2016 (Press Association photo by Niall Carson via AP).

Facing a March deadline for new elections, Ireland’s prime minister, Enda Kenny, leader of the center-right Fine Gael party, dissolved parliament earlier this month and called a general election for Feb. 26. Opinion polls deem it unlikely that the current government will be returned to office. But the fragmentation of Ireland’s post-recovery political landscape, in particular the working-class vote, and the losses likely to be sustained by the left-wing Labour Party, which is in a coalition with Fine Gael, make it difficult to predict the complexion of the government that will emerge from Friday’s general election. Five years ago, in […]

Kenyan soldiers pay their respects at a memorial service honoring soldiers killed while on peacekeeping duty in Somalia, Eldoret, Kenya, Jan. 27, 2016 (AP photo by John Muchucha).

With a devastating attack last month on an army base in southwestern Somalia housing Kenyan soldiers, the militant group al-Shabab once again signaled its strength, despite the years-long regional effort to wipe it out. Dozens of Kenyan soldiers were slaughtered in the assault, which raised questions about Nairobi’s role in the ongoing campaign against the Islamic extremists. But Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta insists his government is committed to vanquishing al-Shabab—even as it does everything it can to silence any domestic debate over Kenya’s continued involvement in that effort. Kenya first ventured into Somalia in October 2011 with the launch of […]

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro before a bilateral meeting, United Nations headquarters, New York, Sept. 29, 2015 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

On Thursday, the White House announced that President Barack Obama will visit Cuba next month, the first trip there by an American president since 1928. Obama will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro and members of civil society, including dissidents who have criticized Cuba’s human rights record. U.S.-Cuba relations began to thaw in December 2014, when Obama and Castro announced the launch of a normalization process that would break decades of hostility. Last April, the Obama administration removed Cuba from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism List, and in July, the Cuban flag was raised over the embassy in Washington […]

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang at the Presidential Palace, Hanoi, Vietnam, Nov. 6, 2015 (AP photo by Na Son Nguyen).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series on the South China Sea territorial disputes and the various claimant countries’ approaches to addressing them. When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Hanoi early last month, he did so with understandable fanfare and scrutiny. His was the first visit to Vietnam by a Chinese president in a decade. It came just weeks before the annual ASEAN and East Asia Summits, and only a few months ahead of the Vietnamese Communist Party congress to be held in early 2016. Given the timing, observers in China and Vietnam, as well as […]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon at the Palace of Nations, Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Nov. 3, 2015 (Pool photo by Brendan Smialowski via AP).

Farhod makes his living driving a taxi in Gharm, a mountainous region of the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan. During the country’s civil war in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the valley formed the principal stronghold of the anti-communist opposition. Farhod lost two of his brothers in the five-year conflict, in which more than 50,000 people died. His leg was amputated after he was wounded fighting government forces. Despite having every reason to hate the current regime of President Emomali Rahmon, who came to power in 1992 soon after the war began, he does not. “President […]

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman as he is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican soldiers and marines, Mexico City, Mexico, Jan. 8, 2016 (AP photo by Marco Ugarter).

Six months after suffering one of the greatest embarrassments of his term, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto breathed a sigh of relief early last month. “Mission accomplished: we have him,” he announced on Twitter: Drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most wanted man, had been recaptured by Mexican marines in the state of Sinaloa. But the implications of El Chapo’s escape and arrest do not just end at the border. The episode has reinvigorated security cooperation between the United States and Mexico, while shining a light on the partnership’s economic benefits, as well. El Chapo’s brazen July 2015 escape […]

Filling up at a gas station, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 16, 2015 (AP photo by Mosa'ab Elshamy).

For the first time, Saudi Arabia’s budget this year includes measures to gradually reduce subsidies on gasoline and other fuel, in response to declining oil revenue from the slump in global energy prices. The move, replicated in other Arab Gulf states, represents a fundamental challenge to the assumptions on which the region’s economy and political structure are based. Since the beginning of the year, millions of Saudis have found it more expensive to drive to and from work each day. To people living outside the Gulf, the burden may not seem onerous. The cost at the pumps of higher-grade gasoline […]

Syrian army troops inside the Kweiras air base, east of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 11, 2015 (SANA photo via AP).

Thanks in large part to Russia’s intervention, the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has registered a series of important victories against its armed opposition and now seems to be encircling Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city. While the civil war is far from over, the conflict’s current trajectory suggests a regime military victory in the western half of the country. But the United States and other so-called Friends of Syria would do well to consider the implications of what it means to watch from the sidelines while the Russian air force obliterates the Syrian rebels. Set aside the moral stain of […]

A computer displays a message from the Chinese police on the proper use of the Internet at an Internet cafe, Beijing, China, Aug. 19, 2013 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

Editor’s note: This article is one of three briefings on China’s rise and its implications for U.S. regional and global interests, coinciding with an upcoming panel, in collaboration with WPR, at the St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs on Feb. 17-19 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The first, on China’s global economic ambitions, appeared Monday; the second, on China’s naval modernization, appeared Wednesday. The Internet revolution began in the 1990s, when China was still recovering from the damage done during Mao Zedong’s reign and the world was adjusting to the West’s post-Cold War pre-eminence. Under such circumstances, Chinese leaders saw the […]

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