French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision not to invite the United States to a recent climate action summit in Paris sends a clear message that other countries will happily step into the void the United States has created.

Two years after the signing of the Paris Agreement, Macron once again convened climate leaders in France’s capital to call for global climate action at the One Planet Summit on December 12. In a nod to 2015, heads of state and ministers from countries around the world, along with representatives from multilateral development banks, international organizations, and the private sector gathered in Paris to focus on challenges related to climate adaption, mitigation, and mobilization.  

However, unlike 2015, one country was noticeably absent—the United States. As a result of US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the climate agreement, the administration did not receive an invitation. Further, it has expressed little interest in participating in the growing global conversation—and action—on climate change.

Read More

Diplomatic negotiations with "no preconditions" will be the US approach to solving the problem of North Korea, while working in concert with friends and allies, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council on December 12.

“We’re ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk,” said Tillerson, “and we’re ready to have the first meeting without preconditions.”

“Let’s just meet and let’s – we can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face?” he added.

Read More

The attack on United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by lesser-known violent extremists called the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) indicates that the group poses a more serious threat than previously believed as it continues to ratchet up its activity in region, capitalizing on the persistent political instability in the DRC, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

“If this attack was indeed carried out by the so-called Allied Democratic Forces, it is signals an escalation in the group’s violence that is not surprising given that it has, over the course of the last year or two, been ratcheting up its activity, fueled not only by possible links with other jihadist organizations, but also the failure of governance in the Congo,” said J. Peter Pham, vice president for regional initiatives and director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

Pham added: “While the political crisis in the country and the dire humanitarian tragedy…are not linked directly to the threat of jihadist extremism, the latter can certainly exploit the former.”

On December 7, fifteen United Nations (UN) peacekeepers were killed and fifty-three injured in an attack on a UN operating base in North Kivu, a remote region of the DRC bordering Rwanda and Uganda. Due to political instability, humanitarian concerns, and increasing security risks, the UN operation in the DRC is the largest of its fifteen missions, with over 22,000 personnel serving in the country. The blue helmets at the North Kivu base are part of a rapid intervention force with an offensive mandate, rare to the UN. Its forces are composed primarily of troops from Tanzania.

After an investigation, the UN identified the ADF as the militants behind the attack. " I would take the mission’s assignment of blame very seriously," said Pham.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack on peacekeepers as a war crime, noting it is the worst such attack in the UN's history. In response to the violence, he said: "I condemn this attack unequivocally.” According to Guterres, "these deliberate attacks against UN peacekeepers are unacceptable and constitute a war crime. I call on the DRC authorities to investigate this incident and swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice. There must be no impunity for such assaults, here or anywhere else."

However, Pham noted, this is not the ADF's first such attack on UN personnel, “especially since UN forces have joined Congolese military personnel in more robust operations against the group.” He described how, “in September, one peacekeeper died when fighters from the group assaulted a different UN post, while two others were killed in separate incidents in October.”

“The ADF has been around for more than two decades, most of that time largely ignored by all but the local communities whose lives it impinged on,” said Pham. However, he cautioned, over the years, “the group has carved out a sliver of territory in the eastern part of the Congo where…it has built up a fighting force which a UN committee of experts estimated several years ago to number upwards of 2,500.” Noting the ADF’s reported links over the years to broader jihadist networks such as al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda, Pham warned that the ADF constitutes an escalating threat which must be taken seriously, especially in light of the political turmoil in the DRC. 

Pham called attention to the security risks posed by the ADF in a congressional testimony in 2015, during which he noted: “The better-known terrorist threats…are not the only ones out of Africa that should be of concern; in fact, as past experience has shown, emergent challenges call out for perhaps even greater attention precisely because they are so poorly known, much less understood, but nevertheless can, as has been seen, evolve very quickly.”

“While it is too early to say whether the ADF will present as significant of a challenge as other jihadist groups in Africa," Pham said in response to the December 7 attack, "one cannot help but notice that this analytical myopia was what we witnessed with al-Shabaab in the first years of the twenty-first century and with Boko Haram a decade later – in both cases with terrible strategic and humanitarian consequences.”

While the ADF’s ramping up of violent attacks in the DRC poses serious humanitarian and security risks, the country’s political crisis adds another dimension to this complex threat.

The DRC has been plagued with political instability for years under the rule of its sitting president, Joseph Kabila. Defying his constitutional mandate, Kabila has retained his grip on power for nearly a year after his second (and last) five-year term expired in December 2016. Under the terms of a peace agreement brokered when he did not step down from office, the Kabila government has agreed to hold elections at the end of 2017, a timeline that the regime recently extended until the end of 2018. However, said Pham: “Few expect that promise to be kept.”

