Explainers

Backgrounders

Authoritative, accessible, and regularly updated primers on hundreds of foreign policy topics.

Taiwan

Why China-Taiwan Relations Are So Tense

Differences over Taiwan’s status have fueled rising tensions between the island and the mainland. And Taiwan has the potential to be a flash point in U.S.-China relations.

Energy and Environment

How the U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Works

The United States is the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas. Its decision to either continue at this pace or curb production to achieve its climate goals will have global consequences.

Explainers Video Filters and Cards

United States
What Happens When the U.S. Hits Its Debt Ceiling?
As the U.S. government grapples with another deadline to increase its debt limit, economists warn that a possible default could have disastrous economic consequences. 
Afghanistan
The Taliban in Afghanistan
The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan in 2021, twenty years after their ouster by U.S. troops. Under their harsh rule, they have cracked down on women’s rights and neglected basic services.
United States
How Does the U.S. Government Use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?
The Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the world’s largest stockpile of emergency crude oil, has helped shield the United States from energy supply crunches, but debate persists over its management.
United States
What Is Temporary Protected Status?
Temporary protected status has long been used as a humanitarian solution for migrants who are unable to return home safely, but efforts to give them a path to citizenship have reignited the debate around the U.S. immigration policy.  
United States
What Happens When Foreign Investment Becomes a Security Risk?
The United States and other Western countries are reevaluating their foreign investment regulations amid an uptick in Chinese interest in strategic sectors.
Human Rights
Marriage Equality: Global Comparisons
A growing number of countries are legalizing same-sex marriage amid a steady advance in rights for LGBTQ+ people, but opposition remains strong in many others.
G20 (Group of Twenty)
What Does the G20 Do?
The Group of Twenty, an informal gathering of many of the world’s largest economies, is the premier global forum for discussing economic issues. But it has faced divisions over trade, climate change, and the war in Ukraine.
Somalia
Al-Shabaab
Al-Shabaab remains capable of carrying out massive attacks in Somalia and nearby countries despite a long-running African Union offensive against the Islamist terrorist group.
Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines
A Guide to Global COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts
The swift development of effective vaccines against COVID-19 was an unprecedented scientific achievement. But production challenges, vaccine nationalism, and new variants have all presented hurdles.
Trade
The Contentious U.S.-China Trade Relationship
Trade between the world’s two biggest economies has ballooned in recent decades, bringing significant benefits but also frictions over China’s state-led development and calls to rethink the relationship.
Russia
Russia’s Influence in the Balkans
The Balkans have long been a source of tension between Russia and the West, with Moscow cultivating allies there as the EU and NATO expand into the region. The war in Ukraine might be shifting the calculus.
Economics
Is Industrial Policy Making a Comeback?
The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of China have prompted renewed debate about the U.S. government’s role in shaping the economy.
Middle East and North Africa
What Is the Kafala System?
The kafala system regulates the lives of tens of millions of migrant laborers in the Middle East, but growing outrage over human rights abuses, racism, and gender discrimination has fueled calls for reform.
Monetary Policy
What Is the U.S. Federal Reserve?
Over the past decade, the Fed kept interest rates low while it deployed trillions of dollars in stimulus and expanded its regulatory oversight. Now, the central bank is back in the spotlight for its battle against inflation. 
Climate Change
Global Climate Agreements: Successes and Failures
International efforts, such as the Paris Agreement, aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But experts say countries aren’t doing enough to limit dangerous global warming.