The United States must seize the opportunity presented by a Chinese initiative that envisions the creation of land and sea routes that will span three continents and link more than sixty countries, according to experts who participated in a panel discussion at the Atlantic Council on October 4.

Making the case for engagement with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Gal Luft, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, said: “[The BRI] is a generational project and it will take a long time,” but, “the US needs to engage now.”

“We don’t have to agree to every component of the Belt and Road… we don’t have to buy into the whole package,” he added.

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The controversial conditions surrounding Catalonia’s recent independence referendum show that a unilateral declaration of independence does not embody the will of the people, no matter how much Catalan nationalists claim otherwise. 

Long-standing tensions between the Spanish government and the Spanish region of Catalonia rose to a climax on October 1 as Catalans went to the polls in an independence referendum deemed illegal by Spain’s constitutional court and the European Union. Rather than a clear mandate for Catalan independence, the referendum revealed a deeply divided society, and the lack of a clear and legal path to secession from Spain. 

Voting statistics from the referendum indicate a lack of sweeping support for an independent Catalonia. Although two million Catalans backed independence, a larger majority (58 percent of those eligible to vote) did not participate in the referendum. The vote was also plagued by irregularities and lacked essential guarantees, such as a neutral administration, equal opportunity process, or statutory legislation, in a clear violation of the rules for such plebiscitary votes set forth by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission.

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The rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is unwelcome news for Germany’s minorities, particularly its four-million-plus Muslim community.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s re-election to a fourth term in office on September 24 was marred by the fact that the AfD made history by becoming the first nationalist political party to win seats in Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, since World War II. 

Germany, along with France, is home to the largest number of Muslims in Europe. This community is relatively well integrated in society, despite claims from the far-right that Islam is an obstacle to integration.

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s audacious plan for “profound” changes to the European Union’s (EU) structure will leave Malta uneasy over the prospect of Europe meddling in its policies on taxation and defense.

An ardent supporter of the EU, Malta has a tax regime that has always made the country leery of the EU’s desire to encroach on its taxation policy.

Macron, in his address at the Sorbonne University in Paris on September 26, suggested greater harmonization of Europe’s tax policies. This, he said, could be achieved through the introduction of a Common Corporate Tax Base (CCTB) and a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB).

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Catalonia’s controversial independence referendum has left Spain with many unanswered questions and an unclear path forward, according to Carles Castello-Catchot, chief of staff in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

On October 1, the regional government of Catalonia in northern Spain went ahead with a referendum that Spain’s constitutional court had deemed illegal. A majority of the 2.3 million people who voted in the referendum favored independence for Catalonia. The Catalan government has announced it will move forward with a declaration of independence forty-eight hours after the election.

The competing narratives have left the country “in a legal black hole where everything is up for discussion,” Castello-Catchot said in a Facebook Live interview on October 2. 

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Catalonia would lose membership of the European Union (EU) if it were to declare independence from Spain—a development that would have serious economic consequences for this affluent region, according to the Atlantic Council’s Fran Burwell.

“That means barriers will go up immediately; no free movement for people who have Catalan passports; no free movement of goods of services to and from Catalonia; their relationship with the euro will be suspect, like Kosovo which uses the euro with no legal power to do so; there would be no common agricultural policy money for Catalonia,” said Burwell, painting a dire scenario that, she believes, has not been given adequate consideration in the Catalan people’s headlong rush toward independence.

Noting that she has never seen a poll that shows Catalans want to leave the EU, Burwell, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, added: “The fact that we did not have a debate about what this actually means is, I think, a bad thing. It’s just this dream of independence that’s out there without actually thinking what it would entail.”

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As outrage grows over the federal government’s slow response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, it is fair to ask why this effort seems halting compared to that for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida. Why was the United States able to move within hours to help Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, but our effort to assist Puerto Rico, a US territory, seems to have taken a week to get off the ground? Politics aside, the devastation Maria caused in Puerto Rico puts the spotlight on four fundamentals of disaster response in the United States.

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On September 14, Russia commenced not only the Zapad 2017 military exercise, it simultaneously (and in contravention of the spirit of many arms control accords), launched an exercise for the nuclear-armed Northern Fleet and a joint exercise with the Chinese navy in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan. 

North Korea can now evidently miniaturize nuclear warheads to fit atop delivery vehicles and relentlessly defies the United Nations (UN) with its missile and nuclear tests. Iran has violated the spirit of a UN Security Council resolution by conducting ballistic missile tests and the US government as well as many US analysts expect it to resume its nuclear weapons program when the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)—the nuclear deal Iran reached with the P5+1 countries—ends in the next decade. 

Not only do these phenomena signal crises of nonproliferation, Asian, and European security, they make it clear that the use of nuclear weapons as instruments of politics and war has increased and, if anything, is flourishing.

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While the Kurdistani people may have voted for independence, the practical application of the referendum, which was rejected by the Kurdistan region’s neighbors, remains uncertain. Depending on the fallout in the days, weeks, and months to come, the referendum could either prove an opportunity to improve regional relations, or leave a bitter aftertaste for all parties involved.

September 25, 2017, was a historic day for the Kurds. In a referendum, close to 93 percent voted in favor of independence, a long-held dream for most Kurds. However, while many people in Kurdistan celebrated the outcome, the referendum was opposed by Iraq, its neighbors, and the international community. Further, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran responded by threatening to sanction the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq militarily or economically.

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Germany’s Ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, cites ‘stability’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s re-election to a fourth term on September 24 is good news for the United States, which can continue to rely on Germany to be a “great transatlantic partner,” Germany’s Ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, said in an interview.

“It is good news in terms of continuity, reliability of our country, of its role in Europe, of its role in the world,” Wittig said.

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