On August 4, the administration of US President Donald J. Trump formally notified the United Nations (UN) of its intent to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, while a forthcoming report points to the increasing effects of climate change.

In providing formal notification, Trump confirmed his June announcement that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord. However, in line with Trump’s desire for a better deal, Washington stipulated that the United States would be willing to re-engage with the terms of the Accord on “terms more favorable to it.”

This move by the Trump administration raises more questions than it answers. Will the United States play a constructive role at COP23, the UN climate change conference in Bonn this fall, or will it be relegated to the sidelines? How will the rest of the world respond to US participation at COP23 and the 2018 Facilitative Dialogue to follow? More broadly, how will Washington engage in a process that is now driven by a framework (and a responsibility) for emissions reductions that it has rejected?

Adding to these questions, the administration’s official notification was followed by a reminder of just how real, and how serious, the implications of a changing climate are.

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Though incumbent Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has won the 2017 presidential election, the country remains on edge due to allegations of voter fraud by his opponent, Raila Odinga, which could plunge the country into post-election violence.

In 2007, a horrific spasm of post-election violence swept across Kenya when Odinga, who has made four bids for the presidency, contested his defeat, claiming the vote was rigged. Every few years since then, Africans and Africanists abroad have watched the approach of elections in Kenya with dread. Taken off guard by the violence that occurred in 2007, and then over-pessimistic about the next elections that occurred in 2013, the international community seems unable to correctly predict whether significant bloodshed will occur, turning every Kenyan election into a nail-biting event. This year’s elections have upheld that pattern.

According to the official results of the election, announced August 11, Kenyatta secured 54.27 percent of votes, while Odinga won 44.74 percent.  

Even before the final result was announced, Odinga’s opposition party announced that it would reject the results of the August 8 election if he did not win. Despite pressure from the international community, he has not yet conceded, claiming the votes were manipulated and urging supporters to stay home from work in protest. Odinga has provided no evidence for this claim – but he may not have to. Though the Western nations and international observers denied it at the time, the 2007 election was certainly rigged, and so the current denials by the same groups of officials are likely to ring hollow to Odinga's supporters. Amid the controversy surrounding election results and allegations of inaccuracies, post-election violence is a looming threat with historical precedents.

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White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller was right in one part of his polemic with CNN’s Jim Acosta on August 2:  the Statue of Liberty was not, in its origins, a celebration of immigration. But the statue’s meaning, its original intent so to speak, will not advance Miller’s or anyone’s nativist agenda. 

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US President Donald J. Trump should ratchet down his rhetoric on North Korea and instead devote his energy to working with the international community to isolate Pyongyang, according to the Atlantic Council’s Robert A. Manning.

“There is no imminent threat of attack from North Korea; there is no crisis,” said Manning, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. “This is all in Donald Trump’s head. I don’t see how we benefit from ratcheting up tensions.”

“It is irresponsible, dangerous, and counterproductive; and it is unfortunate because I think the actual thrust of the policy is going in the right direction,” he added.

Trump has steadily ratcheted up his rhetoric on North Korea. On August 10, he said his earlier vow to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s efforts to build and launch a nuclear weapon “wasn’t tough enough.” On August 11, Trump tweeted "military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely."

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Fake news has reared its ugly head in elections again—this time in Kenya. As East Africa’s most tech-savvy country went to the polls on August 8, its citizens were inundated with fake news that colored the campaign season and now threatens hard-won gains to prevent post-election violence.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his primary challenger, Raila Odinga, maintained large followings throughout the campaign season, and went to the polls with a razor-thin margin of popular support between them. As of August 10, Kenyatta claimed a strong lead, though Odinga casts doubt on those numbers.

An overwhelming majority of Kenyans encountered inaccurate news about both candidates during the run-up to the elections, one recent poll found, and nearly all Kenyans surveyed reported that the inaccuracies were deliberate.

In light of Kenya’s history, the aftermath of the country’s elections is arguably more important than the contest itself—in 2007, violence erupted after the results were announced, continuing for nearly two months and leading to more than 1,100 deaths. Now, the waiting begins, and early reports bear a concerning likeness to 2007: at least three people were killed by police amid opposition protests across the country.

