January 3 – United States
The Democracy Index 2016 by the Economist Intelligence Unit downgrades the United States from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” and ranks it 21 out of 167 countries worldwide. The index is compiled by focusing on five categories—electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture, and civil liberties. The demotion is based on low public confidence in political institutions in the U.S., as well as the role of big-money lobbying. Norway has been ranked as the best democracy in the world, the position it has occupied for the last six years.
A report by The Economist Intelligence Unit: Democracy Index 2016.
January 19 – United States
Germany announces it will raise military spending, which will reach $41.6 billion in 2017. However, this will amount to 1.22 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), which still will be way below the 2 percent NATO guideline. In 2006, NATO member countries agreed to spend a minimum of two percent of their (GDP) on defense as a commitment to the Alliance’s common defense. In 2016, only five out of 28 NATO members – the United States, Greece, the United Kingdom, Estonia, and Poland – met this target. During his presidential campaign and after taking office, U.S. President Donald Trump criticized NATO members for failing to meet the alliance’s 2-percent target and sparked concerns after calling NATO obsolete.
February 15 – Canada
The European Parliament approves the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), a new free trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and Canada. The EU national parliaments must approve CETA before it can take full effect. After CETA comes into effect, custom duties (taxes) on 99 percent of the Canadian and the EU exports will be lifted. After seven years, customs duties on industrial products will be also lifted. Proponents of the trade deal say that CETA will increase exports of goods and services, boosting growth and jobs for both sides. At the same time, CETA will reduce Canada’s dependence on the U.S. export market. But CETA has also been controversial, sparking protests across Europe. The opponents argue that the deal will have negative effect on labor laws, environmental standards, and will empower corporations at the expense of ordinary Europeans.
More about CETA
February 16 – United States
During his first four weeks as president, Donald Trump signs about two dozens executive orders. They include a withdrawal of the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, cutting business regulations, resuming the construction of two controversial pipelines (the Keystone XL and Dakota Access), terminating a regulation that was aimed at protecting waterways from coal mining waste, freezing federal government hiring, and instructing federal agencies to weaken the Affordable Care Act (ACA) commonly referred to as Obamacare. His most controversial executive action is the travel ban that includes ban on anyone arriving from seven Muslim-majority countries (Libya, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and Sudan), suspension of refugee program for 120 days, and indefinite ban on Syrian refugees. This executive order that was not coordinated with other agencies causes chaos and confusion at airports in the U.S. and around the world, with some travelers detained and deported. It also sparks protests across the country. Dozens of lawsuits are filed against the order, with federal judges issuing temporary injunctions in several states to stop the deportations. The suits argue that the travel ban targets Muslims and is unconstitutional. (February 17): A federal judge in Seattle issues a temporary nationwide restraining order stopping the travel ban executive order.
What are presidential executive orders?
March 20 – United States / Canada
The Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations releases the 2017 World Happiness Report. Using the following variables—social support, freedom of choice, generosity, honesty, health, life expectancy, income and perceived corruption— the study ranks 155 countries based on the happiness of their people. It also analyzes the findings to explain why some countries are happier than others. According to the study, the happiest place is Norway followed by Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, and Canada. At the very bottom of the happiness list are countries from Sub-Saharan Africa and those hit by conflict, such as Syria and Yemen. Despite an improving economic performance and tripling incomes since 1960s, the U.S. happiness report fell from rank 3 in 2007 to 14. According to the study, rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust are the reasons for this decline.
Full World Happiness Report 2017
April 4 – United States
The Trump Administration withdraws its support and ends funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) claiming the organization is breaking the U.S. laws by supporting coercive abortion and sterilizations. UNFPA rejects the claim as erroneous and says it provides maternal and child health in more than 150 countries and helps with family planning. In just 2016, the organization saved the lives of 2,340 women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth; prevented 947,000 unintended pregnancies; ensured 1,251 fistula surgeries; and prevented 295,000 unsafe abortions. The UNFPA is funded with voluntary donations by governments from all regions. In 2015, the United States was its fourth-largest donor, contributing $75 million.
April 4 – United States
Syrian government forces attack the town of Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib province with toxic gas including sarin, killing at least 70 people. Hundreds of others suffer from the effects of the toxic chemicals. Sarin is a nerve agent, 20 times as deadly as cyanide. During this chemical attack, the town was under the control of one of the anti-government rebel groups, Tahrir al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government denies its involvement, but the international community says it has a proof of Assad’s involvement. (April 7): U.S. President Donald Trump orders a military strike on Al Shayrat Air Base from which Syrian government planes allegedly staged the attack. US warships launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, targeting aircraft, shelters and storage facilities. The U.S. strike is conducted without authorization from either the United States Congress or United Nations Security Council and it raises questions about its legality under the U.S. law as well as international law. Russia vetoes a proposed resolution that would condemn Syria for the chemical attack on its own people. Russia is President Bashar Assad’s ally.
