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. 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
How the U.S. Patrols Its Borders
President Joe Biden’s attempts to grapple with a record number of migrants are keeping the role of enforcement at the center of the debate over U.S. asylum, border, and deportation policy.
Military Operations
Sea Power: The U.S. Navy and Foreign Policy
The U.S. Navy’s dominance of the world’s oceans has made it an indispensable foreign policy tool and a guarantor of global trade, but a mix of challenges is raising difficult questions about its future.
United States
Foreign Policy at the U.S. National Political Conventions
Foreign policy issues regularly come to the fore at the national political conventions, especially during periods of global instability. Sometimes the events are marked by bitter disagreements within the parties.
Diplomacy and International Institutions
What Does the G7 Do?
The Group of Seven (G7) has been a forum to coordinate global policy for fifty years, but experts are increasingly questioning the group’s relevance.
United States
Seeking Protection: How the U.S. Asylum Process Works
Record numbers of migrants seeking to cross the southern U.S. border are challenging the Joe Biden administration’s attempts to restore asylum protections. Here’s how the asylum process works.
Palestinian Territories
Who Governs the Palestinians?
Power in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the so-called Palestinian territories, has been divided among three entities: a governing body called the Palestinian Authority, the militant group Hamas, and the state of Israel. But as Israel now seeks to destroy Hamas, it is unclear who would administer Gaza instead.
International Criminal Court
The Role of the ICC
The International Criminal Court was created to bring justice to the world’s worst war criminals, but debate over the court still rages.
China
Religion in China
A significant proportion of China’s population claims to follow a religion. However, the government continues to toughen oversight, increase persecution of some religions, and attempt to co-opt state-sanctioned religious organizations.
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 perils that have led to calls to rethink the relationship.
Public Health Threats and Pandemics
What Is Avian Flu?
A global surge in avian flu outbreaks in birds and some mammals is worrying poultry farmers, scientists, and health experts. The trend is provoking questions about the future of the disease and global public health.
Japan
The U.S.-Japan Alliance
The alliance with Japan has been the cornerstone of U.S. security policy in East Asia for decades. Now, Japan’s role in global security is growing as challenges from China and North Korea mount.  
United States
How U.S. Water Infrastructure Works
The sprawling U.S. water system is central to the nation’s economy, but chronic underinvestment, increasing demand, and the consequences of climate change have revealed the system’s weaknesses.  
Cuba
U.S.-Cuba Relations
Cuba has long been a major foreign policy challenge for the United States. President Biden is the latest U.S. leader to grapple with how to balance democracy promotion with the desire for a better bilateral relationship.
Palestinian Territories
What Is Hamas?
The Palestinian militant group struggled to govern the Gaza Strip before launching a surprise attack on Israel in 2023. Now facing Israel’s military campaign to destroy it, Hamas’s future is in doubt, as is Gaza’s.
Iran
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards
Conceived as the principal defenders of the 1979 revolution, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has evolved into an institution with vast political, economic, and military power.