U.S. President Barack Obama delivering a speech at the University of Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 19, 2012 (AP photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series inviting authors to identify the biggest priority—whether a threat, risk, opportunity or challenge—facing the international order and U.S. foreign policy today. America’s traditional role in promoting democracy and human rights abroad has fallen out of favor in a serious way. It has rarely registered a mention during this year’s presidential campaign, and Republican candidate Donald Trump has suggested that the United States lacks the standing to criticize human rights lapses abroad, given social turmoil at home. For all its various legacies, the Obama administration will leave little mark on […]

Spain's newly re-elected prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, after the second and final confidence vote at the Spanish Parliament, Madrid, Spain, Oct. 29, 2016 (AP photo by Daniel Ochoa de Olza).

Mariano Rajoy of the conservative People’s Party was sworn in on Monday for a second term as Spain’s prime minster, bringing an end to 10 months of political deadlock that included two inconclusive elections. On Saturday, Spanish lawmakers voted 170 to 111 in favor of Rajoy, while 68 members of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) abstained. Saturday’s vote came two days before a deadline to avoid a third election in less than a year, which most parties and the public wanted to avoid. In late August, Rajoy brokered a deal with the center-right Ciudadanos party that shored up significant […]

A march at the start of the 21st World Aids Conference demanding more funding to fight the disease, Durban, South Africa, July 18, 2016 (AP photo).

The ecstatic press releases started even before the conference to replenish the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria officially closed last month in Montreal. The fund, which channels donor money to local programs that fight the three diseases in places where they are the most damaging, especially sub-Saharan Africa, had put out a call for $13 billion for its next three years of programming. By the end of the conference, the fund had raised $12.9 billion. The bulletins out of Quebec captured the relief of a public health community that has watched its international financing dwindle, even as […]

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during the state commemoration ceremony of the 1956 Hungarian revolution, Budapest, Hungary, Oct. 23, 2016 (AP photo by Szilard Koszticsak).

Thousands of Hungarians took to the streets of Budapest to protest government corruption and the erosion of press freedoms earlier this month. The protest follows the closure of Hungary’s leading opposition newspaper, Nepszabadsag. The paper’s parent company cited falling readership as the reason for the closure, though many believe populist, right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban had a role to play in its shuttering. Miklos Hargitai, a Nepszabadsag journalist, told the AP that Orban’s government “doesn’t tolerate any control or criticism, not even questions.” Orban hadn’t given an interview to Nepszabadsag in 10 years. The newspaper’s closure is only the latest […]

People celebrate after the World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola-free, Monrovia, Liberia, May 11, 2015 (AP photo by Abbas Dulleh).

Last month, a warlord turned senator in Liberia named Prince Johnson kicked off his candidacy for next year’s presidential election with a sharp denunciation of sexual minorities and those who defend them. “A government under our watch will never, ever accept gay rights,” said Johnson, who is best known for his role in wartime atrocities, including the torture and killing of President Samuel Doe in 1990. “Liberia is not Sodom and Gomorrah.” The statement, and the attention it received from local journalists, was consistent with a campaign in which the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Liberians have taken […]

Machinery and cranes tower over the construction site of the Panama Canal's expansion project, Cocoli, Panama City, Feb. 5, 2014 (AP photo by Arnulfo Franco).

The $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, which officially opened in late June, tripling the size of vessels the canal can accommodate, is about more than just bigger ships. Unlike in 1914 when the opening of the canal made unimaginable trade routes possible, boosting the economies of the United States and many others, the expanded canal may have the biggest impact on Panama’s own economy. But the potential rewards also come with major risks. The canal’s ability to handle much larger ships will greatly facilitate shipping between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Among other things, U.S. grain exports from […]

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump campaigning at a recycling facility, Monessen, Pa., June 28, 2016 (AP photo by Keith Srakocic).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series inviting authors to identify the biggest priority—whether a threat, risk, opportunity or challenge—facing the international order and U.S. foreign policy today. For the past decade, globalization and anti-globalization perplexingly fell out of favor in the analytical narratives of most commentators on international affairs. The winners and losers of globalization, which defined the major debates about economic policies during the 1990s and early 2000s, simply ceased to be discussed. Perhaps it was because this particular framing was closely tied to debates about the World Trade Organization, protests against it, and […]

Escorted by bodyguards, Omani Sultan Qaboos arrives for an official welcoming ceremony, Tehran, Iran, Aug. 4, 2009 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

Oman rarely draws international attention in a region overshadowed by the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia and, since last year, the war in Yemen. But the country has emerged as an important element of U.S. policy in the Gulf and wider Middle East, serving as an interlocutor between Riyadh and Tehran. Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said—the Middle East’s longest-reigning monarch, having held power since 1970—has maintained Oman’s relative neutrality in regional conflicts, making the country a hub for delicate negotiations. For many years, Oman has enjoyed the best relations with Iran of any member of the Gulf Cooperation […]

Indian paramilitary soldiers and policemen during clashes with protesters, Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Oct. 7, 2016 (AP photo by Dar Yasin).

