• Rohingya
    The Top Ten South Asia Stories of 2017
    As 2017 comes to an end, it’s time to assess which stories from South Asia had the most impact. By this I mean which events or ongoing developments shaped a country or the South Asian region, or had an outsized effect on the world. This year, a number of stories from the region drew global headlines, including from countries that do not always make front page news. Here are my top ten South Asia stories of the year: 1. The Rohingya Flee to Bangladesh The Rohingya Muslim minority has faced ethno-religious discrimination in Myanmar for decades. In August, this persecution descended into widely-acknowledged ethnic cleansing, with horrific violence perpetrated by the Myanmar military on Rohingya men, women, and children that has shocked the world. More than 655,000 Rohingya have fled the country since August, adding to the more than 210,000 Rohingya already living in Bangladesh as refugees. The International Rescue Committee has called this the “fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world.” The problems inside the refugee camps in Bangladesh have attracted less media attention than the stories of brutal violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, and the tragic indifference of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to the suffering. But with nearly 870,000 Rohingya refugees in legal limbo, and surviving under rudimentary conditions in Bangladesh’s Teknaf Peninsula, attention should shift urgently to funding the relief operations there, supporting Bangladesh financially so this lower-income country does not have to shoulder the responsibility for the refugees on its own, and identifying a path forward for the Rohingya to find permanent residency in hospitable third countries. (Myanmar will not be able to guarantee their safety, and Bangladesh is not equipped to handle such a large refugee burden.) I place this story at the top of my list due to the depth of the atrocities committed and the scale of the tragedy. This crisis will last well into 2018. 2. India and China Go Eyeball to Eyeball in Doklam, Bhutan In most years, an event in the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan wouldn’t rise to near the top of a list of the year’s most important regional developments. But this year, the border between Bhutan and China found itself the site of a military standoff between the armies of the world’s two giants (in terms of population), China and India. In mid-June, following the move of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to extend a road in the Doklam Plateau area of territory disputed between Bhutan and China, the Indian Army stepped in to defend Bhutan’s territory and prevent forward territorial seizure by the PLA. The two armies remained in a tense stalemate for almost three months. The situation was resolved only at the end of August on the eve of the BRICS Summit—hosted by China in Xiamen. (The last-minute agreement ensured that the standoff would not mar the summit.) The standoff showed that India will not hesitate to stand up to China when New Delhi perceives that its vital interests are at stake. We have not heard the last of the Doklam dispute: as of mid-December, press reports continue to emerge regarding a Chinese troop buildup in the same general location. 3. India Implements an Ambitious Goods and Services Tax (GST) It took five years to pass a law introducing a national goods and services tax in India. The national tax replaces a plethora of levies and effectively stitches all of India’s states and federally administered union territories into a single market for the first time in the country’s history. As you would imagine with an exercise of this magnitude, progress was tortuous. The 2011 introduction of a GST bill in parliament during the Indian National Congress–led United Progressive Alliance government did not gain sufficient support, and lapsed with the end of the government’s term in 2014. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government introduced a different GST bill, which eventually secured sufficient parliamentary support to pass into law in 2016, and subsequently received ratification by more than half of India’s states, required in order to bring this constitutional amendment into force. On July 1 this year, marked by a special midnight session of parliament, this hard-fought GST finally rolled out nationwide. It was a complicated debut, with multiple tax bands and a bewildering, non-intuitive assignment of goods and services across them. The complexity dented economic activity as businesses struggled to adjust—but as India irons out the wrinkles, it ought to realize the benefits of a unified domestic market with reduced red tape. In its November note upgrading India’s sovereign rating to Baa2 from Baa3, the first upgrade in fourteen years, Moody’s noted the implementation of GST as the first “key element” of India’s “wide-ranging program of economic and institutional reforms.” Consolidating the world’s seventh-largest economy into a single market bodes well for India’s economic growth. 4. Trump Unveils a New South Asia Strategy for Afghanistan In August, U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced the results of a long-awaited South Asia strategy review. Most notably, the administration shifted to a “conditions-based” rather than a “time-based” approach to the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, and approved a slight increase in troop numbers—but without disclosing the actual number. The administration also bluntly called for an end to the ongoing presence of terrorist groups and sanctuary for them in Pakistan. Finally, the president publicly praised India’s economic and infrastructure support to Afghanistan, and asked for more. Each of these elements represented an incremental rather than quantum change in Washington’s approach to the United States’ longest-running war. But they could nonetheless have important consequences. 5. Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port Reveals the True Costs of the Belt and Road In July, the Sri Lankan government reached an agreement with the Chinese government to essentially hand over operations of the new Hambantota port to a Chinese state-owned enterprise on a ninety-nine year lease deal that gives the Chinese 70 percent of the equity in the operating company, worth more than $1 billion. The port—built in a strategic but commercially unviable location under the terms of a loan agreement from China inked in 2007—has not been profitable, and the handover at Hambantota marked a debt-for-equity swap designed to reduce Sri Lanka’s debt to China. External observers saw the swap as a sign of what Belt and Road infrastructure development deals extract from countries in the long term. These are not freebies. They come at a significant cost to smaller economies. 6. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Is Disqualified From Office  In July, a chain of events that began with the Panama Papers (private documents of a secretive legal firm that helped hide offshore wealth, provided to a consortium of newspapers by an anonymous source) reached a political conclusion in Pakistan: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was deemed ineligible to serve in parliament as he could not be certified “honest” and “truthful” given revelations about an income source he had failed to disclose earlier. Pakistan’s Supreme Court rendered this verdict after receiving the findings of a special “Joint Investigation Team” appointed by the court and which included two members of military intelligence agencies. Sharif resigned. His departure from the top office appeared to observers as one more step toward the consolidation of power for Pakistan’s military. Just four years back, with Nawaz Sharif’s election Pakistan could rightly boast of its first successful transition of power from one elected civilian government to another—an important milestone for the country given its history of military rule. Sharif’s efforts to make peace with India, and assert civilian authority, did not succeed. Pakistanis will again head to the polls to elect another national government in 2018, so expect this storyline to remain relevant. But for now Pakistan’s democracy looks shaky as the country’s generals reassert their power over elected politicians. 7. Islamist Protestors Cow the Government of Pakistan Part two in the existential question of where Pakistan is headed involves the continued rise of Islamic extremists. In late November, after weeks of street protests in Islamabad, the government of Pakistan caved to the demands of a few thousand Islamist protestors, and the country’s law minister resigned. The Islamists had accused him of blasphemy following proposed changes (quickly reversed) to the oath of office taken in Pakistan; the Islamists also accused the minister of being a member of the persecuted Ahmadi minority faith as they viewed the proposed change to the oath as beneficial to Ahmadis. Blasphemy is an explosive charge in Pakistan—those accused of it often face vigilante violence, and the offense itself carries a potential death penalty if convicted. In the end, the army negotiated a “truce” with the protestors. The government climbdown illustrated the level of ineffectiveness of the civilian government, the more visible street power of Islamist extremists, and the army’s willingness to side with the extremists even at the cost of discrediting the Pakistani state. 8. Yogi Adityanath Becomes Chief Minister of India’s Most Populous State  In March, after India’s BJP swept state-level assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the party’s selection for chief minister gave an indication of where they plan to pivot: to religious nationalism. Adityanath is a five-time member of parliament from Gorakhpur, where he is a monk and head of the influential Gorakhnath temple. Adityanath is also the founder of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, or “Hindu Youth Brigade,” best known for its vigilante street power, and his public oratory has featured tough talk against Muslims, India’s largest religious minority. The BJP’s election campaign in Uttar Pradesh did not project Adityanath as a potential chief minister, so his appointment came as a surprise to many. Observers see his selection as a sign that, in the absence of faster economic growth and much more robust job creation, the BJP has shifted its emphasis from the development-and-governance mantra of 2014 toward hardline Hindu nationalism.   9. Maldives Signs a Free Trade Agreement With China  In early December, the tiny island nation of the Maldives (population: 417,000) signed a free trade agreement with China, becoming the second country in South Asia after Pakistan to do so. (The Maldives’ major export is fish, which the country hopes to send more of to China, and Chinese tourists are the single largest source of visitors to Maldivian resorts.) The agreement surprised New Delhi, and has sparked yet another round of soul searching in India about its regional influence—and China’s growing visibility across the entire Indian Ocean region. (See Hambantota above, and Nepal below). 10. Communists Return to Power in Nepal Nepal held elections in late November and early December, its first under a new constitution ratified in 2015. When all the votes were counted in mid-December, it became clear that a coalition of two Communist parties (one Maoist, and the other Marxist-Leninist) would oust the centrist Nepali Congress from power. Since emerging from a violent insurgency in 2006, Nepal has had a tumultuous time politically—it has had ten prime ministers since 2008—affecting its governance and its ability to deliver services to citizens, including the still-incomplete rebuilding work from the catastrophic earthquake of 2015. The return of a Communist government in Kathmandu will likely mean a further strengthening of ties with Beijing—yet another arena for concern in New Delhi. A pro-China Communist government in Nepal will likely also be less receptive to the Tibetan refugee community living in Nepal. Alyssa Ayres is senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. Her book about India’s rise, Our Time Has Come: How India Is Making Its Place in the World, will be published in January by Oxford University Press.
