The image of Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman projected on the Kingdom Tower during National Day ceremonies, Riyadh, Sept. 24, 2017 (Saudi Culture and Information Ministry photo via AP).

The dust is beginning to settle after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman surprised observers with a purge of prominent members of the Saudi royal family and business community nearly two months ago. Debate continues over how much the detention of 320 key figures in Riyadh was a decisive move to stamp out corruption in Saudi society, or the culmination of a power grab that has unfolded since Mohammed bin Salman burst onto the scene when his father became king in January 2015. Either way, it is clear that policymaking authority is concentrated in one individual to a degree unprecedented in […]

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, gestures to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as they review the troops during the welcoming ceremony at the Malacanang Palace grounds, Manila, Jan. 12, 2017 (AP Photo by Bullit Marquez).

While several foreign leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, were paying their first visit to the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte in November for this year’s ASEAN Summit, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was making his second trip there in under a year. And it came just a few weeks after Duterte’s own high-profile visit to Tokyo. Japan has emerged as the Philippines’ most robust bilateral relationship under Duterte’s presidency so far—so much so that he has begun calling this a “golden age” in their strategic partnership. But even with that progress and optimism, there are still key strategic questions […]

A protest against the pardon of former President Alberto Fujimori. The poster reads in Spanish, “assassin, thief, no to pardon,” Lima, Peru, Dec. 25, 2017 (AP photo by Martin Mejia).

LIMA, Peru—Peruvians had a hard time enough concentrating on Christmas preparations as they watched their president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, barely avoid impeachment on corruption charges on Dec. 21. But then, three days later, on Christmas Eve, Kuczynski pardoned former President Alberto Fujimori. Known for his authoritarianism and human rights abuses during his decade in power in the 1990s, Fujimori spent the past 12 years in jail, convicted of corruption and crimes against humanity. His divisive pardon has already sparked large protests. The riveting political drama during a week that is usually reserved for shopping and parties caps a tumultuous year […]

People wait holding flags for a welcome ceremony with President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, Nov. 9, 2017 (AP photo by Andrew Harnik).

Employing an adversarial tone that surprised many observers, the White House’s newly unveiled National Security Strategy described China as a “revisionist power” that “actively competes” against the United States and its allies and partners. It accused China of trying to “shift the regional balance in its favor” and “displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region.” The strategy, the first released by President Donald Trump since taking office, also declared that China seeks to shape a world “antithetical” to U.S. values and interests, and painted China’s expanding economic and diplomatic influence in a decidedly negative light, deploying terms like “extractive” […]

Cyril Ramaphosa addresses delegates during the closing of the conference of the African National Congress, Johannesburg, South Africa, Dec. 20, 2017 (AP photo by Themba Hadebe).

After a decade of Jacob Zuma’s leadership of the African National Congress, or ANC, and more than eight years of him as South Africa’s president, it was hardly surprising that Cyril Ramaphosa’s election to the ANC presidency on Dec. 18 was almost universally welcomed beyond the ranks of the ruling party itself. Zuma’s time in power has been characterized by corruption and dysfunctional governance. However, despite the surge of enthusiasm for Ramaphosa at home and abroad, reflected in an immediate rallying of the rand on global financial markets, the paradox of his election is that it was far from universally […]

Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili stands behind the glass and talks to reporters before a court hearing, Kiev, Ukraine, Dec. 11, 2017 (AP photo by Efrem Lukatsky).

The conflict in Ukraine, which has raged for more than four years since the Maidan uprising of November 2013, is often portrayed as a clash between the West, which favors greater integration with Europe and the United States, and the East, which favors ties with Russia. But it is degenerating into a clash of egos jockeying for control of a corrupt, dysfunctional state that outside powers other than Russia are barely invested in anymore. Consider the case of Mikheil Saakashvili, the controversial U.S.-educated former prime minister of Georgia, who in May 2015 was appointed governor of the Odessa region on […]

Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith is greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, Dec. 1, 2016 (Pool photo via AP).

When Laos’ National Assembly ratified the appointment of a new president and prime minister to lead the closed, one-party communist state in early 2016, most analysts viewed the political changes in Vientiane as signaling a shift away from its much larger and influential neighbor, China. Laos, it seemed, was making a concerted attempt to balance relations more equally with its other neighbors. Yet two years on, China’s influence in its impoverished southern neighbor has only grown. A controversial railway project funded by Beijing is moving forward, and President Xi Jinping made a high-profile state visit in November, touting Laos as […]

German state representative Jeannine Rosler, left, participates in a protest against tax evasion prompted by revelations included in the Paradise Papers leak, Schwerin, Germany, Nov. 15, 2017 (dpa photo via AP).

Public interest in offshore banks and their financial services, particularly in the Caribbean, has risen considerably after revelations in two major leaks known as the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers. The increasingly common practice of the super-rich, celebrities and political figures using Caribbean countries to shelter their income from taxes at home has been a gold mine for investigative reporters. The public outcries have pushed politicians to respond, most recently and prominently with the European Union’s decision to blacklist 17 tax havens “seen as not cooperative on tax matters,” including several in the Caribbean. But the Caribbean side of […]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a news conference following the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's Extraordinary Summit, Istanbul, Turkey, Dec. 13, 2017 (AP photo by Yasin Bulbul).

