What Explains the Russia-Ukraine Conflict?

Public protests against governments are common. But it’s unusual when a neighbouring country takes advantage of the protests and invades. That’s what happened to Ukraine in 2014, when demonstrations in the capital city of Kiev prompted Russia to attack. Within weeks, Russian soldiers seized thousands of square miles of Ukrainian territory, including the strategic Crimean peninsula. They are still there. Ukraine’s government is no longer sovereign over all of Ukraine. How did this happen?

Why is Brazil So Good at Soccer?

Ask soccer fans which team they want to see play before they die and many will say Brazil. In their yellow shirts and blue shorts, Brazil has earned the reputation of playing attractive soccer more consistently than anyone else. When Brazilians dubbed soccer “o jogo bonito,” the beautiful game, it wasn’t just an aspiration. Brazil also wins. The team’s reward for making football more about art than science has been more World Cup trophies than any other nation and the highest winning percentage of any national team. How did Brazil get so good?

Why is Malaysia Split in Two?

Which is the strangest looking country in the world? Contenders include the United States (think of Alaska and Hawaii), Papua New Guinea (shouldn’t it have the whole island?), Gambia (what’s it like to be entirely surrounded by another country?), and the United Kingdom (what’s with Northern Ireland?). The winner, however, might be Malaysia. It looks like a piece of fruit sliced in two, its two halves separated by 650 kilometers of water. Neither part covers all the relevant geography—the western half shares the peninsula with Thailand and Singapore, while the eastern half covers only a quarter of the island of Borneo. Nor does this unusual arrangement have the weight of history behind it—Malaysia in its current form dates back only to the 1960’s. How did Malaysia get the borders it has today?

Why is German Manufacturing So Good?

For years, Audi advertisements have used the slogan “Vorsprung durch Technik.” Only a fraction of the millions who have read or heard the words know what they mean (“Progress through technology,” is the answer). The ad campaign works because people associate German design and manufacturing with quality, precision, and technical brilliance. Whether it’s Carl Zeiss lenses, BMW motorcycles, Bosch dishwashers, or Lamy pens, people buy German with the expectation of excellence. How did Germany get so good at manufacturing?

Why are Terrorists Attacking Kenya?

When people imagine Kenya, most think of safari parks filled with lions, leopards, and wildebeest. That may change, however, if Kenya continues to be the scene of sickening terror attacks. Tourist numbers are already down. People are worried that the lions won’t be the only predators they encounter on their trip.

What's the Difference Between Sunni and Shia Muslims?

Curiosity is a good quality, but what about when it is prompted by violence? Such is often the case with ethnic and religious divisions. It would be nice if people were intrinsically interested in the difference between Catholics and Protestants or Hutus and Tutsis, but most aren’t. It sometimes take a tragedy to make people curious. Sadly, that’s the case for the divide between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. The cycle of violence between them has been going on for more than a thousand years. What caused the bitter divide?

What Explains the Tension Between Taiwan and China?

The road from Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport to the capital, Taipei, looks like the sort of highway you would see anywhere else. However, in Taiwan, things are not always what they seem. Sections of this road double as runways. They aren’t normally used for planes, but they are ready in case Chinese missiles ever destroy the country’s conventional airstrips. Cruise missiles stand ready in unmarked trucks. City neighbourhoods hide tanks. There is a hollowed-out mountain with room for on hundred fighter jets. The shoreline boasts an oil-filled pipeline ready to greet invaders with a wall of fire. Taiwan has good reason to be nervous.

Why is Russia So Big?

If you visit russianrailways.com, you can buy a ticket from Moscow to Vladivostok. It’s a journey of almost 6,000 miles that takes you across eight time zones all the way to the Pacific Ocean in seven days. Russia is much larger than any other country. The next three biggest—Canada, the USA, and China—are less than 60% its size. Why is Russia so big?

Why is the Israel-Palestine Conflict So Hard to Resolve?

“Look, this isn’t rocket science!” We hear the phrase from teachers when they want their students to know when an issue isn’t that complex. But there’s a problem with this phrase: it implies that rocket science represents the ceiling of human intelligence, and in using it we leave our rocket scientist professors without a complex problem of their own to which they can refer. So here’s a phrase that might be helpful: “Look, this isn’t the Israeli-Palestinian conflict!” Is it really that bad?

Why Are There Protests in Venezuela?

Daniela Ruiz rubbed her wet eyes and drank some more of her coffee. She was reading about yesterday’s demonstration on social media and in the international press. There was no point checking Venezuelan media—they had to be favourable to Maduro’s government so would either ignore the protests or make up some false story. But Daniela had been on the street yesterday and seen the blood. Her country had more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia but last year food had been so scarce that 75% of the population lost weight.

Why Don't Cuba and the USA Like Each Other?

For more than fifty years now, the US and Cuba have snarled at each other across the Florida Straits. Havana is one of the few airports in the world won’t come up on expedia. American credit cards don’t work there. US law prohibits all trade with the island—the United Nations has regularly said this is illegal, but the American government doesn’t care. The bad blood is thick and old. Why?