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Policy Briefs

This policy brief series on critical issues will run until Inauguration Day.

Issues in this Series

How Should America Respond to Economic Opportunities in Africa?

Steve McDonald
U.S. policy toward Africa has been on autopilot for much of the past four years, following a laundry list of good intentions that established priorities for Africa’s well-being and U.S. security interests. However, a truly sustainable and forward-looking U.S. policy toward Africa should refocus attention on Africa’s opportunity as an economic powerhouse of the future, a strategy that combines both domestic self-interest and an opportunity to help Africa move forward.

Setting Priorities for U.S. Policy in Latin America

Cynthia J. Arnson
The Obama administration will need to establish clear priorities for U.S.–Latin American relations that advance U.S. interests in remarkably changed circumstances. No single approach to the region can guide U.S. policy, nor can policy be successful if it does not recognize the changes in the region over the past decade that are reflected in the hemisphere’s economic and political vitality.

Changing Energy: Canada and the United States

David Biette and Andrew Finn
Americans are generally surprised to learn that more of the energy that the United States imports comes from Canada than from any other country. Really, you say? The United States imports 2.7 million barrels of crude oil and refined products from Canada every day, representing 24 percent of total petroleum imports—about twice what is imported from Saudi Arabia.

Beyond the Laboratory and Far Away: Immediate and Future Challenges in Governing the Bio-economy

Todd Kuiken, Ph.D. and Eleonore Pauwels
Today’s bio-economy, where info-, nano-, and biotechnology converge, has the potential to yield great advances in all sectors, including medicine and energy, by using advanced modes of manufacturing at an atomic scale while achieving reproducible results. This creative convergence sounds exciting, but scientific advances and technological innovation do not come without some risks. Policymakers need to adopt a critical perspective on governance approaches regarding the bio-economy, keeping in mind how it affects our intricate sociotechnical system, our regulatory cultures, and the evolving relationships between researchers, funders, industry and the public.

Nuclear Weapons in International Politics: It's Getting Personal

Timothy McDonnell
The role that nuclear weapons play in international politics and security is evolving. For wealthy, militarily powerful countries, nuclear weapons are playing a diminishing role in security planning. Conversely, some countries that lack advanced military capabilities may be coming to see nuclear weapons as increasingly important for their security. The differences between these two groups are reinforced by the fact that, over the past decade, two dictators who ended their nuclear programs have lost their regimes and their lives. As a result, authoritarian leaders may now have an increasingly personal interest in holding on to their nuclear ambitions. U.S. interests can be advanced by minimizing the association that has developed over the past decade between ending nuclear weapons programs, ending regimes, and ending authoritarian leaders’ lives.

National Action Plan on Women's Equal Participation in Public Service

Rangita de Silva de Alwis
The evidence has never been clearer that women’s political, economic, and social participation and leadership are vital to development. Countries where women are fairly represented in government enjoy greater security, higher levels of development, and more inclusive policy-making. The incoming administration should take advantage of this critical moment in history by developing the first-ever National Action Plan on Women’s Equal Participation in Public Service and sign an executive order directing that the plan be implemented. This plan would chart a course to enhance women’s equal role in public service and political participation around the world, and it would transform how the United States approaches its diplomatic and development-based support to women, thus ensuring equal participation in all levels of decision-making.

The Challenges of the 21st Century City

Blair A. Ruble
In 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of all human beings lived in cities. Although megacities with populations over 10 million, such as Tokyo, Mexico City, and São Paulo, are widely recognized, most urban growth is taking place in so-called medium-size cities of between 1 million and 5 million.This reality changes how policymakers in every sphere can pursue their goals.

Moving Beyond the Reset

William E. Pomeranz
Acting Director William Pomeranz examines the impact of the reset policy on the U.S.-Russian relationship. President Vladimir Putin’s first few months in office witnessed the “resetting of the reset” in which Putin unilaterally canceled several major U.S. assistance programs and generally showed little interest in improving U.S.-Russian relations. As a result, the Obama administration will have to reassess its strategy with Russia and find alternative ways of engaging with the Russian people. Such a strategy will include lowering the profile of the reset policy while pursuing more traditional exchanges that bypass high-level politics and promote direct links between the two countries.

Dealing with the Iranian Nuclear Challenge

Robert S. Litwak
Although Iran’s mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle presents an inherent option for creating a bomb, the Tehran regime has no urgent incentive to build nuclear weapons. Current U.S. policy, which emphasizes coercive sanctions and diplomatic isolation to compel Iran to comply with its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), would fall squarely under the rubric of containment, even as the term has been eschewed and delegitimized in the U.S. policy debate. As long as Iran does not overtly cross the U.S. “red line” of weaponization, U.S. policy will likely remain containment in form, if not in name.

