Romanian President Klaus Iohannis will host leaders from a dozen Central European nations in Bucharest on September 17 and 18 for a summit that provides the opportunity to increase the region’s prosperity and energize its decades-long quest to fully integrate with the West.

Besides Central European heads of state and government, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, and the US Energy Secretary Rick Perry will participate in this year’s Three Seas Summit.

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Predicting a hurricane’s potential impact is a complex endeavor, based on a range of factors including geography, storm surge, rainfall, gale diameter, storm speed, wind speed, and many others. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale—adopted in the wake of Hurricane Camille in 1973 to help communicate hurricane risks to the public in a more understandable way and later simplified—is derived solely from wind speed, however. 

While Saffir-Simpson provides a useful shorthand, it cannot capture the full magnitude of damage that a potential hurricane may inflict.  In fact, twelve of the thirty-six most damaging storms to make landfall in the United States since 1950 have been Category 1 or 2 storms, and many of these hurricanes were accompanied by significant storm surges and floods.

Hurricane Florence, currently a Category 2 as it makes its final approach to the Carolina coastline, still has the potential to inflict severe damage.

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The so-called peace deal between South Sudan’s warring parties is in fact a “desperate play” by the country’s two main political actors to fend off international sanctions and extend their hold on power, according to J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, and his main political rival, Riek Machar, signed an agreement in Addis Ababa on September 12 that attempts to end the country’s five-year civil war. Tens of thousands have been killed and millions displaced in the conflict that erupted as a result of the Kiir-Machar rivalry.

“Most of the key issues that have been at the heart of the conflict have been ambiguously addressed—if they have been addressed at all,” said Pham.

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Challenge posed by ISIS affiliate must be addressed

The message from Washington these days appears to be that severing the link between the Taliban and Pakistan is the silver bullet for peace in Afghanistan. It is, however, simplistic to portray the Taliban as the only insurgent group in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the only relevant outside actor. While the Taliban might be the insurgent group with the most sympathizers and members, there are other groups active in Afghanistan that may not be influenced by Pakistan. An enduring peace in Afghanistan is only possible if it involves a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and addresses the challenge posed by these other insurgent groups.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to appoint Zalmay Khalilzad as his Afghan envoy, tasked with mediating between the Taliban and Kabul, might help bring Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government and at least some factions of the Taliban together. Khalilzad has walked a fine line between Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups in the past. He helped effectively form the country’s first post-Taliban government and organized the country’s first post-Taliban elections.

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US President Donald J. Trump on September 12 issued a new executive order (EO) authorizing sanctions in response to interference in US elections, likely as an attempt to stave off two bipartisan bills circulating in the Senate that would mandate significant sanctions against Russia. The EO is a mixed bag; it directs cabinet officials to produce reports on interference following every US federal election—a good step toward showing seriousness—but the sanctions in the EO do not substantially change the status quo, especially from the perspective of providing an effective deterrent to Russian aggression. 

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Russia is using the same disinformation playbook to sow doubt about the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter as it did in the case of Alexander Litvinenko’s death, Marina Litvinenko, the slain Russian intelligence officer’s widow, said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on September 11.

Russian authorities are now “trying to use a case of Alexander Litvinenko to destroy the future case of Yulia and Sergei Skripal,” Marina Litvinenko said. Alexander Litvinenko died in London in November 2006 after being exposed to radioactive polonium-210, allegedly given to him in a cup of tea. Litvinenko had emigrated to the United Kingdom in 2000 after serving for almost two decades in Soviet intelligence and then eventually Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).

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At a time when the Taliban are gaining ground in Afghanistan, Afghan government losses are mounting, and regional partners’ views on the conflict are shifting, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has not given in to pessimism. On a September 7 visit to Kabul, Mattis expressed optimism about the existence of “a framework” and “open lines of communications” between US diplomats and Qatar-based Taliban representatives that he believes might lead to an intra-Afghan reconciliation process that would end nearly two decades of war. He also reassured Kabul’s leadership that the United States will stand by the Afghans until there is lasting peace and stability.

What remains uncertain at this point, however, are the answers to two overarching questions: How will key regional stakeholders—Pakistan, Russia, Iran, China, and India—manage shifting interests and threat perceptions at a time when the United States is pushing for a peace deal, and is there a contingency plan if talks fail?

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In June this year, Africa’s longest-running conflict appeared to come to a sudden end as Abiy Ahmed, the newly-installed prime minister of Ethiopia, made a compelling peace overture to his counterpart in neighboring Eritrea. After a couple of short meetings with Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, peace was summarily declared. Parades were held, banners festooned both capitals, and the habitually cheery Abiy and the often surly Isaias were photographed arm in arm, with broad smiles on their faces.

A series of historical reversals then occurred: telephone lines were unblocked for the first time in decades, airplanes started flying between Asmara and Addis Ababa, and families that had been separated for twenty years—since 1998, when the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia broke out— were joyously reunited.

History was made again on September 11 as Abiy and Isaias ceremoniously reopened several border crossings, including at the Debay Sima-Burre border point, which sits on the road to the Eritrean port of Assab. Opening this crossing will give Ethiopian exports new access to the Red Sea, with economic dividends in store for both countries.

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In the early hours of September 12, 2001, as the world was coming to grips with the enormity of the events of the day before, US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was busy working the phones. She discussed with the United States’ NATO allies the possibility of doing something never done before in the history of the Alliance: the invocation of Article 5 on collective defense.

Daniel Fried was working at the National Security Council and in Rice’s office at the time. He recalls Rice’s conversation with her French counterpart. “We need this,” she said.

By the evening of September 12, less than twenty-four hours after al Qaeda terrorists hijacked and crashed commercial airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, the allies invoked Article 5 in an act of solidarity with the United States. Then NATO Secretary General George Robertson informed United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan of the Alliance's decision.

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Seven years after the first protests against Bashar al-Assad, the dictator in Damascus is not only still standing, but is reconsolidating control over most of Syria. The war has killed hundreds of thousands, sent millions of refugees streaming into neighboring countries and as far as Europe and the United States, and spun-off proxy wars that have pit the United States against regional powers and strained Washington’s relations with its allies.

Although the United States is winding down its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in one of the many offshoots of the current conflict, Atlantic Council resident senior fellow Faysal Itani and Nate Rosenblatt argue that Syria represents a resounding defeat for Washington, not a victory. While other actors within and outside of Syria certainly deserve much of the blame for the conflict’s brutality and duration, “the United States was the international actor with the greatest capacity to alter events in Syria, deliberately or not, and its actions deserve special scrutiny,” Itani and Rosenblatt write in a new issue brief for the Atlantic Council, “US Policy in Syria: A Seven-Year Reckoning,” released on September 11.

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