In Brazil, Fuel Prices Spark Protests

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Brazilian truckers have gone on strike, and though the protests appear to be winding down, the effects have been felt in the transportation, food and fuel sectors.

In Yemen, Historical Roots of a Modern Civil War

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Dec. 29, 2017 Yemen has always been different from the rest of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. Even the Ancient Greeks thought of it as such, referring to the land that would eventually constitute Yemen as Eudaimon Arabia – “Fortunate Arabia” or “Happy Arabia” – because its rainfall and fertile land made for a stable population.

The Islamic State’s Fading Territory

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The Islamic State’s territory in Syria and Iraq is a shadow of its former self.

A Closer Look at North Korea’s Conventional Weapons

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June 2, 2017 As Pyongyang, Washington and other regional players prepare for the prospect of war, North Korea’s nuclear program and ballistic missile capabilities have received undue amounts of attention. Important though they may be, they have less bearing on how the war will be fought than does North Korea’s conventional military.

Eliminating Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities would be the first objective in a war, and indeed the justification for an attack. The second objective would be to protect South Korea from North Korean retaliation. No one really knows the true status of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but a nuclear strike on a U.S. asset or ally is unlikely because it would force the U.S. to respond in kind, wiping out the North Korean regime.

North Korea will instead rely on its large arsenal of conventional weapons – namely artillery – to retaliate. The artillery batteries, many of which are located near the demilitarized zone, can severely damage heavily populated areas in and around Seoul.

South America’s Population: Clinging to the Coasts

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July 28, 2017 The defining characteristic of South America is that its geography will not allow any nation to project power across the continent. Those that have come to power have been confined to either the Pacific Coast or the Atlantic Coast. Some were even able to hold power on both coasts, but none were able to form a seamless political entity.

Their separation is largely due to the Andes Mountains, which span the entire length of South America near the continent’s western edge. Other geographic features, however, accentuate the east-west divide. In the north, the vast Amazon rainforest prevents the movement of people from one population center to another and stunts urban development. The Amazon River and its tributaries, which flow from the west to the east, enable ventures farther inland, but upstream waters quickly become unnavigable to large ships.

 

A Midyear Checkup on Germany’s Economy

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June 30, 2017 In late June, two influential German economic institutes published their midyear economic forecasts. They were released after the German central bank published its own forecast, saying that the German economy’s “solid upswing” will continue. The economic institutes found similar results, asserting that the German economy will continue its “steady growth.”

Both reports underlined that, unlike other periods of recent German history, the first-quarter economic results were based on domestic performance more than they were influenced by export growth. Our 2017 forecast, however, says German exports will fall in 2017, weakening Berlin’s trade position and, ultimately, slowing economic growth.

The latest reports coming from Germany challenge this forecast on two fronts. First, the German reports say that exports will continue to rise. Second, the German reports insist that while exports have grown, it is the domestic drivers that have made German growth stable.

Key Players in Libya

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Violence in Libya had been relatively contained prior to the recent clashes. That could change if we are on the brink of European military intervention.

Myanmar’s Role in China’s Trade Plans

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May 19, 2017 Over the past few decades, China has become famously prosperous, but it has some problems it needs to solve if it wants its prosperity to continue. Its wealth was built on trade, and its trade depends on maritime transportation. The United States, with its powerful navy, controls the seas and could theoretically blockade the sea lanes Beijing depends on.

So China is looking for overland trade routes. These routes could have the added benefit of helping to redistribute wealth to China’s otherwise impoverished interior provinces. First, however, China has to build the requisite infrastructure.

Enter Southeast Asia, the gateway to the Indian Ocean and a region that is ripe for the kind of infrastructure investment Beijing can provide. Perhaps no country in the region stands to gain more from Chinese investment than Myanmar.

How Interest Rates Affect US Discretionary Spending

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May 5, 2017 The mounting debt owned by the U.S. government is as much a geopolitical question as a financial one. The federal government breaks its budget into three spending categories: mandatory, discretionary and net interest expense.

Mandatory spending includes pre-existing obligations. Discretionary spending requires passing legislation and is largely composed of defense spending. Net interest expense, which currently makes up about 6 percent of the federal budget, is expected to grow to nearly 12 percent in the next decade.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the U.S. debt will have a blended average interest rate of approximately 3.4 percent in 2017. If interest rates exceed the CBO’s current projections, net interest expense would increase and discretionary spending – and therefore likely defense spending – would decline.

North Korea Nuclear Talks: A Timeline

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The negotiations have been nothing if not long and volatile.

A Short History of Time Keeping

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As the United States and other countries prepare to set their clocks back one hour on Sunday, one week after Europe did the same, we detail how the current global system of time keeping emerged.

China’s Maritime Choke Points

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April 26, 2016 There is widespread interest in the rising tensions over the waters east of China. China has become increasingly assertive in the region, and regional powers from Japan to Singapore have become alarmed at China’s behavior. The Chinese recently built an island in the South China Sea, apparently as a potential airbase. The United States sent a carrier battle group there as well. For all the activity and discussion, it is not clear that people really understand what all this is about. This week’s map will help clarify the situation.

There are two seas to the east of China – the East China Sea to the north and the South China Sea to the south, with Taiwan positioned in between. Air and naval forces based in Taiwan are, at least in theory, able to prevent movement between the two seas. The Taiwan Strait is fairly narrow and movement by the Chinese to Taiwan’s east forces China to pass near the Philippines to the south, or through the Ryukyu Islands to the north. Passage through the Ryukyu Islands could be blocked by hostile naval forces or by land-based aircraft and missiles.