Backgrounders

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

Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines

A Guide to Global COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Only a year after the new coronavirus emerged, the first vaccines to protect against it are being administered. But production challenges, vaccine nationalism, and new virus strains are all presenting hurdles.

Middle East and North Africa

What Is U.S. Policy on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

The United States has long tried to negotiate a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but several factors, including deep divisions between and within the parties and declining U.S. interest in carrying out its traditional honest-broker role, hurt the chances of a peace deal.

Explainers Video Filters and Cards

Infrastructure
The State of U.S. Infrastructure
Amid an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, debate continues over how to improve the nation’s infrastructure, as analysts say U.S. transportation, water, and other systems face major shortfalls.
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.
State and Local Governments (U.S.)
How COVID-19 Is Harming State and City Budgets
The coronavirus pandemic is placing enormous budget pressure on state and local governments, threatening deep and potentially lasting cuts to education, infrastructure, and other important investments.  
Economics
Is Industrial Policy Making a Comeback?
The COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of China have prompted renewed debate about the government’s role in shaping the U.S. economy.  
Taliban
The Taliban in Afghanistan
Since its ouster in 2001, the Taliban has maintained its insurgency against the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan and the Afghan government. A collapse in intra-Afghan peace negotiations could pave the way for the group’s return to power.
International Criminal Court
The Role of the International Criminal Court
The ICC was created to bring justice to the world’s worst war criminals, but debate over the court still rages.
Myanmar
Myanmar’s Troubled History: Coups, Military Rule, and Ethnic Conflict
The military’s recent coup and ongoing violent campaign against the Rohingya minority group have dashed hopes for democratic progress in Myanmar.
Yemen
Yemen’s Tragedy: War, Stalemate, and Suffering
Yemen’s internal divisions and a Saudi-led military intervention have spawned an intractable political, military, and humanitarian crisis.
Climate Change
Envisioning a Green New Deal: A Global Comparison
The Green New Deal has motivated those who want the United States to undertake unprecedented climate action, but it has also drawn backlash. How is the rest of the world grappling with decarbonization?
World Health Organization (WHO)
What Does the World Health Organization Do?
Since its postwar founding, the UN agency has garnered both praise and criticism for its response to international public health crises, including the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Venezuela
Venezuela: The Rise and Fall of a Petrostate
Venezuela’s descent into economic and political chaos in recent years is a cautionary tale of the dangerous influence that resource wealth can have on developing countries.
Health
What Does the CDC Do?
The federal agency has a broad mandate to protect Americans’ health and an expansive global reach. But the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as one of its most daunting challenges.
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico: A U.S. Territory in Crisis
The Caribbean island, which shares a close yet fraught relationship with the rest of the United States, faces a multilayered economic and social crisis, rooted in long-standing policy and compounded by natural disasters, the coronavirus pandemic, migration, and government mismanagement.
Southeast Asia
What Is ASEAN?
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a regional organization that brings together disparate neighbors to address economic, security, and political issues, but the group’s impact remains limited.
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
What’s Next for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)?
Though President Trump withdrew from the TPP, the remaining members of the trade pact have forged ahead with a new version, leaving the U.S. role in the Asia-Pacific in question.