Backgrounders

Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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

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

State Sponsors: Iran

Author: Greg Bruno

The U.S. government designates Iran as the "most active state sponsor of terrorism," which feeds concerns about Iran's growing nuclear program.

See more in State Sponsors of Terrorism; Iran

Nuclear Power Safety Concerns

Author: Toni Johnson

Damage to Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has reignited debate over the safety of nuclear power and highlighted questions over aging power plants, safety procedures, and waste disposal.

See more in Japan; Disasters

Global Action on Non-Communicable Diseases

Author: Toni Johnson

NCDs such as cancer and heart disease are becoming leading causes of death in the developing world and will be the focus of a September UN meeting. But health experts and others are divided about how much funding should go into a global campaign aimed at preventing NCDs and whether infectious disease programs will suffer as a result.

See more in Diseases, Noncommunicable; Global

Author: Toni Johnson

A decade after 9/11, U.S. Muslims grapple with their place in American society in the face of concerns about homegrown terrorism and questions by non-Muslims over the threat they might pose.

See more in Religion; United States

Global Natural Gas Potential

Author: Toni Johnson

Interest in natural gas is growing for political, environmental, and economic reasons. But the industry faces challenges to adding pipelines, increasing international LNG trade, and exploiting newly found shale gas reserves.

See more in Natural Gas; Global

The Debate Over Generic-Drug Trade

Author: Toni Johnson

The global drug industry has fought to prevent developing nations from making low-cost, generic versions of drugs under patent, but the demand for such alternatives is could rise with increasing healthcare costs and growing incidence of chronic disease.

See more in Drug Trafficking and Control; United States

Profile: Ayman al-Zawahiri

Authors: Jayshree Bajoria and Lee Hudson Teslik

Ayman al-Zawahiri, now America's most wanted terrorist, took over as the head of al-Qaeda in June 2011 after the killing of erstwhile head Osama bin Laden.

See more in Terrorism