Explainers

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Visual stories that delve into some of the world’s most pressing issues.

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China
Ten Most Significant World Events in 2023
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2023 was a tumultuous year, marked by violent conflicts, democratic erosion, and record-high temperatures. This year, experts at the Council on Foreign Relations, along with visiting world leaders and thinkers, unpacked these issues and more. Join CFR’s director of studies, Jim Lindsay, in looking back at his list of the ten most impactful events of the year.  
Taiwan
The Stakes for Taiwan's Diplomacy in Three Questions
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Taiwan's relationship with the United States, China, and the rest of the world has a complex history that informs why the island is so consequential to today's geopolitics. To better understand these dynamics, David Sacks, CFR's fellow for Asia studies, answers questions about Taiwan's history and its significance to diplomacy in East Asia. For more on the relationship between the United States, China, and Taiwan, check out the Council on Foreign Relations–sponsored Independent Task Force, "U.S.-Taiwan Relations in a New Era". cfr.org/us-taiwan
Robots and Artificial Intelligence
How Artificial Intelligence Could Change the World
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) could transform economies, politics, and everyday life. Some experts believe this increasingly powerful technology could lead to amazing advances and prosperity. Yet, many tech and industry leaders are warning that AI poses substantial risks, and they are calling for a moratorium on AI research so that safety measures can be established. But amid mounting great-power competition, it’s unclear whether national governments will be able to coordinate on regulating this technology that offers so many economic and strategic opportunities.
Russia
As Nuclear Tensions Rise, Should the World Be Worried?
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Since the end of World War II, nuclear weapons have threatened international relations. The Cold War produced stalemates that seemed to reduce the threat of nuclear conflict, but several countries’ more recent acquisitions of nuclear weapons have brought the world into a dangerous new era of nuclear uncertainty. With nuclear tensions on the rise once again, what lies ahead for nuclear diplomacy?  
Ireland
Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement Threatened by Brexit Fallout
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In Northern Ireland, the consequences of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, known as Brexit, are threatening to unravel the twenty-five-year-old Good Friday Agreement. It’s a peace deal that ended decades of violence between nationalists who wanted Northern Ireland to be reunified with the Republic of Ireland and unionists who wanted it to stay part of the United Kingdom. The agreement largely ended the bloodshed, and allowed for freer movement of trade and people across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. However, Brexit has imperiled that free movement, and there are major concerns that resolving that issue could inflame old divisions and lead to renewed bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
China
Is China a Democracy or a Dictatorship?
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China’s political system is complicated, and there’s a lot of contradictory information out there. Is China a communist country? Is it democratic, as its own government insists? And what does “freedom” mean to Chinese citizens? Ian Johnson, CFR’s senior fellow for China studies, answers these questions and more.
El Salvador
Are Cryptocurrencies Still the Future of Money?
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Since the creation of Bitcoin in 2009, cryptocurrencies have exploded in popularity and accrued over $1 trillion in collective value. But market volatility in 2022 threatened the crypto ecosystem—after peaking at over $68,000 in November 2021, the price of Bitcoin fell to under $17,000 twelve months later. This instability has brought new scrutiny to the industry and the countries that have embraced Bitcoin as currency: El Salvador and the Central African Republic. Financial regulators are now calling for more crypto oversight, but global efforts to regulate the industry have stalled. Given this simultaneous rise in global popularity and concern, what lies ahead for digital currency and the future of finance?
Global
What Happens When the World Hits 1.5°C of Warming?
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The world is running out of time to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. With the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries set a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) compared to 150 years ago. However, the planet is on track to pass 1.5°C by the end of this decade, which would lead to higher sea levels, hotter heat waves, and deadlier natural disasters. But countries can work to prevent those and even worse dangers by sticking to their climate pledges and limiting just how much the world overshoots its Paris Agreement goal.
Venezuela
Will U.S.-Venezuela Relations Thaw?
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After years of tension, relations between the United States and Venezuela appear to be headed in a new direction. The Joe Biden administration has temporarily rolled back some U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry in an effort to curb energy prices as well as help the Venezuelan people. But the extent of this détente hinges on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. What’s in store for bilateral relations?
2022 in Review
Video: Seven Most Significant World Events in 2022
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It was a year marked by political tumult, spiking major-power tensions, economic challenges, a waning pandemic, and a war that echoed worldwide.
Haiti
Growing Instability in Haiti
More than a year after President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination, Haiti remains embroiled in a humanitarian crisis. Economic and political instability persist, and a surge in gang-related violence in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince, has displaced tens of thousands of people. World leaders are now debating whether to send troops to help restore basic governance in the country. What does the future hold for Haiti?
United States
Post-Roe v. Wade: Abortion Law Around the World
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With the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, it’s up to states to decide their own abortion laws. Watch to see what has changed so far in the United States and how it compares with other countries on abortion access.  
United Kingdom
King Charles III and the Future of the Commonwealth
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As King Charles III ascends to the British throne after the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, Commonwealth countries are debating whether to follow Barbados, which broke ties with the Crown in 2021. Why are countries choosing to leave the monarchy, and what could that mean for its future?
European Union
The Russia-Ukraine War and Europe’s Energy Bind
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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led European governments to propose bans on Russian oil and gas, but rising energy costs and a lack of alternatives are undermining the effort. Here’s how Europe has been challenged by Russia’s leverage in the energy market.
United States
How U.S. Gun Policies Compare With the World’s
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The debate over gun laws has raged in Washington for decades, often reigniting after high-profile mass shootings. In mid-2022, Congress passed a rare, compromise gun control bill, but critics say it still leaves the United States with some of the loosest gun laws in the world. Here’s how the United States and some other advanced democracies have responded to gun violence.