For more on Syria’s gas attack.
April 15 – United States
North Korea stages a massive military parade to mark the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder and grandfather of current leader, Kim Jong-un. The parade shows off a wealth of new missiles and launchers. For the first time, the regime shows off two new intercontinental ballistic missile-sized canisters, a submarine-launched ballistic missile and a land-based version of the same. (April 16): North Korea attempts to launch a ballistic missile from the eastern port of Sinpo despite international condemnation and UN sanctions after several such tests in recent years. The test fails, as the missile explodes soon after launch. It contributes, however, to rising tensions between North Korea and the United States. (April 25): Amid the tense situation with North Korea, the United States sends a submarine to South Korea’s port of Busan. This nuclear-powered submarine is equipped with 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 60 special operations troops and mini subs.
April 30 – United States
In its April 2017 Report to the United States Congress, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) states that preventing insurgents from increasing their control of the country continues to be a challenge for the Afghan forces. Afghan forces now control 60 percent of the country and the Taliban 11 percent. General John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, says that he is particularly concerned about the high level of Afghan forces casualties. The Report also states that there are 8,300 U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan who mostly train, advise, and assist Afghan security forces. Between January 1, 2015 and March 30, 2017, a total of 33 U.S. military personnel were killed and 161 wounded in action. General Nicholson stresses the importance of the U.S. continued involvement in Afghanistan by arguing that the Afghanistan-Pakistan region has the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world and the U.S. counterterrorism mission there plays a key role in the U.S. national security.
Full SIGAR report.
June 1 – United States
U.S. President Donald Trump announces that he is withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement against the advice and appeals of many world leaders, scientists, big U.S. corporations, and major U.S. energy companies. President Trump characterizes the Paris Agreement as a bad deal for the U.S. that would cost the country in lost GDP and millions of jobs. In the past, he often referred to climate change as a hoax. International leaders widely condemn Trump’s decision and vow to continue to uphold the agreement without the U.S. In the United States, Disney’s chief executive Robert Iger and businessman Elon Musk resign as the White House advisors in protest of the decision, while governors of New York, California, Hawaii, and Washington vow to uphold the terms of the Paris Accord in their states. However, Republican congressional leaders and the coal industry welcome the move. Because the process of exiting the agreement is lengthy, the U.S. will not leave the Paris Agreement until 2020.
Further information on key aspects of the Paris Agreement from UNFCC.
More on the consequences of the U.S. leaving the Paris Agreement from NPR
June 5 – United States
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen, Egypt, and Libya’s eastern-based government abruptly cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of funding terrorism and links to Iran. They withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar and impose trade and travel bans. Qatar denies the accusation. Turkey and Iran strongly back Qatar in this regional diplomatic crisis. The United States President Donald Trump praises the decision of the Gulf countries’ isolation of Qatar contradicting the existing U.S. policy, while the Defense and State Departments remain neutral. Qatar is home to the biggest US air base in the Middle East, Al-Udeid, with 9,000 U.S. troops and support personnel. With Qatar’s assistance, the base plays a key role in the US-led operations against Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq. The root cause of this diplomatic crisis lies in the two-decade Saudi-Qatar rivalry, which has forces the countries in the region to take sides. About the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut, Qatar controls some of the world’s largest gas reserves, which expanded its economy from $8.1 billion in 1995 to an astonishing $210 billion in 2014. With the growing wealth, Qatar wants to play a bigger role in the region. (June 15): Qatar signs a $12 billion deal to buy F-15 fighters jets from the U.S. The deal is completed despite Qatar’s recent criticism by U.S. President Donald Trump for allegedly supporting terrorism. (June 23): Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain say they will lift sanctions if Qatar fulfills 13 demands in the next 10 days. These demands include closing Qatar’s Al Jazeera broadcaster, reducing relations with Iran, closing Turkey’s military base, and cutting its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Qatar rejects the demands.
How the Qatar, Saudi Arabia Rivalry Help Inflame the Middle East: Video (3:43 min) from The New York Times.
August 5 – United States
The United Nations Security Council unanimously passes a resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea for its repeated intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing in violation of previous UN resolutions. The new sanctions target the country’s main exports of coal, iron, lead, and seafood, as well as banks and joint ventures. They are meant to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. According to U.S Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, the sanctions could cost North Korea $1billion a year in revenue. North Korea threatens to retaliate by striking the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. (August 15): As an implementation of the UN sanctions, China imposes import bans on coal, iron, and seafood from North Korea. The country depends on China heavily for its trade, with over 90 percent of its exports going to China. (August 29): North Korea conducts a provocative ballistic missile testing by firing a missile over Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, which then crashes in the Pacific. The Japanese government prompts the residents to take cover. In defiance, North Korea vows more military operations in the Pacific. (September 5): Russian President Vladimir Putin says that pursuing more sanctions against North Korea is “useless” and calls for diplomatic solutions.
