It can be difficult to keep up with politics on the international stage, especially with so many key players and moving parts. We live in an increasingly international world, where it is simply not enough to know who the leader of your country is. While that is critical, your president is going to be interacting with world leaders from allied nations and nations we have more tense relationships with. While the United States obviously interacts with almost every country on earth, there are world leaders that make the US news cycle more frequently than others. To help you understand these leaders and our relationship with them, here’s a breakdown of the world leaders you HAVE to know.
Emmanuel Macron, President of France
The newly elected president of France made waves when he won, and his handshakes with Donald Trump have been much studied, but even though Macron and Trump don’t agree on everything, the US-France alliance stretches back to the very foundations of our nation, and isn’t going anywhere. Macron is part of the “En Marche” movement in France and at only 39, a ripe young leader. The French president serves a five-year term. You can learn more about him here.
Moon Jae-In, President of South Korea
64-year-old Moon Jae-In is the current president of South Korea who was elected to the office after President Park Geun-hye was impeached in early 2017. He is associated with the Democratic Party of South Korea and has a military background and worked as a human rights lawyer. Moon Jae-In is a key figure in the issues with North Korea as their country is under constant threat from their northern neighbor. Their next presidential election is in 2022. Learn more about him here.
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
In power since 2005, Angela Merkel has been a constant face on the world stage for over a decade. US-Germany relations are steady and solid, despite political differences among the leaders. She is the first female chancellor and the leader of the Christian Democratic Union. During her tenure in office, she has advocated for increased immigration into the country and for green energy. Merkel is up for election again this fall. You can learn more about her here.
Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran
69-year-old Rouhani has been the president of Iran since 2013 and is associated with the Moderation and Development Party though he has a cleric background. Though tensions with Iran and the US have always been touchy, they seemingly improved under Obama and the 2013 call between the two leaders was the first conversation between a leader of the US and Iran since 1979. Rouhani has been critical of Trump’s assessment of the Iran Nuclear Deal as an “embarrassment” and it is well-accepted in the US and abroad that Iran is a leading state sponsor of terror. Learn more about him here.
Kim Jong-Un, Leader of North Korea
The leader of North Korea is always in the news for his missile launches, threats to the US, killing of his own citizens, et cetera, so you’ve probably heard about him. Of course, the US and North Korea aren’t allies, but we aren’t quite at war. He is a relatively young leader, only 33, but took over when his father, Kim Jong-Il died in 2010. He is widely considered a dictator and continues to live a more secretive life while keeping his country from prospering by closing it off to the world. You can learn more about him here.
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
The Prime Minister of Canada has become something of a cover boy, thanks to his good looks and charisma. The 45-year-old leader is the head of the Liberal Party of Canada and maintains good relations with the US. Domestically, he has expressed his intent to end Canada’s involvement in Iraq, legalize marijuana, and accept increased numbers of refugees. You can learn more about him here. He will be up for election again in the fall of 2019.
Enrique Pena Nieto, President of Mexico
51-year-old Enrique Pena Nieto has been the president of Mexico since 2012 and is associated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party. His administration has been tainted by some of the same issues we’ve heard about from American leaders on the issue of Mexico, including the violent drug trade and gangs, government overstepping, and more. One of the highlights of his administration has been his work on strengthening the automobile industry. Read more about him here.
Xi Jinping, President of China
China is one of those nations that the US has a friendly but tenuous relationship with. As Trump has said numerous times, he is not happy with China’s handling, or lack thereof, of North Korea and the imbalance of trade between the two nations. The Chinese president is Xi Jinpinng, the 64-year-old leader of the Communist Party in China. While he is democratically elected, communism has been a foe of the United States for decades. You can learn more about Jinping here. There is no set date for the next presidential election.
Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines
72-year-old Rodrigo Duterte became the president of the Philippines in 2016 after serving several terms as mayor of Davao City. His campaign was saturated with headline-making comments about massacring criminals and drug addicts by the millions. Contrary to past alliances, Duterte has also indicated his intention to side with China over the United States, which concerned many. The next presidential election will be held in 2022. Learn more about him here.
Vladimir Putin, President of Russia
How could we make this list and not include Putin, the leader of Russia? There are increased tensions due to their role in Syria and the election meddling of 2016. Putin served as president from 2000 to 2008 and was re-elected in 2012. He has drawn criticism for his anti-gay regulations and annexation of Crimea, among other things. The US-Russia relationship is always evolving, as sanctions were recently voted on in Congress against the nation. Learn more about Putin here
Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria
52-year-old Bashard al-Assad has been the President of Syria since July of 2000, succeeding his father in the position and is associated with the Ba’ath Party. When he became president, which required a lowering of the required age so he could take office, many had high hopes for his tenure in office as he promised to one day bring democracy to Syria. As you might know, Syria is currently involved in a civil war that has left many refugees fleeing the country for surrounding nations. In 2013, it was rumored, and eventually became clear, that al-Assad had used chemical weapons against his people, something condemned worldwide. Recently, after news of more chemical weapon usage came out, Trump ordered airstrikes on a Syrian airbase, which has become a touchy subject as Russia and Iran are both Syrian allies. Learn more about al-Assad here.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey
Turkey is a US ally, though tensions among Turkey and other countries have been causing potential strains on the relationship. President Erdogan has been in his position since 2014, and his tenure has included surviving a coup and attempts to silence the opposition in the press. He previously served as the Prime Minister of Turkey and is said to be a very religious man. The next Turkish presidential election is in 2019. You can learn more about him here.
Ram Nath Kovind, President of India
In July 2017, 71-year-old Ram Nath Kovind became the 14th President of India. The former Governor of Bihar and Indian representative at the United Nations is an important figure to watch as the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir continues. Though we don’t know much about Kovind on an international stage yet, it is reassuring that he has a storied legal career in his country and that he has been making trips to disputed regions and honoring certain dignitaries like the Tibetan Dalai Lama. Learn more about Kovind here.
Theresa May, Prime Minister of Britain
The first female prime minister since Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May was elected to help lead Brexit and deal with increased terrorism in Britain. With the Revolutionary War behind us, the US and Britain are allies, but Trump has yet to make an official state visit to May and Queen Elizabeth II. She is the leader of the Conservative Party, supports Brexit, is hard on terrorism, and supports same-sex marriage. It is unclear when the next election will be, as May called an early general election this past June. You can learn moreabout May here.
Mamnoon Hussain, President of Pakistan
Like with India, it is important to be knowledgeable about Pakistani leadership. 76-year-old Hussain has been in office since 2013 and is serving a five-year term. His other political leadership roles include a governorship of the Sindh province which ended with a military coup in 1999. Recently, Hussain has spoken out about terrorism, which plagues his country as well as many others, saying “Terrorists have no religion” and that “his “nation wants the menace of terrorism to end completely.” Learn more about him here.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel
Israel is one of our closest allies, and Trump has worked hard to fix any fissures that Obama might have created in that relationship. The US-Israel relationship will continue to be critical as Israel defends itself in the Middle East and acts as a deterrent to terrorist organizations. Netanyahu has been Prime Minister since 2009 and will be up for re-election again in the fall of 2018, though he is not term-limited. You can learnmore about him here.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, President of Zimbabwe