President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and others watch as the remains of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, are returned to Dover Air Force Base, Del., Aug. 29, 2021 (AP photo by Carolyn Kaster).

At first glance, the tenacity of vaccine nationalism and the shambolic U.S. departure from Afghanistan appear to be completely unrelated. And yet they both expose the moral costs of a world dominated by sovereign states that consistently place narrow national interest above the ethical imperative of alleviating the suffering of strangers.  This is hardly a news flash. The question of how governments should square their duties to their own citizens with their obligations to those in other countries is an inherent and recurrent ethical quandary in international relations. It is at the heart of debates over humanitarian intervention, foreign aid, […]

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the terror attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 26, 2021 (Photo by Oliver Contreras for Sipa USA via AP Images).

Debacle. That is the only right and proper way to describe President Joe Biden’s handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Biden lost every point he’s dropped in national polling this week entirely of his own accord, and history will not be any kinder to his foreign policy legacy. Most Americans might agree with the White House decision to exit Afghanistan. Regardless, August 2021 will remain an indelible stain on the United States’ reputation.  That was already the case before yesterday’s horrific suicide bombing outside Kabul’s international airport, which left at least 100 dead, including 13 U.S. servicemembers, and 150 injured, according to the latest […]

A woman holds a poster demanding the evacuation of people out of Afghanistan during a demonstration in Berlin, Germany, Aug. 17, 2021 (photo by Markus Schreiber).

The abrupt collapse of Afghanistan’s NATO-backed government in the wake of the departure of U.S. forces cast a sharp, critical spotlight on U.S. President Joe Biden. But the American president was not the only Western leader who came under enormous political pressure as the scenes of mayhem outside of Kabul’s international airport played out live on television around the world. The fall of Kabul has already riled the waters across Europe, where multiple governments are struggling to defend themselves against waves of criticism. In the Netherlands, currently still governed by a caretaker coalition months after the most recent elections, there […]

The Kigali Convention Center in Kigali, Rwanda, Jan. 30, 2021 (photo by Reaching the Last Mile, via AP Images).

The extraordinary demographic change currently sweeping Africa is one of the most important challenges facing humankind over the remainder of this century. United Nations projections predict that from its present population of nearly 1.4 billion people, the continent’s population will approach 4.5 billion people by 2100, which is the staggering equivalent in population terms of two Chinas and one India. Other carefully considered efforts to project global population trends, such as a recent study published in the Lancet, predict an even larger African population two generations hence. Demographic growth on such a scale will affect nearly every human question one […]

An iPhone displays the apps for Facebook and Messenger (AP file photo by Jenny Kane).

Editor’s Note: Guest columnist Kate Jones is filling in this week for Emily Taylor. Efforts to regulate social media platforms are gathering pace in the United Kingdom. In May, the British government published its draft Online Safety Bill, which will be studied by a Joint Committee of Members of Parliament and the House of Lords chaired by MP Damian Collins this autumn. Collins led parliament’s exposé of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal and is a leading U.K. voice on disinformation and digital regulation. In parallel, the House of Commons’ Sub-Committee on Online Harms and Disinformation will also lead an enquiry […]

Farmers in a drought-stricken field in Changfeng county, Hefei city, Anhui province, China, Oct. 20, 2019 (Imaginechina via AP Images).

This month’s harrowing report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has particularly disquieting implications for the world’s poor. Global warming and associated biodiversity loss will hinder progress toward each of the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, a set of 17 internationally agreed objectives for advancing global prosperity, social welfare and environmental conservation through the end of the decade. COVID-19 has already dealt these aspirations a massive blow. But these pandemic setbacks pale in comparison to the long-term challenges that climate change presents for meeting and exceeding basic human needs, and placing developing countries on the path toward sustained—and sustainable—growth. United Nations member states unanimously endorsed the […]

Afghan security personnel arrive at the site of an explosion targeting a United Nations vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 24, 2019 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).

The images of humanitarian chaos and the deteriorating situation for women after the swift Taliban takeover of Kabul have left the international community grasping for options. In the face of Afghan women’s desperate pleas for support, women’s rights NGOs in the United States recently called for a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan. There is no question that such an operation, if mounted earlier, would have been beneficial to Afghan civilians and particularly to women. As David Cortright and I have written before, and as much scholarly research shows, U.N. peacekeeping operations work better than Western counterinsurgencies at maintaining durable peace, […]

Taliban fighters patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 19, 2021 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).

The swift return of the Taliban to power has sparked panic in Afghanistan and sent shockwaves around the world. With U.S. military forces taking control of the Kabul airport and the evacuation of foreign nationals and thousands of Afghans proceeding, important questions loom about the future of Afghanistan and the impact of the convulsive events that unfolded over the past few days. Here are some of the major unknowns going forward, the answers to which, as they emerge over the coming weeks, months and years, will determine how exactly the radical group’s return will reshape the country, the region and, […]

Then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger speaking with an elderly Afghan refugee during his visit to an Afghan refugee village in northwest Pakistan, Oct. 1, 1983 (AP photo by Moin Ban).