  • Southeast Asia
    Events in Southeast Asia to Watch in 2018
    Part Two Read Part One here. In addition to several crucial elections, other events in 2018 will shape Southeast Asia’s economies, security, and regional politics. Some more events to watch in 2018: 1. The ongoing crisis in Rakhine State Bangladesh and Myanmar supposedly have discussed plans for repatriation of Rohingya back to Myanmar, and Bangladesh news outlets have reported that Dhaka has drawn up a list of one hundred thousand Rohingya to be repatriated first. Still, any repatriation seems unlikely anytime soon. Bangladesh’s government has made clear that it does not want Rohingya to leave the camps, and hopes to draw down the population of the refugee camps as soon as possible. The camps are in dire shape, with massive overcrowding and a high risk of disease. But given that the Myanmar government seems unwilling to make any real reforms in Rakhine State, provide some guarantee of security for Rohingya, or even admit any culpability at all for the massacres in Rakhine State, the only way Dhaka will be able to repatriate Rohingya, probably, is to force them back across the border. Many Rohingya rightly fear that, if they do return to Rakhine State, they could easily be interned in the state by the army and local police, detained in one of the internment camps dotting Rakhine. And without any real repatriation from Bangladesh, the large number of people in the camps inside Bangladesh well could grow in 2018, with no real long-term solution in sight—and with militant groups seeking recruits in the camps. Meanwhile, in Myanmar there is a strong possibility that journalists and rights organizations could reveal other atrocities that have been committed in Rakhine State, like the recent revelation of a mass grave, which seems to have prompted the authorities to jail two Reuters journalists. Such revelations would put further pressure on outside actors to take stronger measures against Naypyidaw, and would further isolate major democratic leaders from Aung San Suu Kyi, who has refused to engage with international interlocutors regarding any evidence of major crimes in Rakhine State. 2. Singapore as chair of ASEAN With the most skilled diplomatic service in the region, Singapore is often the most effective chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). (The chair rotates from country to country each year.) After a year in which ASEAN, with the Philippines as chair, again failed to address the biggest issue collectively confronting Southeast Asian states—how to deal with China’s South China Sea strategy—Singapore is the organization’s best hope for developing some common South China Sea approach that all members can sign onto at regional meetings. Unlike the Philippines, which is increasingly aligned with Beijing’s South China Sea policy, Singapore is at least likely to make ASEAN states discuss the South China Sea at ASEAN meetings—to put the South China Sea high up on meetings’ agendas. In addition, if any concrete progress is to be made on the ASEAN-China talks on a South China Sea Code of Conduct, Singaporean officials stand the best chance of actually achieving such progress toward a legally binding code. (I am doubtful that such progress will be made, however.) In addition, Singapore could work to ensure that tools being put into place to prevent tensions between South China Sea claimants from escalating into dangerous encounters—such as the planned Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea—are actually finished and utilized. 3. Southeast Asia forging its own path on trade With the United States having pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the White House reportedly gearing up to impose new trade actions against China, Southeast Asian states are trying to take their own trade paths. Several states, including Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia, have pushed forward with the TPP. Other states in the region, including the Philippines have become increasingly open to, and are touting, China’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Southeast Asian states will more closely embrace RCEP in 2018 if the TPP is not finalized—Canada seemingly is not ready to finalize the TPP. And despite the Trump administration’s touting of the potential for bilateral trade deals between the United States and Asian states, no Southeast Asian nations seem eager to explore a bilateral deal with Washington. 4. The Islamic State in Southeast Asia Although the Philippine government has ended the siege of Marawi, in Mindanao, the threat from self-proclaimed Islamic State-linked actors in Southeast Asia has not receded. Islamic State-linked groups will continue to recruit in the southern Philippines, in Indonesia, and in other parts of Southeast Asia. In addition, the rise of larger, conservative Islamist groups as major players in politics in Indonesia will potentially bolster militant organizations’ recruiting efforts.
  • Southeast Asia
    Events in Southeast Asia to Watch in 2018
    Part One Southeast Asia, like many parts of the world, had a turbulent 2017, with many of the biggest challenges related to a rollback in rights and democracy, and the strength of populism in the region. The crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, which dates back to 2012 in its current iteration, exploded into the biggest humanitarian disaster in East Asia, with little prospect now of Rohingya safely returning to homes in Rakhine State, even though the Bangladesh government is clearly uneasy with the massive numbers of refugees who have crossed into Bangladesh. Still, it is unlikely many Rohingya will return—not while the Myanmar armed forces continue to attack parts of Rakhine State. In other 2017 events, Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao and oversaw a brutal siege in the southern city of Marawi, while continuing aspects of his lawless drug war. Duterte’s popularity ratings remain quite high. Indonesian politics was rocked by the upset of Jakarta governor Ahok. Ahok’s loss demonstrated, in part, the rise of conservative and Islamist groups as forces to reckon with in national politics—especially when these groups have patrons among Indonesia’s business and political elites. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen unleashed the most brutal crackdown on opposition in that country in two decades. Thailand mourned King Rama IX and witnessed Rama X seemingly grasp for more open power for the monarchy. Southeast Asian states reckoned with the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and new concept of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” as well as with China’s growing regional power. In 2018, Southeast Asian politics will be dominated by important elections in a number of countries, as well as the run-up to 2019 presidential elections in Indonesia, the region’s giant. In addition, the continuing crisis in Myanmar, the fact that Singapore will be chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, the success or failure of multiple regional trade deals, and an increasingly hardline U.S. approach to both China and North Korea will have significant effects on Southeast Asian stability. Some events to watch in 2018: 1. National elections in Malaysia The Malaysian government must call new elections, per law, before August 24 of 2018, although it may call an election sooner, since it probably feels like it is on strong footing for a national election. Although few would