Argentina’s National Security Ministry displays a seizure of fake World Cup trophies that were used to smuggle cocaine, Buenos Aires, Argentina, June 21, 2018 (photo by Argentina’s National Security Ministry via AP Images).

It probably comes as no surprise that most of the world’s cocaine is produced in just three countries: Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. It is also probably no surprise that the biggest consumer markets for cocaine are in the United States and Europe. But after decades of media coverage of the violent turf wars over northward cocaine-trafficking routes through Central America and Mexico, it may spark interest to learn that South America’s Southern Cone countries have become the region’s new battleground for organized crime.  Ports in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, in particular, have become prized turf for drug-trafficking criminal gangs for […]

President Joe Biden listens to a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Washington, Jan. 19, 2022 (AP photo by Susan Walsh).

Assessing the Biden administration’s performance in the Middle East at the one-year mark requires some careful metrics. Should the benchmark be a comparison to the turbulent Trump years, or to earlier times when U.S. diplomacy was defining the regional agenda and, on occasion, making a meaningful contribution to achieving peace? Should it prioritize the possibility that people in the region, who once resented the effects of too much U.S. power, now fear its absence, or the emerging consensus in Washington that the U.S. has more urgent strategic challenges to attend to elsewhere? Biden administration officials talk in pragmatic terms about […]

Environmental activists protest against the European Union’s “greenwashing” of nuclear energy under the Euro sculpture in Frankfurt, Germany, Jan. 11, 2022 (AP photo by Michael Probst).

A brewing dispute within the European Union over which energy sources will be classified as “sustainable” in terms of member states’ investment toward the European Green Deal is putting Germany’s domestic energy politics in the spotlight. The issue is already creating tensions within the newly formed Ampelkoalition, or “traffic light coalition,” between the Social Democrats, the Greens and Free Democrats, and those internal fights are influencing Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s positioning vis-à-vis Russia in the current crisis over Ukraine.  Berlin’s approach to transitioning to renewable energy sources has often set the tone across the continent. Now its Energiewende, or energy revolution, has […]

Andre Ventura, leader of the populist, far-right Chega! party reacts to someone shouting “Fascist!” as he leaves the lectern in the Portuguese Parliament, Lisbon, Oct. 27, 2021 (AP photo by Armando Franca).

Holding elections under the pressure of a pandemic has become old hat for Portugal. When Portuguese citizens go to the polls for legislative elections on Jan. 30, it will be the third time they’ve done so since COVID-19 hit, after a presidential election in January 2021 and municipal elections in September 2021.  And yet, balancing democratic processes with pandemic control measures this time around will be more difficult than those previous exercises, with a record 1 million people—or 10 percent of the population—currently quarantining due to having tested positive for COVID-19 or coming into contact with someone who has. In […]

Demonstrators in a government-sponsored rally hold up signs reading, “France Out,” “Mali is proud of its sons” and “Thank you Colonel Assimi Goita,” Bamako, Mali, Jan. 14, 2021 (AP photo by Harandane Dicko).

On Jan. 14, Malians across the country took to the streets en masse, after the country’s interim military government called for protests against tough sanctions imposed the previous weekend by the Economic Community of West African States. Leaders from the West African bloc had acted after the ruling junta reneged on a 2020 agreement to hold national elections by February 2022, with measures that included shutting regional borders with Mali, imposing a trade embargo and freezing Malian assets at the Central Bank of West African States. The West African Economic and Monetary Union, or UEMOA, also moved to restrict Mali’s […]

Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera delivers his speech during his inaugural ceremony in Bangui, March 30, 2021 (AP photo by Adrienne Surprenant).

Once considered a marginal country in regional affairs, the Central African Republic has become a frequent topic of discussion in African security circles. The CAR is frequently cited as the jumping-off point on the continent for the Russian private military contractor the Wagner Group and the touchstone for the group’s involvement in other African countries. But with the group’s activities having now expanded to Mali, Sudan and Libya, the fixation on its flashy entrances into the region’s conflict zones has diverted international attention from a far more alarming development in Bangui: CAR’s increasingly precarious future. For a brief moment in […]

A Federal Electricity Commission, or CFE, electric meter is attached to a pole in San Jeronimo Xayacatlan, Mexico, June 24, 2020 (AP file photo by Fernando Llano).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s proposed energy reform bill is still awaiting legislative action since being sent to Congress last October. But it is already generating sparks in Mexico—and Washington. U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm traveled to Mexico City on Jan. 20 to meet with AMLO, as Lopez Obrador is known, and Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard. The main issue on the agenda: How to prevent Mexico from approving the bill, which Washington argues would violate several clauses of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada, or USMCA, free trade agreement.  This isn’t the first time U.S. government officials have signaled their reservations about […]

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are seen on the screen during an online opening session of the Asia-Europe Meeting, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 25, 2021 (photo by An Khoun Sam Aun for the Ministry of

Early last December, the European Union unveiled its Global Gateway, a plan to spend up to 300 billion euros, or $340 billion, over the next six years financing major infrastructure projects around the world, particularly those to develop clean energy and combat climate change. Although the Global Gateway does not have an explicit focus in terms of specific countries, it prioritizes developing regions such as Southeast Asia.   The investment plan is just the latest expression of Europe’s heightened interest in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region more generally. In the past year, several European countries have released Indo-Pacific strategy […]

People demonstrate after the Polish parliament approved a bill that is widely viewed as an attack on media freedom, Warsaw, Poland, Dec. 19, 2021 (AP photo by Czarek Sokolowski).