August 23 – United States
The United States announces that it withholds $195 million in military aid and cuts more than $95 million in other aid to Egypt due to concerns over its human rights record. This includes Egypt’s recent law regulating non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seen as a crackdown on dissenting civil society groups by controlling their activities and funding. In 2016, Egypt was the third largest recipient of aid from the United States, after Afghanistan and Israel.
More data on U.S. foreign aid
August 25 – United States
A category-four hurricane named Harvey, with the winds reaching 130 mph, makes landfall near Rockport, Texas in the United States and then creeps inland dumping a record 27 trillion gallons of water on Texas and Louisiana. It is expected to be one of the worst natural disasters in the U.S. history. Forty-seven people are confirmed dead so far, tens of thousands are forced to evacuate, and oil rigs shut down halting oil and gas production. The storm floods large areas of the U.S. 4th largest city of Houston. Some areas receive 48 inches of rain compared to an average yearly rainfall of 49.77 inches, causing catastrophic flooding. The costs of Hurricane Harvey are estimated at around $81-108 billion. Some predict Harvey to be the costliest hurricane in the U.S. history reaching $190 billion.
The intensity of the hurricane raises questions about whether climate change is playing a role. Although more studies need to be done, scientists point to some environmental changes. It has been found that climate change increases rainfall in hurricanes as a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, feeding more precipitation into all storms. Also, because warmer sea surface powers hurricanes, Harvey was able to progress from a tropical depression to a category-four hurricane in about 48 hours. At the time, sea surface temperature in the Gulf of Mexico was up to 2.7 – 7.2°F above average. Higher sea level also extends the storm surge driven by the hurricane.
How does Hurricane Harvey compare to other storms
Weather science and games for kids from the National Weather Service Education
September 7 – United States
The highest level category-five Hurricane Irma, with sustained wind speeds of 180 miles/h, roars through Caribbean countries and territories, hits the U.S. state of Florida, then weakens to a tropical storm as it moves through the state of Georgia and South Carolina. The hurricane cuts off power to large areas and causes massive destruction and flooding, especially in the Caribbean and Florida Keys, leaving millions without power. The storm will have a huge long-term economic impact on these areas. Estimates for the costs of Hurricane Irma range between $50 billion to $100 billion, just a few weeks after disastrous Hurricane Harvey estimated to be the costliest in US history with economic impact of $190 billion. According to FEMA, Hurricane Irma destroyed a quarter of the homes in the Florida Keys and badly damaged many more.
Hurricane Irma: Damage mapped
September 18 – Puerto Rico
Another category-five storm, Hurricane Maria, with sustaining winds of up to 175 m/h, roars through the Caribbean, hitting a small island of Dominica and then the US Virgin Islands. It causes widespread destruction and kills 34 people. (September 20): With winds as strong as 140 m/h, Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico, unleashing torrential rains, catastrophic flooding, and killing a dozen people. It causes widespread structural damage and knocks out power and telephone services across the entire island. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello described the hurricane as “the most devastating storm in a century” and said that Maria had hit the island’s electricity grid so badly that it could take months to restore power. Puerto Rico is the U.S. island territory with more than 3.3 million people who are U.S. citizens. The hurricane devastation makes Puerto Rico’s economic situation even harder. Approximately $123 billion in debt that has accumulated since the territory’s 2006 recession, Puerto Rico sought bankruptcy relief in federal court in May of this year.
In pictures: Dominica’s desolation ‘beyond imagination’
Puerto Rico profile
September 24 – United States
North Korea carries out its sixth nuclear test, threatens to fire off missiles towards the US island territory of Guam and says it might test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean. It is also believed that North Korea may have succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear weapon that could fit on an inter-continental missile. (September 25): North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho says that U.S. President Donald Trump declared war on North Korea by tweeting that North Korea “won’t be around much longer.” Ri says that “since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make all self-defensive counter measures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers at any time even when they are not yet inside the aerospace border of our country.” (September 28): In compliance with new sanctions by the United Nations against North Korea, in response to its latest nuclear test, China agrees to shut down North Korean companies operating in China, including joint Chinese-North Korean ventures. China, North Korea’s only major ally and main trading partner, has been under pressure to take action.
“The North Korean economy is actually growing despite sanctions” from Vox
October 1 – United States
64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada opens fire on a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada. From a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, Paddock sprays bullets for about 11 minutes killing 58 people and wounding over 500. It is the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Paddock is found dead in the hotel room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His motive is unknown. Paddock had 23 weapons in his room, with 12 rifles outfitted with a bump-fire stock, a legal device that allows a gun to fire ammunition at a rate of a fully automatic weapon. Police also found a cache of weapons and ammunition at Paddock’s home and car. The shooting reignites the debate about gun laws in the U.S.