No doubt shocked by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision earlier this month to carry out his campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Mahmoud Abbas has been scrambling for an appropriate response. His initial reaction was to slam the decision, declaring that “the United States has become no longer qualified to sponsor the peace process.” Since then, he has shuttled between Middle Eastern capitals drumming up opposition to the move. But beyond statements of indignation, it is not clear that Abbas has considered any real shifts in Palestinian strategy. The Palestinian Authority will “remain committed to the […]

A protester splashes red paint on a picture of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during a rally, Manila, Philippines, Dec. 7, 2017 (AP photo by Aaron Favila).

The rise of populist leaders and parties in Europe and the United States over the past two years has reshaped the political landscape from Budapest to Washington. Challenging elites as corrupt and disconnected from common concerns, these populists claim to derive their legitimacy from the supposed will of the people and usually use their influence to blame some “other” for the country’s ills. They have tried to upend post-Cold War norms on everything from free trade to the integration of Europe, raising fears in the West about the strength of the rule of law and even democracy itself. But this […]

Damage to the portside is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward a naval base in Singapore following a collision, Aug. 21, 2017 (U.S. Navy photo via AP).

Four accidents involving the U.S. surface Navy in the Pacific in recent months, two of them deadly, have led to warnings of a readiness crisis at sea. These warnings received additional salience when a Navy resupply aircraft crashed in the Philippines Sea on Nov. 22, killing three of the 11 crew and passengers. The spate of deadly incidents has led the Navy to examine how it trains, equips and sustains its force to operate ever more complex missions with a shrinking fleet. The Navy’s leadership in late October released the findings of investigations into the collisions involving the USS John […]

A Nepalese man casts his vote during the legislative elections in Chautara, Sindupalchowk, Nepal, Nov. 26, 2017 (AP photo by Niranjan Shrestha).

KATHMANDU, Nepal—Scarred by a civil war in the 1990s, and sapped by constitutional crises in the decade after, Nepal is finally facing some prospect of electoral democracy and constitutional stability. On Dec. 7, it successfully concluded elections for national and state legislatures, implementing the most important and challenging aspects of its 2015 constitution, which was adopted despite sustained opposition from some ethnic minority groups. The elections were a landmark moment for a Nepali state experimenting with the devolution of power at municipal, state and federal levels all at once and for the first time since the formation of the Kingdom […]

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban proceeds to inspect the honor guard during a welcome ceremony in Singapore, Sept. 26, 2017 (AP photo by Wong Maye-E).

Hungary’s controversial prime minister, Viktor Orban, is facing down international criticism and restoring a commanding position at home as the campaign gears up for next year’s general elections, which are due to be held by May. The pugnacious populist has also managed to capture some of the regional and global zeitgeist in the era of U.S. President Donald Trump, making common cause with hard-line nationalists around him and seizing on the aftermath of the 2015 migrant and refugee crisis. However strong he appears, though, Orban’s power in Hungary is in no small part thanks to a divided and discredited opposition. […]

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron before a lunch at the Elysee Palace, Paris, Dec. 12, 2017 (AP photo by Francois Mori).

Mali is set to hold presidential elections in July 2018. Pre-campaign maneuvering recently accelerated, with candidates declaring and likely candidates readying themselves to run. Although President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita enjoys the structural advantages of incumbency, events since last summer suggest he may be vulnerable next year. Keita, known in Mali as IBK, will likely seek re-election after winning his first term in 2013. He is a veteran politician, having served as prime minister in the 1990s and president of the National Assembly in the mid-2000s. Like much of Mali’s political class, he has been on the political scene since the […]

Jose Antonio Meade speaks following his registration as the PRI’s presidential candidate in Mexico City, Dec. 3, 2017.

MEXICO CITY—Were Enrique Pena Nieto eligible for re-election in Mexico’s 2018 presidential race, most analysts believe he would be soundly beaten. Pena Nieto is plagued by corruption scandals, rising crime rates and, above all, the sense that he represents the very worst of the country’s oldest political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI; his six-year-term, which ends next December, has exposed many of the fault lines that continue to undermine Mexico’s potential. Add U.S. President Donald Trump’s bullying tactics on trade and border security, and the resurgence of veteran leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the polls, and until […]

A masked supporter of Honduran presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla at a roadblock set up to protest suspected election fraud, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Dec. 1, 2017 (AP photo by Rodrigo Abd).

Hondurans went to the polls nearly two weeks ago to elect a new president and a new 128-seat congress, as well as the mayors of 298 municipalities and 20 representatives in the Central American Parliament. They’re still waiting for the winners to be declared. Now, after days of protests, charges of fraud and results that appeared to swing back and forth, the country’s electoral tribunal says there will be a partial recount of 4,753 ballot boxes, equal to roughly 25 percent of polling places. That’s significant, as it means the authorities are actually opening the ballot boxes, which they never […]

A view of the Old City of Jerusalem seen from the Mount of Olives, Dec. 6, 2017 (AP photo by Oded Balilty).

It is fitting that one day before U.S. President Donald Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, breaking with 40 years of American policy, his State Department issued an order forbidding its staff and their families from traveling to Jerusalem’s Old City. It appears that before lighting the match, Trump did not want any of his own people near the powder keg when the fuse was lit. At the moment, it is not certain how extensive the blowback will be. Regionally, anger will be tempered by regimes unwilling to allow the possibility of wide-scale demonstrations getting beyond […]

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