In October 1983, during a visit to New York City from West Africa, where I had recently begun a career as a foreign correspondent, I stood in my uncle’s kitchen and took in the evening news over a drink before dinner. The main story that night was the visit by then-President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger, to Pakistan. Weinberger traveled to that country’s border with Afghanistan and there, at the Khyber Pass, vowed that U.S. support for Afghan insurgents would bring down the Soviet-backed government in power in Kabul at the time. “I want you to know that […]

An oil tanker on fire in the Gulf of Oman (AP file photo).

In recent weeks, a series of attacks on commercial shipping in and near the Persian Gulf have been unofficially attributed to Iran, including a drone attack that killed two mariners in the Gulf and an attempted hijacking of a commercial vessel in the Strait of Hormuz. Along with another suspected attack, in which several ships simultaneously reported difficulties in steering, these incidents highlight both the importance of commercial shipping to the global economy and the sector’s vulnerability to asymmetric tactics, including cyberattacks. They also show how Iran is using cyberattacks to demonstrate its capabilities, and signal what to expect from […]

Flames from the Dixie Fire consume a home in the Indian Falls community of Plumas County, California, July 24, 2021 (AP photo by Noah Berger).

The most recent assessment report on the state of climate science, released last week by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, or IPCC, eliminates any remaining shred of doubt about the anthropogenic origins of global warming, calling the evidence of human activity’s responsibility “unequivocal.” The report also identifies how quickly humanity needs to slash emissions to avoid catastrophe, given the accumulated stock of greenhouse gases already present in the atmosphere. Under any conceivable scenario, average temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come. The magnitude of that rise is up to us. Unfortunately, the window to prevent massive dislocation […]

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani arrives to attend the Central and South Asia 2021 conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, July 16, 2021 (AP photo).

If we are to believe American intelligence assessments leaked this week, it is only a matter of time before Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, falls to the Taliban. Judging by the worrying news from several of my Afghan friends and colleagues who are now all clamoring to get out of the country, it could even be a couple of weeks. For some, it’s shocking to think that the city of roughly 5 million at the center of the country’s heartland could soon be the next to fall, after the Taliban’s aggressively swift push to seize control of provincial capitals in the north.  But for close […]

Internally displaced Afghans from northern provinces, who fled their homes due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security personnel, wait to receive free food in a public park in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 10, 2021 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).

From the moment President Joe Biden announced in April that the United States would withdraw all its military forces from Afghanistan within a few months, the level of violence there intensified, negotiations sputtered and the prospects for the Afghan people—especially Afghan women—became grim. The seeming rashness of the decision and lack of planning to handle obvious major contingencies were serious missteps for a president that has so far made mostly thoughtful, carefully calibrated moves. This is not to suggest that U.S. forces should stay in Afghanistan forever. To be sure, Afghanistan is the land of no easy solutions, and Biden […]

Athing Mu, of the United States, celebrates after winning the gold medal in the women’s 800-meter final, with bronze medalist Raevyn Rogers, right, also of the U.S., at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Aug. 3, 2021 (AP Photo by Matthias Schrader).

During the 17 days of the just-completed Tokyo Olympics, many American publications eschewed counting medals in ways that emphasized the winning of gold, preferring a broader tabulation that emphasized total medals won. In this manner, the United States was able to maintain a healthy lead over its biggest rival, China, throughout the Games. In the final day or two, though, when the United States eked out the slimmest of leads over China in gold medals won as well, the emphasis in many newspaper reports suddenly shifted. Team USA had won the Summer Games by this narrower measure, and suddenly it […]

A demonstrator protesting against the court order requiring Apple to make it easier for the FBI to unlock an encrypted iPhone used by a gunman in the December 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack, Feb. 23, 2016, in New York (AP photo by Julie Jacobson).

Last Friday, Apple announced that it was implementing measures to combat the distribution of child sexual abuse media, or CSAM, on its services. Apple, the company that famously defied the FBI by refusing to provide technical assistance in hacking its own iPhones after a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, surprised commentators in both the tech and human rights communities with this announcement, and there was a predictable torrent of criticism from both ends of the policy spectrum. The electronic distribution of child abuse images has been a perennial and unsolved issue for more than 20 years. The growing popularity […]

Refugees and migrants arrive on an inflatable vessel from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, Dec. 3, 2015 (AP photo by Santi Palacios).

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Refugee Convention, one of the signal moral advances in human history. Negotiated in the wake of World War II and initially limited to Europe, the treaty established the first binding legal protections for individuals forced to flee their countries. These rights and responsibilities, which were made universal in the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1967, remain a cornerstone of the global humanitarian regime. The convention is, however, showing its age. Many governments are failing to fulfil their legal obligations under it, and the convention does little to […]

Then-Vice President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, March 10, 2011 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

Editor’s note: Guest columnist Nikolas Gvosdev is filling in for Charli Carpenter. History does not repeat itself, as Mark Twain remarked, but it does rhyme. And when it comes to its policies on Russia, climate and energy, the Biden team is dealing with Obama-era echoes. Seven years ago, in my then-weekly column for WPR, I called attention to the internal tensions in the Obama administration’s climate, energy and geopolitical priorities. Back then, the United States was trying to square several irreconcilable circles. One had to do with reducing Russia’s global influence by constraining its sales of energy. Another was putting […]

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