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The United States, working with its allies, must gradually ramp up economic sanctions on Venezuela as part of a strategy to change Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s authoritarian behavior, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

“The goal of the sanctions is to change the calculus of President Maduro and his supporters… so they realize there are much more significant costs to his government pursuing these undemocratic steps,” said David Mortlock, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center. However, he added, “those sanctions must be accompanied by a clear narrative” of what the United States and the international community expects to see change.

“The end goal here is not the sanctions themselves but a negotiated diplomatic solution,” said Mortlock, adding that the cost to all governments, to the oil sector, and to the global economy, should Venezuela collapse due to unrest and economic recession, “is too great to simply step back and let Venezuela continue down this path.”  

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Atlantic Council’s Sean McFate warns against plan that would rely more on military contractors

A proposal that would have the United States rely more heavily on private military contractors instead of US troops, and install what would essentially be a US viceroy in Afghanistan, is an example of “reckless foreign policy,” according to Sean McFate, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

Erik Prince, the founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater and the brain behind the proposal, says it will reduce the cost of America’s longest war and allow the United States to shrink its troop presence in Afghanistan.

McFate agrees that what the plan has going for it is that contractors are cheaper than US troops. Nevertheless, he added, there are serious problems with Prince’s proposal, the first being that it is “deeply un-American.”

“Using a neocolonial model to ‘fix’ Afghanistan is preposterous,” said McFate, a former private military contractor who has worked in Africa.

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Iran’s recent aggression toward US forces in the Persian Gulf may be part of a strategy among the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other hardline elements to goad Trump into a rash decision on the nuclear deal that earns them a political payday.  

On August 8, Iran flew a drone within one hundred feet of a US fighter jet attempting to land aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. The US F/A-18 was forced to change course to avoid the unarmed drone. This was the third incidence of unprofessional Iranian behavior toward US forces in the Gulf in as many weeks, following two buzzing incidents involving the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Navy on July 25 and 29.

In light of Trump’s antagonistic view of Tehran and his outspoken criticism of the Iran nuclear deal, notably expressed days before the first buzzing, the three naval incidents raise questions as to why Iran is provoking the United States in the Gulf.

One possibility is that, given political dynamics in Iran and the United States, these incidents are part of a sustained effort by Iran’s hardliners to increase tensions with the Trump administration. These hardliners, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his clerical supporters, the IRGC, and the judiciary, could see an opportunity to leverage Trump’s well-publicized aspirations for doing away with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the landmark nuclear deal between the P5+1 countries and Iran.

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Modern-day warfare is as much about cyberattacks and the protection of communication and information systems as it is about kinetic military action. In 2016, NATO’s institutional networks experienced on average 500 cyberattacks a month—an increase of roughly 60 percent from the year before. Other recent, high-profile, transnational cyberattacks, such as the WannaCry ransomware attack and Petya, highlight the urgent need for NATO and its member states to develop strong cybesecurity capabilities.

Although NATO has been working toward a more comprehensive cybersecurity policy, there are two major challenges with its current strategy. The current plan places cyberattacks within the scope of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty and the concept of collective defense, thus, creating high thresholds for engagement. In addition, it allows for mainly defensive and reactive measures, leaving less room for preventive or offensive operations.

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Beijing’s disregard for twenty-year-old agreement raises questions about Hong Kong’s future

Beijing’s disregard for an agreement that ensures Hong Kong’s basic freedoms raises doubts about the future of democracy in this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

On July 1, 1997, the United Kingdom (UK) handed Hong Kong back to China, ending 150 years of British colonial rule. On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of that occasion, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which stipulated how Hong Kong would be governed after the handover, “no longer has any practical significance.”

Twenty years after the declaration entered into force, and thirty years before its expiration, the agreement is far from insignificant. It produced the “one country, two systems” arrangement between China and Hong Kong. This arrangement has ensured Hong Kong’s ability to govern under democratic principles, while remaining tied to the Chinese mainland.

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