have predicted it two years ago, as scandal engulfed the prime minister, Prime Minister Najib tun Razak has built a solid foundation for a victory for the ruling coalition and his continued stay as prime minister. To be sure, Najib’s image has been battered, at least among some voters and in the international community, by the 1MDB scandal and his years of crackdowns against opposition politicians and civil society. Yet Najib and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party look well-placed to win the election. The opposition is still foundering, with Anwar Ibrahim in jail and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad an unlikely and divisive figure to lead the opposition coalition. Najib and UMNO are savvy in using government funding (as well as extreme gerrymandering) to keep their base loyal. What’s more, the prime minister and his party also have effectively—if unfortunately—worked to capture the Malay “heartland” by using dog whistling rhetoric about the Chinese ethnic minority and increasingly positioning Najib as the biggest defender of conservative religious values and ethnic Malays. It is a tactic that might undercut Najib’s international reputation as a moderate, but one that could well help UMNO peel off Malay voters from the opposition, and secure Najib’s re-election. 2. National elections in Thailand (probably) Thailand’s ruling junta has promised to hold elections in November 2018, which would come more than four years after the imposition of military rule. In December, the junta announced that it would allow political parties to prepare for the upcoming elections, according to reports in Reuters. So, it seems likely that the military will actually hold the election, after postponing it for several years. Why finally hold the election? The armed forces may feel confident that they have so defanged the Shinawatra family, with former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra having fled Thailand and Thaksin Shinawatra’s son Panthongthae allegedly facing money laundering charges, that the Thaksinite Puea Thai party will do poorly in national elections, since the Shinawatra family will be unable to play a central role in the election. The military also may feel confident that it has so changed the Thai political system, since its coup in May 2014, that no one party will ever be able to control the country again—that any party who wins a plurality in the lower house of parliament will be forced to share power with pro-military bureaucrats, senators, and other unelected officials, and that the armed forces can ensure that the lower house is factionalized and ineffective, and that important decisions are taken by unelected actors. In all likelihood, the junta is right. Still, it is not impossible that Puea Thai could win an outright majority in the lower house of parliament, further scrambling Thai politics. Beyond the Shinawatra family, Puea Thai has in the past shown adaptability and flexibility, an ability to put forward non-Shinawatra candidates and still win elections. (To be sure, some of those potential candidates for the 2018 elections themselves face charges from the junta government, further sapping Puea Thai’s bench.) If Puea Thai did win a majority, would the military allow it to actually control the lower house? 3. National elections in Cambodia (but don’t expect them to be free) Cambodia also will hold national elections in 2018—Cambodia’s are scheduled for July. But in 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) demonstrated that they would not allow the 2018 elections to be free or fair. Hun Sen’s crackdown has found a wide range of targets—leaders of the opposition party, independent media voices, civil society organizations, foreign NGOs, and other critics of the prime minister. This is clearly the toughest crackdown on opposition since the late 1990s. Even if Hun Sen responded to U.S. visa sanctions, and measures taken by other outside actors, and backed off his pressure on the opposition—which seems unlikely—it is already probably too late for the opposition to regroup and effectively contest the July elections. Many opposition politicians have fled Cambodia and would be wary of returning no matter what Hun Sen says publicly. Still, even Hun Sen must be careful not to push too far; despite Chinese aid and investment, which is helping power the Cambodian economy, the prime minister does not want to alienate Europe and other democracies like Japan even further. If the European Union froze Cambodia’s preferential trade access, it could have severe ramifications for the Cambodian economy, which has otherwise been performing strongly. So, in the run-up to the July election, the savvy prime minister, a master of alternating between repression and co-option, might make some cosmetic attempts to reconcile with Brussels, Tokyo, and Washington, while ensuring that the opposition has no chance of seriously contesting the July election. The question is, if the CPP and Hun Sen win an obviously unfree election, what does the prime minister do next? Such a scenario would leave a large number of young, urban Cambodians alienated from politics and the political system—and they could eventually revolt if the prime minister tries to hand off power to one of his sons after the July 2018 election, a move that would be highly unpopular throughout Cambodia. 4. Politicking for Indonesia’s 2019 Presidential Election Although Indonesia’s elections will not be held for another year, Indonesian politicians are already gearing up for it. The demise of former Jakarta governor Ahok, who lost after massive street protests led by conservative Islamist groups, demonstrate that a populist-Islamist alliance, backed by influential political elites, could shape the presidential contest in 2019. Such an alliance could help former Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto, if he decides to run, or it could be deployed by the man who beat Ahok, current Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan. According to most polling, President Joko Widodo seems to remain in the lead for re-election, but to be re-elected he may have to win over some of the conservative Islamist groups that otherwise could be major factors against him. More worryingly, as Matthew Busch has noted for the Lowy Institute, the 2017 Jakarta gubernatorial race raised the question of whether Indonesia’s elites necessarily will accept the results of an election in which their candidate loses—a problem that could have emerged if Ahok had won, and could emerge again in the presidential election. The Jakarta gubernatorial election was preceded by rallies that did not just criticize Ahok but engaged in vicious, anti-Chinese conspiracy-mongering. These virulent rallies, which went far beyond criticizing Ahok’s policies and instead portrayed him as a kind of demon, seemed to raise the question of whether these mobs, and their backers among Indonesia’s elites, would accept an Ahok victory as legitimate after so much time demonizing. Ahok indeed lost the gubernatorial election, and conceded, but Busch—and others—wonder whether Baswedan would or could have conceded if Ahok had actually won, given the public animosity stirred up against Ahok. The question will come up again if Prabowo runs in 2019, and uses massive street protests to amplify his message—and then loses. Indonesia’s elites—at least the ones backing Prabowo—are not a sure bet to transfer power peacefully after a national election loss. Read Part Two here.
