Backgrounders

Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

Combating Maritime Piracy

Authors: Christopher Alessi and Stephanie Hanson

A surge in pirate attacks off the Somali coast in recent years has prompted the deployment of an international coalition of navies. But experts say that military force alone cannot address the underlying issue of failed Somali governance.

See more in Somalia; Piracy

Campaign 2012

Campaign 2012

U.S. Trade Policy

Authors: Christopher Alessi and Robert McMahon

Trade accounts for an increasing portion of the U.S. economy, and the Obama administration has embraced a ramped up export strategy. But debate persists over the merits of a vigorous free trade agenda.

See more in United States; Trade

Renewing America

Renewing America

U.S. Rail Infrastructure

Author: Elizabeth Dovell

Rail infrastructure is a critical component of a transportation network capable of helping the United States compete in global markets. Efforts to expand and modernize U.S. rail, particularly to include high-speed trains, are under debate as lawmakers weigh costs and benefits.

See more in Infrastructure; United States

The Eurozone in Crisis

Author: Christopher Alessi

The eurozone, once seen as a crowning achievement in the decades-long path of European integration, is buffeted by a sovereign debt crisis of nations whose membership in the currency union has been poorly policed.

See more in Financial Crises; EU

Expanding China-Africa Oil Ties

Authors: Christopher Alessi and Stephanie Hanson

China has increased its economic ties with Africa as it seeks to fulfill its growing energy demands. But China's way of doing business has prompted international criticism, even as its policy of noninterference faces new challenges.

See more in China; Africa (sub-Saharan); Oil

The Credit Rating Controversy

Authors: Christopher Alessi, Roya Wolverson, and Mohammed Aly Sergie

Proposals to rein in the three major credit rating agencies could dampen competition. But absent new controls, investors may continue to rely on the same ratings services.

See more in United States; Financial Crises; Europe

Boko Haram

Authors: Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson

Nigeria's Islamist group Boko Haram has evolved from a local insurgency to a brutal militant group that the United States has designated a terrorist organization.

See more in Nigeria; Radicalization and Extremism

Closing Guantanamo?

Author: Jonathan Masters

President Obama vowed in January 2009 to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Two years later, the White House continues to face challenges to that promise, leaving critics to suggest the facility will remain open for the foreseeable future.

See more in Terrorism; United States; International Law