Not long ago, India and Pakistan appeared to be on a war footing. On Sept. 18, terrorists besieged an Indian army base in India-administered Kashmir, killing 19 soldiers in one of the worst single attacks on the Indian military in decades. New Delhi accused Pakistani militants of orchestrating the assault—the same allegation they made after an attack on an Indian air force base in Punjab earlier this year. After months of shrill rhetoric and saber-rattling, the subcontinent was aflame with war fever. India’s notoriously bellicose media called on the country to take up arms against Pakistan. Politicians from Prime Minister […]

A Tanzanian woman walks past a billboard for then-presidential candidate John Magufuli, Dar es Salaam, Oct. 26, 2015 (AP photo by Khalfan Said).

After winning elections a year ago, Tanzania’s new president, John Magufuli, quickly lived up to the nickname he acquired while he was the minister of works, “the Bulldozer.” He launched investigations against corruption that led to the sacking of senior officials in the Tanzania Revenue Authority, the Dar es Salaam Ports Authority and the head of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau, among others. He sought to introduce a note of austerity within government, canceling expensive Independence Day celebrations and banning government officials from making unnecessary foreign trips. He was photographed picking up litter outside State House, the president’s […]

Indonesian President Joko Widodo delivers his State of the Nation address to parliament, Jakarta, Aug. 16, 2016 (AP photo by Tatan Syuflana).

JAKARTA, Indonesia—Although political violence there is limited, Southeast Asia has become one of the tensest regions of the world, with a number of governments moving in authoritarian directions. In Thailand, the death of King Bhumibol, who unified the nation while backing the military junta, raises questions about whether anyone can replace him. The Philippines recently elected a populist authoritarian in Rodrigo Duterte, who is apparently determined to sabotage the country’s longstanding alliance with the United States and whose paramilitaries are executing Filipino citizens in the streets in a vigilante drug war. In Myanmar, power is hopelessly divided between longtime democracy […]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arriving at the national palace, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Oct. 11, 2016 (AP photo by Mulugeta Ayene).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Africa last week, traveling to Mali, Niger and Ethiopia. Issues of security dominated her visit to Mali, while migration was central to her trip to Niger. In Ethiopia, Merkel focused on security dialogue with the African Union, but her expression of support for greater democratization in the country was equally important. Merkel was notably blunter about Ethiopia’s authoritarianism than U.S. President Barack Obama and American diplomats, suggesting Germany’s potential as a mediator and advocate for political rights on the continent. Historically, Germany has not had nearly the same interest in Africa as France, Britain and […]

President Joseph Kabila during a parade to celebrate Congo's independence from Belgium, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 30, 2015 (AP photo by John Bompengo).

Last month, more than 50 protesters were killed in two days of clashes with security forces in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The protesters had taken to the streets with a clear message: The country’s presidential election must be held as soon as possible, and President Joseph Kabila must step down on Dec. 19 when his term officially expires. Although the city’s authorities had authorized the demonstration, it was violently suppressed by the police and the republican guard. Having lost faith in their government since the rigged 2011 elections when Kabila was controversially re-elected, the […]

President Barack Obama and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, at the White House, May 13, 2015 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Editor’s note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series inviting authors to identify the biggest priority—whether a threat, risk, opportunity or challenge—facing the international order and U.S. foreign policy today. President Barack Obama’s second term has illuminated the dysfunctional nature of many of the United States’ closest relationships in the Arab world and the need to rebalance its commitments. Some of this dysfunction is a product of policy differences, such as the strains between the U.S. and the Gulf states on both Syria and the Iran nuclear deal. But the roots of other facets go back further, to […]

Cote d'Ivoire's President Alassane Ouattara during an interview, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Oct. 29, 2015 (AP photo by Schalk van Zuydam).

Last week, Cote d’Ivoire’s parliament approved the draft of a new constitution that President Alassane Ouattara says will “turn the page” on the country’s “successive crises,” and offer a “new social pact.” That’s because the new draft makes good on his 2015 campaign promise to lift the restriction on presidential candidates with dual nationality, a deep-rooted source of social tension in a country with a large immigrant population. Ouattara himself had previously been barred from running for president, due to speculation that his father was born in Burkina Faso. Ivoirians will vote on the new charter in a national referendum […]

Independent miners clash with the police during protests, Panduro, Bolivia, Aug. 25, 2016 (AP photo by Juan Karita).

Bolivia was shaken in late August when Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes was killed by striking miners from Bolivia’s informal, self-governing cooperatives, his body dumped by the side of the road 80 miles south of the capital, La Paz. Llanes had been sent to Bolivia’s mining region by President Evo Morales in an effort to reduce tensions among those frustrated with falling commodities prices and chafing at the government’s unwillingness to loosen restrictions they see as limiting their economic prospects. Among their repeated demands has been an expanded ability to contract with private companies—they are currently restricted to doing business […]

U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders from India, Brunei, Vietnam and Laos at the 11th East Asia Summit, Vientiane, Laos, Sept. 8, 2016 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

September revealed the limits of U.S. President Barack Obama’s engagement in Asia. There was some good news, of course. On his last trip to the region, he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Laos, where he acknowledged “the suffering and sacrifices on all sides” of America’s secret war in the 1960s and 1970s and pledged to mend ties between the two countries. Later in the month, he met with Myanmar’s de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, at the White House. There he announced that all remaining sanctions on Myanmar would be lifted, a reward for the country’s democratic […]

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