  • Global Governance
    Year One of America First: Global Governance in 2017
    Coauthored with Anne Shannon, former intern in the International Institutions and Global Governance program at the Council on Foreign Relations. After President Donald J. Trump’s election last fall, many experts predicted that 2017 would be a tumultuous year for international cooperation. During his campaign, Trump promised to “make America great again” by renegotiating or renouncing “bad” and “unfair” international agreements, and questioned the value of international institutions. Since January, Trump’s “America First” policies have seen the United States abdicate its global leadership role. Yet contrary to expectations, multilateral cooperation on pressing issues like climate change and migration has continued, as other states have stepped up to lead. Despite all the tumult, the world has recorded several important achievements for multilateralism alongside the setbacks. Climate Change Trump’s largest blow to international cooperation came in June when he announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. Early reactions suggested that other countries might respond in kind, reneging on their commitments and stalling overall progress on environmental governance. Nevertheless, this November’s climate conference in Bonn, aimed at finalizing aspects of the Paris Agreement, was a success. Participating states secured additional funding for climate initiatives and agreed to several objectives in the fields of agriculture, indigenous rights, and gender equality in climate governance. French President Emmanuel Macron, who has made combatting climate change a signature policy, hosted a separate global climate conference this December, raising additional funds to meet Paris commitments. And while the Trump administration signaled its intent to abandon the agreement, many U.S. states, cities, and companies have stepped into the void, pledging commitments of their own. The successes in Bonn and Paris, combined with near-unanimous international support for the Paris Accords, indicate that multilateral cooperation on climate change will continue without U.S. leadership, even if the politics look challenging. Global Trade Trump’s protectionist campaign positions suggested that global trade would take a beating in 2017. Experts warned of trade wars, predicting that a downward spiral of tit-for-tat measures could strangle economic growth. In fact, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), global trade in goods and services increased, growing 4.2 percent in 2017, almost twice the growth registered in 2016. Despite Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and threats to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), neither deal is dead yet. The remaining TPP members revived the idea of trans-pacific trade at the Asia-Pacific Economic Partnership (APEC) summit in November, making significant progress without the United States toward what is now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Even as extreme U.S. demands stall NAFTA renegotiations, U.S. public support for NAFTA increased in 2017, pressuring the Trump administration not to withdraw from the agreement. While the United States has abdicated global trade leadership, the European Union (EU) has made progress on several important agreements of its own, notably one with Japan, encompassing countries that account for over 30 percent of the world’s GDP. The EU-Japan agreement will reduce the ability of the United States to set world product standards and other regulations—disadvantaging U.S. exports in the process. In exercising his America First strategy, President Trump could actually hurt U.S. businesses. Reinforcing this possibility was the disappointing December WTO ministerial meeting in Argentina, in which parties failed to reach any significant multilateral deals. Migration Trump has continually and publicly expressed negative opinions about immigrants, particularly (although not exclusively) illegal ones. He demands a wall between the United States and Mexico and has signed several executive orders attempting to halt refugee admissions, as well as ban immigrants from various Muslim-majority countries. Nevertheless, international efforts to cooperate on migration issues have continued, notwithstanding certain setbacks. In December, Mexico held multilateral negotiations toward a Global Compact on Migration, despite the United States withdrawal from the negotiating process. In November, the African Union-European Union summit saw both blocs condemn the situation of migrants in Libya and pledge to work toward a joint migration task force. All is not rosy, of course. According to Amnesty International and other groups, EU governments remain complicit in the Libyan migrant crisis. Elsewhere, Australia closed a refugee camp on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, while Bangladesh and Brazil struggled to accommodate influxes of refugees across their borders. Nuclear Proliferation Despite Trump’s decision not to recertify the “terrible” Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) remains alive. Europe strongly condemned Trump’s decision, and along with China and Russia, pledged to remain committed to the JCPOA as long as Iran complies, even if the United States backs out. Were such a breakdown between the United States and other permanent UN Security Council members (as well as Germany) to occur, the U.S.-led sanctions regime against Iran could well disappear as European, Chinese, and Russian firms deepen business ties with Iran. The continued success of the JCPOA is also vital for the prospects of a peaceful resolution of tensions with North Korea. Indeed, some argue that the JCPOA could be a blueprint for a similar agreement with North Korea. By contrast, the United States would lose any negotiating credibility with North Korea if the Trump administration pulls out of the Iran agreement. International Institutions Global governance has held ground in 2017 in other, less publicized, ways. The IMF and the World Bank, unlike other multilateral institutions, have largely escaped Trump’s criticism. Although several senior administration officials have long histories of disliking the IMF and World Bank, savvy diplomacy by Jim Yong Kim and Christine Lagarde seems to have placated the Trump administration so far. President Trump has also backpedaled on some of his criticisms of international alliances and organizations. After repeatedly calling the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) obsolete on the campaign trail, Trump deemed NATO “no longer obsolete” in April after meeting Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Trump also toned down his rhetoric on the United Nations. In April he called the organization “unfair” and an “underperformer;” in September the president tweeted that the “United Nations has tremendous potential.” (Whether this rapprochement will withstand the UN General Assembly’s condemnation of the unilateral U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital remains to be seen.) America First’s Future Looking forward to 2018, it is difficult to predict how Trump’s America First agenda will affect global governance, particularly with a notoriously unpredictable president. It is possible that Trump will continue to renege on some campaign promises. Moreover, midterm elections in November could severely cripple his ability to pass nationalist-minded legislation. Still, he retains significant leeway, should he choose to use it, to undermine NAFTA, the JCPOA, and other international agreements through executive action. Regardless of the president’s choices, his actions cannot overturn a fundamental contemporary reality—namely, that transnational challenges require global solutions. The lesson of 2017 is that other states are willing to step forward to fill some of the leadership roles vacated by the United States. In pulling back from international cooperation, Trump is forfeiting the United States’ historically important role in shaping international norms and multilateral policies. Nations that are willing to pick up the slack, whether under authoritarian regimes (like China) or democratic leadership (like France), will shape international rules and institutions to conform to their own priorities, not necessarily American ones. And they will not be eager to give up their new-found influence if and when the United States decides it wants the reins of global influence back.