A New Agenda with Mexico

Christopher Wilson and Andrew Selee
The depth of economic ties with Mexico, together with declines in illegal immigration and organized crime violence in Mexico, open up an opportunity for U.S. policymakers to deepen the economic relationship with Mexico and to engage Mexico more on major global issues.

Strengthening America: Inventing the Future

Kent Hughes
The U.S. innovation system has enormous strengths, including public and private support for research and development, the world’s best university system, and an entrepreneurial risk-taking culture. But those elements of the system now face several domestic and international challenges. The United States will need to maintain support for research and development (R&D), improve its education system, and learn from best practices around the world if it is to compete in the 21st century.

Manufacturing Matters

Kent Hughes
Manufacturing plays a key role in the U.S. economy and will continue to do so. Looking ahead, the United States needs a manufacturing strategy that can support the emergence of advanced manufacturing processes that, in conjunction with low-cost energy, can revitalize the U.S. manufacturing sector.

The Next Industrial Revolution

David Rejeski
The next industrial revolution will fundamentally change the way we make things, and where. Government needs to create policy frameworks that support the transition to a new manufacturing paradigm and we also need to have a public conversation about what this world should look like and what policies are needed to make sure that both society and the planet will benefit.

Governing on the Edge of Change

David Rejeski
Imagine, for a moment, a world that is rapidly changing along three dimensions: Structure: a shift from hierarchies to networks; Ownership: transitions from proprietary to open-source models; and Exchange: a movement from classic markets and commodities to a gift or contribution economy. For public policymakers, this emerging zone creates opportunities to craft next generation policy, leadership, and management strategies that can work on the edge of change.

Salvaging a Troubled Marriage: Lessons for U.S.-Pakistan Relations

Michael Kugelman
The new U.S. administration has inherited the challenge of a U.S.-Pakistan relationship in crisis. This policy brief argues that although strategic partnership may be impractical, sustained ties remain essential.

Redefining U.S. Economic Rivalries in Asia

Shihoko Goto
Promising to level the playing field with China has been a vote-winning mantra among Democrats and Republicans alike. Yet competition for new markets, natural resources, good jobs, and global talent is as likely to come from Japan and South Korea as from China.

Completing the Asia Pivot

Robert Hathaway
President Barack Obama has made “pivoting” or “rebalancing” of U.S. policies toward Asia one of his strategic priorities. The next administration must not simply maintain this policy on autopilot; it must also provide institutional structure, budgetary support, and conceptual legitimacy to the policy.

Policy Brief: Dealing with a Rising China

J. Stapleton Roy
Washington and Beijing both consider good bilateral relations to be vital, but their growing strategic rivalry has the potential to evolve into mutual antagonism. In this new policy brief, published as the new leadership was announced in Beijing, China expert Stapleton Roy argues that the US should focus on regional engagement through multilateral organizations like ASEAN, as opposed to its military presence in the region.

Too Big to Succeed: The Need for Federal IT Reform

Zachary Bastian
For IT to become sustainable, the federal government must enable change in three areas: (a) embracing agile development, modular contracting, and opensource software; (b) encouraging small business participation; and (c) shifting the federal IT culture through education and experimentation. The adoption of these reforms is vital. The current state of federal IT undermines good work because of its inefficiency and waste.

Pursuing A Productive Relationship Between the U.S. and Brazil

Paulo Sotero
The growing presence of Brazilian global companies in the United States complements traditionally strong investments by U.S. companies in Brazil. This trend has created a two-way street where common interests are more visible and both governments are pressured to recognize the benefits of working together or risk paying a political price for not doing so.

Gaming Our Way to a Better Future

Diane Tucker
As today’s policy challenges become more complex, it has become clear that American media — online news, television, radio, newspapers, and magazines— are not up to the task of explaining the problems underlying them or providing citizens with all the information they need to engage in public conversations about them. Democracy cannot function properly without those conversations. But one new medium - videogames — may well fill the gap.

Seven Ways 7 Billion People Affect the Environment and Security

Geoffrey D. Dabelko and Meaghan Parker
Today’s population of 7 billion people has a significant impact on the planet’s natural resources and on global security. Seven critical challenges—security, climate change, water scarcity, food insecurity, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and future population growth—are affected by population dynamics in complex ways that demand holistic solutions. One effective and relatively inexpensive way to meet these challenges is to empower women by improving their access to education and health care, including family planning.

Delivering Solutions to Improve Maternal Health and Increase Access to Family Planning

Sandeep Bathala
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 800 women die daily from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Almost all of these deaths occur in developing countries, with higher rates for women living in rural areas and among poorer communities.

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