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, distribution of the first vaccines to protect against it began. 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

Somalia
Al-Shabab
Al-Shabab remains capable of carrying out massive attacks in Somalia and surrounding countries despite a long-running African Union offensive against the Islamist terrorist group. 
China
China’s Fight Against Climate Change and Environmental Degradation
China’s carbon emissions threaten global efforts to fight climate change. Its broader environmental degradation endangers economic growth, public health, and government legitimacy. Are Beijing’s policies enough?
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.
Energy and Climate Policy
How Does the U.S. Power Grid Work?
Experts say big investments are needed to protect the U.S. energy grid from the growing threats of climate change and cyberattacks.
United States
Why Does the Census Matter?
The U.S. census, one of the few in the world to directly count every resident, is used to distribute political power and federal funding. The 2020 count has faced pandemic-related complications and a suite of controversies.
Taiwan
Why China-Taiwan Relations Are So Tense
Differences over Taiwan’s status have fueled rising tensions between the island and the mainland. Conflict over Taiwan also has the potential to be a flash point in U.S.-China relations.
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
The alliance is bringing its twenty-year mission in Afghanistan to a close in 2021, as it looks to bolster its military deterrent in Europe and provide security assistance in the Middle East and Horn of Africa.
Americas
U.S. Detention of Child Migrants
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border each year, sparking debate over how to respond. A recent rise in their numbers has challenged the Biden administration.
United States
The U.S. Vice President and Foreign Policy
Modern vice presidents can trace much of their political influence to the broad reforms that Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale made to the second-highest elected office in the late 1970s.
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.
United Kingdom
Moving Past the Troubles: The Future of Northern Ireland Peace
The Good Friday Agreement has dampened sectarian tensions and brought stability to Northern Ireland, but Brexit border arrangements and growing dissatisfaction are throwing the region’s hard-won gains into doubt.
Food and Water Security
Water Stress: A Global Problem That’s Getting Worse
Water scarcity threatens the health and development of communities around the globe. Climate change is intensifying the problem, pushing governments to find more innovative, collaborative ways to address water stress.
United States
How Police Compare in Different Democracies
Recent killings by U.S. officers have sparked widespread calls for police reform and an end to systemic racism. Here’s how U.S. policing compares with other countries’ approaches.
United States
Is Rising Student Debt Harming the U.S. Economy?
Higher education provides students many socioeconomic benefits and increases the global competitiveness of the United States, but mounting student loan debt has sparked a debate over federal lending policies.
United States
How the U.S. Patrols Its Borders
President Trump sent U.S. troops to the border with Mexico to supplement the work of authorities there. President Biden pledges a new approach as pressures mount along the boundary.