  • Women and Women's Rights
    Women Around the World: Year in Review
    Welcome to a special edition of "Women Around the World: This Week," a series that highlights noteworthy news related to women and U.S. foreign policy. This week's post, which highlights 2017's most significant stories on the status of women and girls globally, was compiled with support from Anne Connell. Record-breaking Women's March. On January 21, 2017, the Women's March on Washington, DC, drew an historic public display of support for women's rights in a global mass protest, estimated to be the largest mass demonstration in U.S. history. With sister marches held on every continent around the world—including Antarctica—experts estimate that the crowd included over 5 million participants globally. Global #MeToo campaign. This fall, millions of women took to social media to share their experiences with sexual harassment in the workplace. The #MeToo campaign inspired women to share personal accounts of sexual harassment in eighty-five countries and counting, with women in France, Italy, and nations across Latin America and the Middle East launching their own offshoot hashtags. In many parts of the world, however, sexual harassment is not only pervasive, it is also perfectly legal: 424 million working-age women live in countries without any legal protection against sexual harassment in the workplace. Legal advances in the Middle East. This year brought significant changes to women's rights across the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, King Salman issued a decree allowing women to drive, thereby ending the country's longstanding prohibition on a practice allowed in every other country in the world. Other MENA countries also reformed restrictive family laws: Lebanon and Jordan eliminated provisions permitting perpetrators to escape punishment for rape if they marry their victims, and Tunisia's parliament imposed penalties for sexual harassment and improved prosecution of domestic abuse. U.S. Women, Peace, and Security Act is enacted. In October, the U.S. government enacted the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2017, codifying its commitment to women's participation in peace and security processes. The bipartisan act will strengthen efforts to prevent, mitigate, and resolve conflict around the world by increasing women's participation in negotiation and mediation. The law recognizes the critical link between women's participation and peace, requires a U.S strategy to grow women's participation, and reflects a growing global movement to advance women's inclusion in the security sector. U.S. slashes funding for global women’s health. An international summit on women's health was held in Brussels in March, which included development ministers from Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden, and produced pledges of nearly $200 million for women's sexual and reproductive healthcare services worldwide. The summit was created in part to address the estimated $600 million dollar funding gap left by the Trump administration's executive order reinstating and expanding the Mexico City policy, which will reduce resources for family planning and jeopardizes funding for HIV/AIDS, malaria, maternal and child health, and other global health priorities. Legal reform on child marriage. In the spring, Malawi—a country that consistently ranks among the world's top twenty nations with the highest prevalence of child marriage—passed historic legislation to curb the harmful practice. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala followed suit over the summer by passing laws to close loopholes permitting child marriage in cases of parental consent or pregnancy. Yet in Bangladesh, parliament approved new legislation to the opposite effect, passing a law that authorizes underage girls to be wed by local councils and courts; in Iraq, legislators proposed a law that would permit children as young as nine years old to marry. Gains in women's political leadership. This year, several women made history by ascending to the highest levels of government: Hong Kong elected Carrie Lam as its first-ever female chief executive, Angela Merkel began an historic fourth term as German chancellor, and Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand's third female prime minister and its youngest leader in more than 150 years. Globally, however, the number of women heads of state and government dropped: with several transitions of power around the world, including of prominent female leaders in Latin America and Ellen Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia, the number fell from twenty-two to eighteen. Low participation in peace talks. Despite women's critical contributions to security, their representation in peace processes is lagging, according to a new interactive CFR report tracking women’s inclusion. Many new rounds of talks held in 2017—including those aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria—had few or no women in formal negotiating roles. In Syria, women represented between only 10 and 15 percent of official negotiators at the table in recent rounds, though a Women's Advisory Board comprised of twelve female civil society representatives continues to advise the process. Global migration crisis grows. Over half of all refugees migrating to the EU—and well over half in camps for the internally displaced worldwide—are women and children, according to recent demographic trends. Reports confirm that women and girls fleeing Syria and Iraq continue to face grave risks, including sexual exploitation and abuse, and aid organizations struggle to remedy overcrowded shelters, food insecurity, lack of access to health and educational services, and child marriage. Female fighters combat terrorism. Thousands of Kurdish female fighters made history by taking part in critical battles against the self-proclaimed Islamic State group this year, including in Raqqa and Mosul. Over 7,000 women participated in Women's Protection Units aligned with the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) in front-line combat roles and as leading sharpshooters, and several Kurdish groups joined an array of official Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by the U.S.-led coalition in an offensive that pushed Islamic State extremists out of their strongholds in the region.
