Just a week before President Biden was inaugurated, North Korea provided a reminder that it would continue to pose challenges to Washington—but left the door open for renewed engagement. During Pyongyang’s eighth Party Congress, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was surprisingly candid about his country’s economic struggles. He also followed a familiar refrain, emphasizing the importance of strengthening North Korea’s military capabilities and calling Washington enemy number one. The Biden administration will come into office facing the same situation with North Korea that has bedeviled Washington for decades.
Russia was rocked by demonstrations over the weekend, as thousands braved freezing temperatures to protest the detention of dissident Alexei Navalny. The opposition leader had just returned to Russia after recovering from a poisoning attack, suspected to undertaken by the Kremlin. But Russians’ grievances go well beyond the treatment of Navalny. Corruption, a foundering economy, and dissatisfaction with the ruling elite threaten to propel the protests into a broader movement against President Vladimir Putin’s regime. The Kremlin has alleged that the protests are a Western plot to destabilize Russia. USIP’s Donald Jensen looks at the underlying factors driving the protests, what threat they pose to Putin’s regime, and what, if any, role the United States can play.
Water has now become a commodity in many parts of the world. This is a problem in and of itself, as water is essential for every living thing. However, instead of being equally and fairly available to all, water mafias have emerged around the world and put a stranglehold on this essential resource. In Pakistan, this is most starkly seen in urban centers; however, rural areas have also been affected. Urban or rural, the most impoverished sectors of society are the ones most negatively impacted by water’s commoditization. This situation is ripe for conflict, especially in places where poor governance and rule of law are endemic.
Myanmar authorities, alarmed by the surging growth of autonomous zones where criminal interests operate under the protection of domestic militias, are moving to curb the influence of Chinese transnational crime groups in those areas and impose the rule of law.
Guatemalans have once again risen up by the thousands to demand major changes in how their country is governed. Their demands are intended to usher in reforms that will improve quality of life for citizens reeling from the impacts of two deadly hurricanes, as well as health and economic crises that have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The demonstrations are reminiscent of the 2015 protests that prompted the resignations of top officials, including the country’s president. However, that movement fell short of broader, structural change. This time around, protesters can draw on lessons learned from the past to achieve long-term reform and target Guatemala’s persistent systems of corruption.
After years of steadily rising nonviolent action movements from 2009 to 2019, the eruption of the coronavirus 10 months ago forced an initial lull. But movements in virtually every region of the world soon rebounded—and while destructive riots periodically seized headlines, data show that public demonstrations in 2020 remained overwhelmingly peaceful. Evidence suggests that 2021 will continue to see high levels of mass mobilization. If anything, pandemic-driven economic recession and deepening inequalities are likely to spur increased demonstrations. It will be up to governments to respond in ways that can keep mass action peaceful and engage movements to redress their grievances.
With the novel coronavirus emerging in late 2019, the attention of Western governments and international NGOs was dominated by the COVID pandemic in 2020, upending everything from domestic policies to international assistance priorities. The Devex funding database reveals more than $20.5 trillion has been committed to the global COVID-19 response from January to November 2020, with around $186 million for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Does this prioritization of COVID align with challenges facing the people of the region? Conversations with local peacebuilders expose that although the COVID cases might increase in 2021, pressing socioeconomic needs continue to trump concerns about the pandemic.
While the recent conflict in Tigray renewed international focus on Ethiopia, more challenges lie ahead, including elections now scheduled for June 5. The state of Ethiopia’s political transition is contested, and the country remains polarized. However, as Ethiopian scholars Emebet Getachew, Mehari Taddele Maru, and Yohannes Gedamu discuss, a national dialogue process may have the potential to address the country’s dilemmas.
When the new U.S. administration gets to work, domestic priorities will be front and center on the agenda. Preventing state fragility and violent extremism abroad may seem less urgent. But implementing the Global Fragility Act (GFA)—which aims to fulfill those goals—should remain a top priority. Successfully advancing the GFA would directly benefit U.S. national security and help establish a more values-driven foreign policy. To this end, the United States should work with allies to create a global architecture for security sector assistance built on principles of aid effectiveness adapted from development financing. A U.S.-brokered international consensus on security assistance would help stabilize fragile states, prevent violence, and increase the value of dollars spent on the GFA.
In recent months a largely leaderless movement comprised of young people has ushered in a new phase in Thailand’s political struggle, successfully putting the government and monarchy on the back foot....