In September 2021, the Polish government declared a state of emergency along its border with Belarus, which is also the European Union’s eastern frontier, in response to a large influx of migrants from countries including Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The route and timing of the migrants’ journey into Europe was not random: They were assisted by the Belarusian authorities, led by the country’s authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994. Warsaw went on to accuse Minsk of engaging in “hybrid warfare” backed by Russia. Both the humanitarian crisis on Poland’s border, where migrants were left stranded in […]

Suriname’s President Chan Santokhi speaks during the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 2, 2021 (photo by Adrian Dennis via AP).

Suriname and Guyana find themselves at the forefront of a dilemma for developing countries endowed with hydrocarbon resources, one that will only become more challenging as the climate crisis worsens: how to balance their development needs with their climate commitments. Fortunately, both countries might be able to achieve the seemingly mutually exclusive goals of alleviating poverty while respecting their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. The key lies in their forests. Both Suriname and Guyana are desperately poor, with poverty levels at 47 percent and 36 percent respectively. Both are also in the early stages of developing what appear to be […]

An old and corroded Soviet tank on the beach of Socotra Island, Yemen, Oct. 22, 2021 (CTK photo by Ondrej Zaruba, via AP Images).

Ravaged by over seven years of war, Yemen continues to witness escalating violence as 2022 begins. Last week, pro-government forces fighting on behalf of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates seized the energy-rich Shabwah province. After successfully pushing out fighters loyal to the Houthi movement from Shabwah, the loose coalition of pro-government forces continues its campaign in neighboring Marib province. Largely overshadowed by these rapid developments on the ground were reports of Houthi fighters seizing a UAE vessel traveling through the Red Sea. The pro-government coalition stated that the vessel […]

A protester holds a placard during a demonstration demanding the then-prime minister step down, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 31, 2021 (AP photo by FL Wong).

Two recent state-level elections in Malaysia have put the spotlight on the country’s volatile political landscape, ahead of national elections that many expect to be called this year. The scandal-tainted ruling United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, came out strengthened from victories in both campaigns, while the opposition Pakatan Harapan’s disappointing performance presents it with new challenges in its efforts to return to power. But backroom deals and maneuvers by political elites in Kuala Lumpur are leaving many ordinary Malaysians frustrated and disillusioned with a political system that seems riddled by corruption and unresponsive to their needs.  Mahathir Mohamad, the […]

A supporter of the Polisario Front and Western Sahara waves a flag reading “Free Sahara,” Logrono, Spain, June 8, 2021 (AP photo by Alvaro Barrientos).

Maps have long played a crucial, symbolic role in the dispute over the Western Sahara. For years, because most world maps available elsewhere show the international border that separates Morocco from its coveted territory to the south, those that were sold in Morocco had to be separately manufactured for the domestic market, affecting everything from globes and atlases to toy puzzles and address books. It was no surprise, then, that shortly after the outgoing Trump administration recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the territory in December 2020, Moroccan newspapers and officials happily praised the United States’ new official map of Morocco when it was […]

A miner at a gold mine in Bouda, Burkina Faso, Feb. 23, 2020 (AP photo by Sam Mednick).

The residents of Solhan, a village in northeastern Burkina Faso, are painfully aware of the connection between artisanal mining and insecurity.  Last June, insurgents invaded the village, targeting the civilian self-defense force in the area as well as an artisanal gold mine located there. They went on to burn down a market and several houses, killing at least 160 civilians in the process. The regional governor directly blamed the incident, which marked one of the deadliest-ever insurgent attacks in Burkina Faso, on artisanal gold mining, and he subsequently banned the practice after the attack. Several hundred miles to the east, […]

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, with leaders of African countries at the Russia-Africa summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Oct. 24, 2019 (pool photo by Sergei Chirikov via AP Images).

Over the past several years, international policymakers, primarily in the West, as well as journalists and commentators have frequently called attention to Russia’s renewed interest in expanding its footprint in Africa. These discussions of “Russia’s return” to Africa are usually couched in a fearmongering, manichean framework of competition, ostensibly within what are regarded as Western spheres of influence in Africa. They also frequently feature calls for Western policymakers to “counter” Russia’s activities in Africa, bolstered with references to the malevolent ways Russia exerts influence among governments and publics on the continent, including—but by no means limited to—disinformation campaigns, arms sales, […]

A portrait of former Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev is seen at the city hall building after clashes in the central square in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Jan. 10, 2022 (AP photo by Vasily Krestyaninov).

The unprecedented violence that rocked Almaty—Kazakhstan’s largest city—and several smaller regional urban centers last week were shocking to longtime observers of the country. Though the initial protests began as spontaneous demonstrations against a planned hike in fuel prices, they were quickly overtaken by violence against state offices and security forces that was apparently instigated by provocateurs.  Though much about the developments in the country remains uncertain due to an information blackout and the opacity of the inner workings of the regime, the events of the past week suggest that an elite power struggle has grafted itself onto the protests, pitting the […]

From left, prime ministers Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Eduard Heger of Slovakia and Andrej Babis, former prime minister of the Czech Republic, in Budapest, Hungary, Nov. 23, 2021 (AP photo by Laszlo Balogh).

Germany’s new coalition government began winning glowing reviews even before it took office in early December. Its coalition agreement, released in November, satisfied many observers on a range of policy areas, both domestic and international. But one European leader wasn’t impressed.  “The gloves are off!” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared as Olaf Scholz took over as Germany’s new chancellor.  Orban has spent the past decade or so stirring up a series of confrontations with his European Union counterparts, as well as the European Commission in Brussels, over rule of law issues and judicial independence. He did so confident that, […]

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