  • United States
    Ten World Figures Who Died in 2017
    Ten people who passed away this year who shaped world affairs for better or worse.
  • United States
    Ten American Foreign Policy Influentials Who Died in 2017
    As 2017 comes to a close, here are ten influential U.S. foreign policy figures who passed away this year. 
  • Cybersecurity
    Year in Review: Malware Attacks Impact Operations and the Bottom Line
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  • Refugees and Displaced Persons
    Another Year of Record Displacement
    The past year saw the ongoing historic displacement of millions from conflict and persecution, and a weak response from the world’s richest nations to address the problems.
  • Global
    Seven Foreign Policy Stories to Watch in 2018
    Two thousand seventeen had its fair share of big news stories. The same will be true of 2018. Some of those stories undoubtedly will be a surprise. Not many experts were warning a year ago of impending ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar. Yet it (sadly) became one of the biggest news stories of 2017. Maybe a year from now everyone will be talking about Egypt’s insurgency and a new financial crisis in the European Union (EU). Or maybe not. As Yogi Berra apparently didn’t say, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.” But a fair number of significant world events are ones we know are coming—call them the “known knowns.” Here are seven known stories to follow closely in 2018. Any one of them could turn into the dominant news event of the year—or fade completely away. We’ll know in twelve months which will sizzle and which will fizzle. Iran’s Bid for Regional Hegemony. Iranian leaders must be pleased with how 2017 played out. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looks to be securely in power in Damascus. Ditto Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Islamic State lost much of its territory. The Iraqi government retook the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Houthi rebels have Saudi Arabia bogged down in a quagmire in Yemen. Iranian involvement figured prominently in all of these developments, which has entrenched Iranian influence across the region. But this success is not Tehran’s doing alone. Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy missteps have helped as well. Besides its ill-considered Yemen adventure, Riyadh led the effort to embargo Qatar for its alleged pro-Iranian sympathies and support for terrorism. That has pushed Qatar closer to Tehran and created a diplomatic headache for Washington. (Qatar hosts the largest U.S. airbase in the Middle East.) Still, Saudi Arabia likely retains President Donald Trump’s ear. The new U.S. National Security Strategy vows to “neutralize Iranian malign influence.” Contrary to his campaign pledge, Trump hasn’t pulled the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He instead opted to refuse to certify Iran’s compliance. That effectively kicked the issue over to Capitol Hill. Congress has now effectively kicked it back to him. While the White House wants to turn up the heat on Tehran, the question remains how far it will be willing to go. After all, Europe opposes torpedoing the JCPOA, and the White House has its hands full with North Korea. One thing you can be sure of: Iran will press its advantage wherever it can. North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions. Something has to give. Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from gaining the capability to hit the United States with nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. He’s backed that up with angry tweets and threats to unleash “fire and fury.” So far North Korea isn’t blinking. Pyongyang boasted after its ballistic missile test last month that it “can now reach all of the mainland U.S.” That’s probably not true. However, the trend is not America’s friend. Unfortunately, Washington’s options for compelling Pyongyang to back down aren’t promising. China either can’t—or won’t—use its economic leverage to make North Korea cry uncle. Meanwhile, the cost of U.S. military action would likely be steep—possibly even “catastrophic.” A diplomatic solution might still be forged. But that would almost certainly require recognizing North Korea as a nuclear weapons power—at the risk that Pyongyang will pocket any concessions and then renege on its commitments. It has done that before. Yes, the United States can rely on deterrence to keep North Korea at bay. That strategy worked against the far larger Soviet threat. The danger is that Kim Jong-un may be willing to take risks that Soviet leaders weren’t. Of course, an assassination, coup, or popular uprising could scramble everything—and not necessarily in a good way. However the situation plays out, the current level of tensions creates the possibility that war will begin not through calculation but miscalculation. Crisis in Venezuela. Venezuela should be a prosperous and vibrant country. After all, it has the largest proven oil reserves in the world. Instead, the country is gripped by a horrific economic and political crisis. The fault lies squarely with President Nicolás Maduro. He has implemented disastrous economic policies and run roughshod over the country’s constitution. Hungry Venezuelans bitterly joke about being on a “Maduro diet,” medicine is in short supply, and Maduro’s allies have frustrated efforts to change things at the ballot box. As bad as things were in 2017 for Venezuelans, things could be even worse in 2018. The International Monetary Fund projects that inflation will exceed 2,300 percent next year. And Maduro has banned three opposition parties from participating in next December’s presidential election. Venezuelans have taken to the streets to protest Maduro’s dictatorial ways. More than one hundred protestors have been killed, but nothing has changed. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled to neighboring countries. Latin American countries are divided over how to respond. The United States has already imposed sanctions on Venezuelan officials and may impose more. Trump’s suggestion that U.S. military intervention might be necessary drew rebukes from across Latin America and probably gave Maduro a much-needed propaganda victory. In all, Maduro isn’t likely to go unless Venezuelans make him go. Trump’s Effort to Transform Trade. President Trump has been complaining about America’s “horrible” trade deals since the mid-1980s, and he made it a central theme of his 2016 presidential campaign. But during his first eleven months in office he spent more time barking than biting on trade. True, he signed a presidential memorandum pulling the United States out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). However, he didn’t impose tariffs on China or withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, or the World Trade Organization (WTO), all steps he either implied or vowed on the campaign trail to take. That may soon change. The White House is moving to impose punitive actions on predatory Chinese trade practices, its demands for revamping NAFTA look to be unacceptable to Canada and Mexico, and it is waging a low-level war against the WTO. Trump’s push to counter what he calls “economic aggression” could create considerable turmoil abroad—and at home. America’s trading partners are likely to retaliate. No one knows how far such tit-for-tat actions might go. What is known is that some U.S. export sectors would be hurt. Meanwhile, Trump’s trade initiatives won’t fix what bothers him: America’s yawning trade deficit. The United States runs a deficit because Americans consume far more than they save. Tweaking trade deals won’t change that. To make matters worse, the tax bill he has championed will likely make the trade deficit larger. China’s Ambitions Abroad. Xi Jinping had a terrific 2017. He consolidated his hold on power and now ranks as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. The question is, how will he use his new status? To judge by his 205-minute speech to China’s National Party Congress in October, he won’t be sitting on the sidelines; he will be flexing his muscles. He used the terms “great power” and “strong power” twenty-six times in his speech. Xi’s assertive foreign policy will likely mix soft and hard power. He will be offering substantial aid to countries throughout Asia under the banner of the One Belt One Road initiative. Most countries will find it hard to pass up these funds, even if they sometimes come with substantial strings attached. Beijing will also be supporting sympathetic politicians and groups overseas, a tactic that has started to trigger a backlash. The vinegar supplementing the honey will be China’s continued effort to turn the South China Sea into a Chinese lake. Countries in Southeast Asia will be watching closely to see whether, and how, the United States pushes back on China’s effort to make itself the regional hegemon. A world order may hang in the balance. The Mueller Investigation. Americans aren’t the only ones watching to see what happens with the investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller is conducting. Foreign capitals are as well. President Trump has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and he dismisses allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia as “fake news.” Partisans on both sides think they know how the investigation will turn out. We’ll see who is right. What we know for sure is that Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has pled guilty to lying to the FBI, as has former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos. Mueller also has indicted Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort and Manafort’s business partner and senior Trump campaign staffer, Rick Gates. Trump’s lawyers predict that the investigation will wrap up shortly; history suggests it could drag on for months. At a minimum, the investigation distracts White House attention from policymaking and raises doubts overseas as to whether Trump has the political capital to carry through on his threats and promises. At the maximum, the investigation could plunge the United States into an unprecedented constitutional crisis. Whether we get either extreme or an outcome somewhere in between, America’s democracy is being tested. We’ll see if we live up to the framers’ expectations. Democracy Under Stress. Democracy is under siege. Just examine the rankings that Freedom House generates—global freedom has been declining for over a decade. The problem isn’t just that emerging democracies like Thailand and Turkey have slid back into authoritarian rule, though that’s bad enough. Many Western democracies are struggling as well. The EU is threatening to strip Poland’s voting rights in EU institutions because Warsaw has adopted anti-democratic laws, while Spain faces a secessionist movement in Catalonia. Centrist political parties across Europe have been losing vote shares to parties on the two extremes. Traditional center-left parties have had the most trouble, having suffered humiliating defeats in the Netherlands, France, and Austria among other places. But center-right parties are struggling as well, as recent elections in Britain and Germany attest. The United States still has a robust two-party system, but its democracy also seems far from its glory days. Congress struggles to carry out is most basic function, funding the government, Trump regularly violates longstanding democratic norms, and many Americans view members of the opposite party unfavorably. It’s not surprising, then, that some now see the United States as a “flawed democracy.” Authoritarian governments like China and Russia are both working, in different ways, to undermine free and fair elections across the globe. Is democracy doomed? No. It remains popular worldwide, even if it has become less so among young people in democratic countries. There will be important elections in 2018 that could reverse the negative trends, though they might also give us more “illiberal democracies.” Here’s the thing about democracy: it empowers the people. It’s up to them to use that power wisely. Corey Cooper and Benjamin Shaver contributed to the preparation of this post.
  • Global Governance
    Desperately Seeking Sherpas: Ten Global Summits to Watch in 2018
    The Trump administration’s approach to ten critical global summits in the year ahead will show whether its pullback from multilateralism in 2017 was an aberration or the start of a new normal.
  • United States
    Year in Review: The Trump Administration Disrupts U.S. Cyber Diplomacy
    A look back at the Trump administration's approach to cyber diplomacy and what it means for next year.