While US sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro present a smart, targeted response, a coordinated international approach is necessary to address the political and humanitarian crises in Venezuela, according to two Atlantic Council analysts.

“The United States can’t go it alone,” said Jason Marczak, director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative in the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. However, he added, “the international community, by and large, has not coalesced around this crisis.”

This constitutes a “failure” on the part of the international community, said Andrea Saldarriaga Jiménez, assistant director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

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Several recent articles on North Korea’s relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have drawn this Northeast Asian country into an ongoing crisis within the bloc. From Washington’s perspective, GCC-North Korea relations threaten to undermine US efforts to isolate Pyongyang and squeeze it economically in response to its belligerent behavior marked by the recent testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Pyongyang’s interest in the Arabian Peninsula states dates back to the Cold War. Despite Washington’s efforts to isolate North Korea, the Hermit Kingdom’s ties with GCC member states have only deepened over the past twenty years.

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Will Russia’s reaction to US sanctions be short-lived?

[Editor's note: US President Donald J. Trump signed the new sanctions bill on August 2.] 

The Kremlin’s reaction to the new US sanctions indicates that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in a “lashing-out mood,” that, while unsettling, will be short-lived, according to Daniel Fried, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative.

“I would not take this terribly seriously,” said Fried of the Kremlin’s mandate on July 30 that the United States must cut 755 members of its diplomatic staff in Russia. “These kinds of diplomat wars seem important at the time,” he added, yet, when comparing the current situation to a similar diplomatic fallout between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1980s, Fried said it is clear that Russia’s response will not have long-lasting detrimental effects.

Fried described how “the Soviets tried this,” adding that “this sort of thing captures headlines.” While “it works in the short run; it doesn’t work in the long run,” he said.

“For now,” however, “we’re going to be in a rough period,” said Fried, a former sanctions policy coordinator at the US Department of State.

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It has been three years since the European Union (EU) and the United States enacted a series of sanctions against Russia for the unlawful annexation of Crimea and the subsequent war in eastern Ukraine. Some of these sanctions deliberately target Russia’s oil industry because it is the backbone of the country’s economy. However, as Russia’s oil production remains at a high level, critics claim that the sanctions have failed to hurt Moscow’s oil industry. Such an assertion ignores the complexity of many internal and external factors that impact the industry’s outlook. A closer look at Russia’s oil industry reveals that despite its current output, in the long run sanctions will contribute to making its future rather uncertain.

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The Pentagon has confirmed that North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 28. The missile, which landed in the sea off the Japanese coast, flew higher and for longer than the one North Korea tested on July 4. This means it could hit cities in the United States.

Here is what Atlantic Council analysts had to say about this development.

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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ouster by the supreme court is a rare example of a country’s leader being held accountable for corruption, but it has also created the possibility of instability in this South Asian nation that is a vital partner in the United States’ counterterrorism efforts.

On July 28, Pakistan’s supreme court disqualified Sharif ruling that he had been dishonest by not disclosing earnings from a Dubai-based company in his nomination papers filed at the time of the 2013 general election. The court recommended corruption cases be filed against Sharif, his daughter, Maryam Nawaz; his son-in-law, Capt. Muhammad Safdar; his two sons Hassan and Hussain; and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

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Is a tweet legally binding directive, asks former US Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning

[Editor's note: On July 27, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that military policy regarding who may serve will not change until US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis issues new guidelines. "In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect," said Dunford in a letter to the military service chiefs.]

US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to ban transgender troops from the US military via tweet raises “a question of legality,” and widespread concerns regarding the implementation of this sweeping order, according to former US Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning.  

“The question is,” said Fanning, “is a tweet from the president a legally binding directive?” Ultimately, “It remains to be seen what this really means and how they plan on implementing it,” he said. “When the president tweets major policy pronouncements, we don’t know.”

On July 26, Trump tweeted a ban on transgender people serving in the US military “in any capacity.”

“That’s a part of the tweet that’s much more sweeping than anybody expected in a worst-case scenario,” said Fanning. “Transgender [individuals] serving in uniform now are all nervous,” he added.

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On July 14, an unofficial draft of the much-anticipated US Department of Energy (DOE) grid study, formally referred to as the Study Examining Electricity Markets and Reliability, was leaked, notably absent any recommendations.

The report was requested in an April 14 memo by US Energy Secretary Rick Perry. A number of senators and representatives, based upon the language of Perry’s memo, publicly denounced Perry’s request for a report, putting him on notice that the final document will be scrutinized carefully. Other groups, mostly renewable energy supports, protested the request for the report as well. However, the leaked DOE staff draft report, sans recommendations, has met with some approval from the same quarters.

In light of the backlash against the original memorandum requesting the grid report, the topics submitted by Perry indeed deserve a close examination, particularly given the absence to date of the release of a final DOE report.

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Diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the chaos that has prevailed in Libya since 2011 have legitimized Khalifa Haftar, a former Libyan general whose forces have been accused of torture and executing prisoners, according to the Atlantic Council’s Karim Mezran.

Haftar met Fayez-al-Serraj, the prime minister in Libya’s United Nations-backed government, in Paris on July 25. The fact that this meeting occurred in the first place was a recognition of the reality that Serraj’s government—the Government of National Accord (GNA)—has been unable to unite the country and that Haftar has an indispensable role in any solution to the crisis, said Mezran, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“Haftar is the big victor,” he added.

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Iran challenges US policy, this time in the maritime domain

It seems hard for the United States to catch a break in the Persian Gulf these days. As its Arab partners continue to bicker among themselves, Iran remains a source of tension from across the water. A week after US President Donald J. Trump reluctantly notified Congress of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal and imposed new non-nuclear sanctions, a US Navy ship fired warning shots at a patrol boat operated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Navy in the Persian Gulf.

The July 25 encounter is yet another reminder that the IRGC-Navy will continue to create dangerous, potentially escalatory situations with US craft in the Gulf. Understanding the nature of Iran’s military forces and the threat they pose highlights both the need for continuing diplomatic engagement and the limits of dialogue with Iranian officials.

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