US President Donald J. Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department’s budget would deprive the United States of the tools it needs to combat Russian hybrid warfare, Madeleine K. Albright, a former US secretary of state, said at the Atlantic Council on June 29.

Trump’s proposed budget would sharply cut funding for diplomacy and development. With these cuts, “we are losing a tool to deal with what is hybrid warfare,” said Albright.

US Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), meanwhile, echoed Albright’s call to bolster diplomatic efforts in the fight against disinformation stating: “We can’t cut the State Department 30 percent because we need our diplomats out there working with their partners,” to counter the spread of disinformation.

Albright and Hurd spoke at the DisinfoWeek conference jointly hosted by the Atlantic Council and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Washington, DC. The weeklong conference featured discussions and meetings held at Stanford University in California and in Washington, DC.

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Fighting fake news—no, not the kind US President Donald J. Trump has made it a habit of railing against—has been the subject of a weeklong series of meetings and public events co-hosted by the Atlantic Council and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung from June 26-30.

The disinformation campaign being waged by various state and non-state actors seeks to “undermine the legitimacy of objective truth,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “It demands a response and whether we like it or not that response has to be led by the United States,” he added.

Murphy and Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have overcome the increasingly bipartisan nature of Washington to work together in the fight on disinformation. They co-authored the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, signed by then US President Barack Obama in December of 2016. The act seeks to improve the United States’ ability to counter propaganda and disinformation from countries such as Russia and China, and help US allies do the same.

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Rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns, and other examples of our warming climate pose life-altering threats to communities around the world. Ninety-seven percent of scientists have concluded that the climate is indeed warming—and that humans are playing a role.

John Macomber, a former president of the Export-Import Bank, puts it more bluntly, calling climate change “so evident that only a few diehards dispute that something major is staring us in the face.” The question is not whether the climate is changing, but how to address it.

To curb the effects of climate change, reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is key. As the world’s second-largest emitter (just behind China), the United States must significantly reduce its emissions if it is to contribute to and even lead the way in the global fight against climate change. The Obama administration sought to tackle this challenge on the international and domestic fronts with the Paris Agreement and the Clean Power Plan (CPP). However, US President Donald J. Trump has announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, while the CPP faces significant challenges from the courts and the Trump administration.

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In an age of increasing connectivity and data-collection technologies, policymakers must grapple with the central tension between the public’s desire for privacy and the need for security.

“We’re going to have to make this fundamental trade between how much do we value national security and protection, versus how much do we want to behave in a free society,” said Robert Schukai, global head of design and digital identity solutions at Thomson Reuters. “Technology can solve a lot of problems,” said Schukai, “but if we can’t figure out the rules of the road… it’s an asymmetric battle.”

Leslie Ireland, who served as assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the US Department of the Treasury in the Obama administration, said “there needs to a broader conversation in our country about what needs to be done for protection and what that cost can be to your privacy.”

“I wonder if there’s going to have to be such a [large-scale] privacy breach for individual people to say it’s worth it,” she added.

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Russia has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects to strengthen its military foothold in the Arctic. It is widely assumed that this has been done to establish greater leverage over the fossil fuels that lie beneath the ice. However, the problem with this line of thought is that it is based on exaggerated expectations about the region’s energy potential. In fact, due to a combination of poor exploration data, high extraction costs, and potential environmental risks, the Arctic is likely to remain a rather desolate place for years to come.

The Arctic has always played a significant role in Russia’s geopolitical vision. In tsarist times, it provided an enormous military buffer which ensured that no country could flank it from the north. During the Soviet-era it was home to Moscow’s nuclear submarine fleet. Nowadays, the region promises enormous fortunes as it reportedly holds vast quantities of untapped oil and gas resources.

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The massive cyberattack that crippled public transportation, the central bank, government offices, the state power distributor, and public firms in Ukraine on June 27 serves as a potent reminder of the havoc that can be unleashed by low-level actors, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

“This is another reminder that low-capability actors can have a profound impact on critical infrastructure like media, finance, energy, and others,” said Beau Woods, deputy director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

Besides Ukraine, which appears to have been hit particularly hard, symptoms of the attack were also reported from the United Kingdom, Russian oil producer Rosneft, Australia, the United States, India, and the Danish shipping company Maersk.

“Despite early indications, it’s unclear whether this attack was targeted against Ukraine or just happened to hit the news cycle there first,” said Woods.

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Political developments in Europe leading up to, and in the wake of last year’s Brexit referendum show that the path toward a more secure future for the European Union (EU) cannot rely on traditional political structures, a reality demonstrated by the campaign and election of French President Emmanuel Macron, according to a political analyst.

“The traditional right-left divide as it has structured democracies is obsolete,” Benjamin Haddad, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute, said at the Atlantic Council. He said that Macron saw the developments in Western democracy, driven by populist impulses, and by appealing to the growing political center rode the anti-establishment wave to the Élysée Palace on May 7.

That same popular discontent with existing political structures is “something that [US President Donald J.] Trump saw as well,” said Haddad. However, he added, “Macron did the opposite of Trump.”

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The combined efforts of a host of international and regional state and non-state actors against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have reduced the so-called caliphate’s control of Mosul to one district and surrounded its fighters in Raqqa, resulting in more of ISIS’ militants fleeing Iraq and Syria and fewer foreign fighters joining it. Despite the fact that ISIS now faces a stark new operational reality with less territory under its control and having suffered major symbolic and tactical losses, it is premature to conclude that the struggle against ISIS is over because many of the factors that contributed to its rise remain. 

The extent to which ISIS’ loss of large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria will damage its ideological influence remains to be seen. On one hand, ISIS’ ability to portray itself as a “winning” and “invincible” force in the Muslim world was a prominent theme of its sophisticated social media campaigns. Today, jihadists around the world must now view ISIS as somewhat less than “invincible.” Yet changes in the US military’s war on ISIS, with US President Donald Trump transferring more authority over such operations to the Pentagon, have increased civilian deaths. This serves ISIS’ political objectives by fueling narratives about Western militaries, much like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its Russian backers, deliberately targeting Sunni Muslim civilians.

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An official response to ISIS’ deadly twin attacks in Tehran on June 7, Iran’s medium-range missile strikes were a clear message not only to many in the region, but to Washington as well, that the Islamic Republic will not hesitate to respond decisively to forces hostile toward Iran.

Iran’s strikes against Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) targets in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor governorate on June 18 marked the Islamic Republic’s first missile strikes in a foreign country since Tehran attacked the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), a militant political organization, in Diyala, Iraq, with ballistic missiles in 2001.

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Former US officials criticize Trump’s decision to quit Paris climate deal

While US President Donald J. Trump predicated his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord on the protection and restoration of US coal jobs, clean energy technology is not only the most effective, but an essential path toward improving the economy and fighting climate change, according to former US energy and environment officials.

“We’re not going back from a low-carbon future,” Ernest Moniz, who served as US secretary of energy under former US President Barack Obama, said at the Atlantic Council’s Tipping Points conference on June 21-22, hosted by the Millennium Leadership Program. “The clean energy global economy is going to be a multi-trillion-dollar economy,” he added.

“We have shown that you can have a clean and green environment, make environmental progress, and have our economy grow,” said Christine Todd Whitman, who served as Environmental Protection Agency administrator in the administration of former US President George W. Bush.

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