America’s gun culture in 10 charts
Pros & Cons: Should More Gun Control Laws Be Enacted?
Five reasons US gun control won’t happen
Gun violence in America, explained in 17 maps and charts
October 12 – United States
The United States and Israel are withdrawing from the United Nations cultural organization UNESCO citing anti-Israel bias as a reason. Both are planning to exit as of December 2018 and establish observer missions instead. UNESCO is a body of the United Nations that promotes international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication. It is especially known for its designation of World Heritage Sites, locations with particular cultural significance.
“Here’s what UNESCO is and why the Trump administration just quit it” from Vox
October 26 – United States
To address the opioid crisis in the United States, President Donald Trump declares a nationwide public health emergency. This allows expanded access to telemedicine services, giving doctors the ability to prescribe medications to treat addiction to those in remote locations. It speeds the hiring process for medical professionals working on opioids, and allows funds in programs for dislocated workers and people with HIV/AIDS to be used to treat their addictions. The declaration, however, falls short of expected designation of national emergency — a step up from a public health emergency, which would have granted access to funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Both are forms of national emergency declarations, but the primary difference is the scope and funding. Also, public health emergencies expire after 90 days. Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaboration at Brandeis University’s Heller School, says that without funding for new addiction treatment, declaring a public health emergency isn’t enough.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), six out of ten drug overdose deaths in the U.S. involve an opioid. They include prescription opioid pain relievers, such as hydrocodone and methadone oxycodone, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and the illicit drug heroin. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses, and it is prescription opioids that increase this upsurge. 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010, yet there had not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reported.
Why opioids are such an American problem
November 10 – United States
During his five-nation trip to Asia, U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. In his address, President Trump attacks multilateralism, claiming lower trade barriers hurt American workers and lead to big trade deficits. He says his Administration prefers that the U.S. enter bilateral trade deals. His policy reverses the role of the United States that created many of the multilateral and free trade agreements for Asia in the past. This vacuum is being filled by China, a rising economic and political influence in the region, with President Xi Jinping speaking in support of free trade and globalization.
APEC is committed to reducing barriers to trade and investment among its 21 member-countries (2.8 billion people) from the Pacific region (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, United States, and Vietnam.) It represented 59 percent of world GDP and 49 percent of world trade in 2015. Between 1989 and 2015, APEC total trade has increased more than 6.7 times to $20 trillion. In the same years, trade by the rest of the world grew by 5.6 times. Thanks to APEC, GDP in the region increased from $19 trillion in 1989 to $42 trillion in 2015, while per capita income in the region rose by 74 per cent, lifting millions out of poverty and creating a growing middle class.
(November 11): A group of 11 countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam) revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without the United States under a new name of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Earlier this year, US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP claiming it would hurt US economic interests. This major multinational trade agreement guarantees tariff-free trade between the members, allowing their companies faster and better access to each other markets. The new deal still has to be signed and ratified by each country.
November 29 – United States
In defiance of international sanctions, North Korea successfully launches another intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasong-15, which flew higher than missiles previously tested and landed off the northern coast of Japan. The missile reached an altitude of 2,780 miles and flew the distance of 590 miles in 53 minutes. The height is important as missiles at higher altitude can travel longer distances on a lower trajectory. North Korea boasts that the new missile can now reach any part of the continental United States. Defending the launch, North Korea says it is a “responsible nuclear power” and it needs these strategic weapons to defend itself from “the U.S. imperialists’ nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat”. (November 30): U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley urges all countries to sever relations with North Korea. Russia, however, says that sanctions do not work and encourages diplomatic approach.
North Korea in nine charts
December 6 – United States
United States President Donald Trump announces the United States recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, reversing nearly seven decades of American foreign policy of neutrality on the matter. He also orders the preparations to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israel welcomes the move, saying Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for thousands of years. However, the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war, as the capital of the future Palestinian state. The move leaves the United States isolated as it is criticized by majority of international leaders, including the European Union, which says that its stance on the neutrality of Jerusalem will remain unchanged. According to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is supposed to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks. This unilateral decision of the U.S. sparks protests across the globe. (December 13): Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announces that the latest unilateral move by the United States disqualifies it from serving as peace broker in the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. He also suggests the United Nations should take over as a mediator. (December 21): The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passes a motion — 128 to 9 with 35 abstentions — condemning the unilateral decision by the United States to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Among the countries that voted in favor of the resolution are many traditional U.S. allies, such as the United Kingdom and France. Canada and Australia abstained.
How the U.S. lost its ability to mediate peace in the Middle East
Why Is Jerusalem a Controversial Capital? Video (01:47)
Jerusalem: Three religions, three families | Faith Matters: video (26:06)