“In fact,” he added, “I know some members of the political opposition and civil society representatives even suspect the regime of encouraging attacks by groups like the ADF in order to use the violence as a pretext for delaying a transition.”

Such beliefs testify to the lack of trust in the Congolese body politic, “thus creating,” according to Pham, “precisely the context in which groups like the ADF can thrive.”

While in his 2015 testimony Pham noted that the ADF did not at the time pose a significant threat to the United States, its allies, or its interests abroad, he said “the international community needs to address the burgeoning threat.”

Earlier this year, in another separate congressional testimony, Pham cautioned: “There is a recurring trope that emerges time and again: terrorism in Africa generally gets short shrift and, when attention is focused on specific groups or situations that appear to be emerging challenges, the threat is either dismissed entirely or minimized—until the ‘unthinkable’ happens and tragedy strikes.”

Rachel Ansley is an editorial assistant at the Atlantic Council.
The promise of foreign reconstruction aid will not induce cooperation from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is why international efforts to rebuild the war-ravaged country should focus on local solutions, removed from the regime’s sphere of influence, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

“A regime that would rather have gone through what it had to go through over the past six years… than [share] political power… is not going to do so if we offer them money,” said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

Among others, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, has deemed reconstruction funding the last bit of leverage Western nations still hold over the Assad regime. However, Itani said: “I don’t see it.” He said Assad would disrupt and manipulate any effort to rebuild in territories controlled by the regime.

Read More

Recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli capital does not advance the interests of the United States or the region, said James Cunningham, a former US ambassador to Israel

US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to reverse almost seven decades of US policy and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is “potentially, a pretty serious mistake,” said James B. Cunningham, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

If you’re going to upend decades of US policy, it ought to be for a good reason and for a significant political and diplomatic gain. I don’t see that either of those two are attained here,” said Cunningham, who served as the United States' ambassador to Israel from 2008-2011.

Trump’s announcement will boost the Israeli position, “but it doesn’t change the reality that the status of Jerusalem as a capital for Israel and the Palestinians is a core issue for negotiations that will need to be addressed no matter what we say,” he added.

Read More

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the US Congress in November prioritizes investments in homeland missile defense. US President Donald J. Trump has called for a “state-of-the-art” missile defense system and this new defense budget begins to take steps in that direction.

Read More

The International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s historic decision to ban Russia’s Olympic team from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is a welcome action on the part of the committee, according to Atlantic Council analysts.

“Whether it’s violating arms control treaties, breaching peace agreements, or cheating in sports competitions, Russia’s leadership must start facing the consequences of its systematic abuse of international norms,” said Michael Carpenter, a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

“Such behavior cannot be tolerated in any arena, and this decision sends a clear message in that regard,” he added.

Read More

The death of Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, at the hands of his former Houthi allies will weaken the Iranian-backed rebels, according to Nabeel Khoury, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“The demise of Saleh now actually weakens the Houthis' military and makes them less acceptable politically inside Yemen,” said Khoury, adding, “it was not a very wise move on [the Houthis’] part.” Khoury served as deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Yemen from 2004 to 2007.

Read More

Balkan officials on November 29 made a pitch for deeper US and European Union (EU) engagement with the region, noting that its stability is critical for a peaceful Europe.

“Without a stable Balkans, there is no stable Europe,” said Srdjan Darmanović, Montenegro’s foreign minister.

Albania’s foreign minister, Ditmir Bushati, highlighted US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent remark that Europe should write the next chapter of its history in its own words. He said: “I hope this is instigating more solidarity within the European Union, but what we learned from the last twenty-five years is that American presence in our neighborhood, in Europe, is indispensable.”

Read More

The solution to persistent problems in the Balkans lies with the region’s people, particularly the youth who can catalyze economic reforms and drive the countries of Southeastern Europe toward a vibrant, entrepreneurial economy.

The key, according to US Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), is rolling back government regulations in order to “spark entrepreneurial zeal.” That spark, said Johnson, is essential for the Balkans—a region with “so many opportunities.”

Speaking at the Atlantic Council’s conference—“A Coming Storm? Shaping a Balkan Future in an Era of Uncertainty”—on November 29, Johnson said: “You need a government regulation system to set the rules of the road… but you don’t need much more than that.” The real source of economic dynamism lies with the entrepreneurs and owner-operated businesses, who, according to Johnson, have the ability to change the region for the better and begin to induce more foreign direct investment (FDI).

Read More