As Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful ever recorded, leaves Florida battered in its wake, US energy infrastructure continues to bear the strain of long-term planning neglect. The damage wrought by the storms and the impact on the energy sector demonstrates that the time is right to prioritize infrastructure, particularly pipeline infrastructure planning.

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In the midst of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations in August, US President Donald J. Trump tweeted saying that NAFTA is the “worst trade deal ever made,” and threatened to withdraw the United States from the agreement because Canada and Mexico are being “difficult”. While many have brushed these statements off ahead of the third round of discussions, set to begin on September 23, one cannot help but wonder: How close are we to a new and improved NAFTA?

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Former US undersecretary of state, R. Nicholas Burns, discusses US options, the importance of Chinese pressure, and lessons learned from the Iran nuclear crisis

New sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council on September 11 in response to North Korea’s latest nuclear test are “not significant enough,” according to R. Nicholas Burns, an Atlantic Council board member who served as undersecretary of state for political affairs in the George W. Bush administration.

Sanctions must be part of a “patient long-term strategy” that includes deterrence, working closely with allies, and negotiations, said Burns, laying out the United States’ options for dealing with the North Korean crisis. 

Capping a summer marked by defiant intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un dramatically escalated the crisis on September 3 by successfully testing a miniaturized hydrogen bomb that is capable of being placed on an ICBM. On September 15, North Korea launched a missile over Japan—it's second such act in just over two weeks. The test was in defiance of a fresh round of sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council on North Korea earlier in September. 

As the third-highest-ranking official at the State Department from 2005 to 2008, Burns was the lead US negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. Drawing on that experience, he emphasized the need for a multilateral approach to defuse the North Korean crisis. China, he said, would be a critical player in such an approach.

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US President Donald J. Trump’s September 4 decision to rescind a program that has allowed hundreds of thousands of young people who were illegally brought to the United States to remain in the country undermines his administration’s stance towards Central America.

While Trump reportedly vacillated until the last hour about whether to end the program that provided protection to these young people—the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—immigration hawks ultimately prevailed.

There is uncertainty about the immediate impact on DACA-eligible children—known as Dreamers—of the decision to unravel the program former US President Barack Obama put in place by executive order in 2012. Trump has effectively deferred to the US Congress to revamp the nation’s immigration laws and protection for DACA recipients over the next six months.

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A new Atlantic Council report that seeks to enhance the US State Department’s effectiveness recommends, among other things, a more results-oriented budget and streamlined foreign aid.

 A key recommendation is to use the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as “the platform to build a more robust, effective civilian assistance capacity, empowering it with an expanded mission set and greater control over US foreign assistance efforts.”

 The report’s authors—ten foreign policy experts—also agreed that in order to make the State Department more effective, its structure must be refined, its personnel properly prepared for their jobs, and its relationship with the US Congress improved.

 This analysis is “more important than ever,” US Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) said at the Atlantic Council on September 6. Royce delivered the keynote address at the report’s launch.

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Turkmenistan must invest in new infrastructure to export its vast energy resources if it is to become a substantial player in the global energy market. Achieving this objective would reduce Turkey and the European Union (EU)’s dependence on Russian gas.

Turkmenistan boasts the sixth-largest natural gas reserves in the world, an estimated 617 trillion cubic feet (tcf), along with an estimated 600 million barrels of proven oil reserves. However, despite its vast energy resources, the Central Asian nation has thus far failed to become a major energy player. There are several potential pipeline interconnections that could help Turkmenistan achieve this status, yet none are without political complications.

Through the proposed Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan could export gas across the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to Europe, circumventing Russia and Iran. While this is considered a natural eastward extension of the existing Southern Gas Corridor, it is strongly opposed by Russia and Iran as it may threaten their energy dominance.

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With Kim Jong-un ratcheting up tensions on the Korean Peninsula, US President Donald J. Trump is left with two “horrible” options to deal with the threat posed by the North Korean regime, according to Atlantic Council board member and a former acting and deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Michael Morell.

Acknowledging that he has “serious doubts” about the effectiveness of diplomacy to defuse the crisis, Morell said that a non-diplomatic solution leaves the United States with less than palatable alternatives. Washington would have to weigh the options of conducting a pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s missiles and nuclear facilities, or accepting the fact that North Korea has these capabilities and using a strategy of containment and deterrence.

Both options could leave thousands of people dead, Morell said. “Both options are horrible options. The problem is, it looks like the president of the United States is going to have to choose one of them,” he added.

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Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales shocked Guatemalans and the international community last week when he ordered the expulsion of Iván Velásquez, commissioner of the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the organization leading the investigation into the illegal financing of Morales’ presidential campaign.

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has blocked the expulsion order, which was condemned by the international community, on the grounds that Morales did not have the authority to expel Velásquez.  Morales is expected to accept the court’s decision. However, with the attempted expulsion Morales has jeopardized Guatemala’s advances against corruption and inched the country closer to a political crisis.

With the court’s intervention, Guatemala averted a constitutional crisis, but the damage is already done to Morales’ credibility and political standing. He chose to wage an ill-advised fight to expel an internationally respected anti-corruption commissioner, just two years after former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina was removed on corruption charges.

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Hurricane Harvey, which has devastated the city of Houston and the surrounding areas, has struck at the heart of the US energy sector. The consequences will outlive the rainfall, and raise questions about the utility and design of strategic product storage in a rapidly changing domestic energy landscape.

Since making landfall on August 25, Harvey has knocked out nearly one quarter of national refining capacity at the time of writing, including the nation’s largest refinery at Port Arthur. A number of refineries could be out for as long as a month if their storm drainage pumps remain submerged. 

While Harvey’s rainfall may be unprecedented and the situation quite serious, this is not entirely new territory for a Gulf Coast refining sector with experience of major storms. Hurricane Katrina left refinery complexes inoperative for months in 2005 due to flooding and power outages. While many existing facilities were successfully reinforced before the arrival of Hurricane Ike three years later, new facilities built to accommodate the US shale oil boom are only now being tested. The aftermath of Harvey will surely call for an assessment of the resilience of installations, but also of the tools at hand to mitigate the effects of disruption.

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Top US military commander in Europe, Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, calls for a ‘military Schengen zone

As Zapad 2017 looms, the top US military commander worries more about Europe’s sluggish bureaucracy than Russia’s snap military exercises.

One word is dominating transatlantic security and defense discussions heading into September: Zapad. The word, which means “west” in Russian, is the name (and the target) of the Russian government’s regular military exercises, held every four years.

The top US military commander in Europe, Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, shrugged when asked whether Zapad is a threat. “There’s nothing evil about Zapad,” he said, adding "It’s certainly Russia’s right to conduct exercises.”

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