Event Recaps

On October 31, 2017, the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, along with the Council’s Future Europe Initiative and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, convened an expert panel for a conversation about the current state of climate action in the United States and in the transatlantic relationship more broadly. Ambassador Richard Morningstar (Ret.), the Global Energy Center’s founding director and chairman, introduced the event by noting the important and timely nature of the conversation, given the upcoming twenty-third session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) in Bonn, the Trump administration’s announcement that the United States plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and the emergence of pledges from state and local governments and businesses to remain committed to trying to reach the agreement’s goals.

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On Thursday, October 19, the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, in collaboration with The Sentry at the Enough Project, hosted a discussion on illicit financial flows in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), occasioned by the release of the group’s new report: The Terrorist’s Treasury

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The culmination of a full year of analysis by the Atlantic Council’s Asia-Pacific Strategy Task Force, A Strategy for the Trans-Pacific Century argues for deeper engagement between the United States’ Atlantic and Pacific partners to uphold the liberal rules-based order in Asia and beyond. As the rise of China creates reverberations felt not only within the Pacific region, but through the Atlantic as well, cooperation between these partners is needed now more than ever. Across Asia, Europe, and America, many nations share a common interest in protecting a rules-based order that has guaranteed more than half a century of freedom, prosperity, and growth. In their review of the task force’s findings, Dr. Matt Kroenig and Dr. Miyeon Oh, the paper’s co-authors, find that this cooperation cannot afford to take the form of either staunch resistance to change or acceptance of a bare-bones order. Instead, these partners must seek to reinvigorate the order by adapting it to a new global power dynamic, as articulated through a five-pillar strategy: strengthening security cooperation between regional allies; practicing hard-headed engagement with China; adapting the regional economic architecture for an open order; partnering to address the emerging issue areas of the 2020s; and promoting good governance, the rule of law, democracy, and universally recognized human rights.

To mark the paper’s launch, the Atlantic Council hosted a panel with co-authors Dr. Kroenig and Dr. Oh, who were joined by Ambassador Paula Dobriansky and Ambassador Ashok Mirpuri to discuss their thoughts on the future of the strategic order, grounding their comments in their individual regional perspectives from America and from Asia. In their opening remarks, all four panelists concurred on the overriding importance of US-China relations in the coming decades. Ambassador Mirpuri emphasized how China has gained power through its economic ascendancy, becoming the dominant trading partner of all Southeast Asian countries, while Ambassador Dobriansky agreed with Dr. Kroenig and Dr. Oh in asserting the need to strike a balance between cooperation and confrontation when dealing with China. The panelists also affirmed the need for strong partnerships in this new era, with Dr. Oh stressing the role of regional buy-in within Asia even as Ambassador Mirpuri highlighted the role of the US as a resident power of the Pacific, and the potential for tighter ties with Europe. As summed up by Ambassador Dobriansky, thinking around connectedness and alliances—whether informal or formal—must be central to forthcoming attempts to strengthen the foundation of the international rules-based order.

The panelists continued to build on these messages in the audience Q&A session, during which they covered a wide range of issues that spanned media coverage of the Asia-Pacific, the KORUS FTA, and the South China Sea. Two parallel themes emerged in this discussion, with one set of questions focusing on security and military strategy, and another set revolving around the economy and strategic trade. On security, Dr. Oh restated the need for the US and Trump to provide strong reassurances in the face of current challenges, with the hope that his coming trip to the region would encourage him to do so. On trade, the panelists echoed the paper on one of its main points, with Dr. Kroenig stating that they did not want to see the region divided into two Cold War blocs, but hoped to see Asia go beyond a zero-sum game. Ambassador Mirpuri likewise noted Singapore’s desire to see a balance in trade between the US and China, even as he underscored the role of US investment—not merely in terms of formal structures, but also in terms of US business presence. These questions were not strictly independent of each other: Ambassador Mirpuri noted that when discussing trade agreements, the Trump administration has focused on matters of economic benefit (or lack thereof), whereas their Asian counterparts have seen them as strategic agreements intended to anchor the US in the region. Both he and Ambassador Dobriansky agreed that a significant question facing policymakers was how to bring these economic and strategic imperatives together, stressing the paper’s premise that any future international order in the Asia-Pacific must be grounded in the preferences of countries in the region.

A Strategy for the Trans-Pacific Century is the twelfth volume in the Atlantic Council Strategy Papers series. The series is designed to enrich the public debate and build consensus on the great strategic challenges of our time, as well as to help shape strategic thinking in US and allied governments, the private and nonprofit sectors, and the global media. Check out all the volumes here.
As the Trump administration formulates a new policy toward Iran, it is important that that policy be informed by accurate information about the realities of Iran’s rapidly changing society. On October 18, 2017, the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative hosted sociologist and author Kevan Harris on the findings of the first Iran Social Survey, which challenged some prevailing views about the composition of Iranian society and presumed linkages between government benefits and voters’ political preferences.

The first nationally representative survey of social relations conducted in the Islamic Republic of Iran since the 1979 revolution, the sample of 5005 respondents, fielded in December 2016, contains rich data on family history, electoral behavior, ethnic identity and contemporary state-society relations.

An Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, Harris, spoke at length about the uniqueness of the survey through its five modules: Inter-generational mobility, political mobilization, state services, civic association and ethno-linguistic identification. Factors used in the survey included: voter choice and household income, employment, gender, age, marital status, location and educational attainment.

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On October 17, the Atlantic Council's Eurogrowth Initiative hosted Jyrki Katainen, European Commission Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness.

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On Sunday, October 15, Venezuela held regional elections amidst a deep democratic crisis in the country. The National Electoral Council announced late on Sunday that the ruling chavista had won 18 out of 23 governorships, in contrast to virtually every pre-election poll conducted on the ground in Venezuela.  Following the stunning electoral outcome, the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center organized a rapid-reaction conference call with David Smolansky, the exiled opposition mayor of El Hatillo Municipality; Luis Vicente León, President of Datanálisis, a prominent Venezuelan polling organization; and Beatriz Borges, Director of the Center for Justice and Peace (CEPAZ) in Venezuela. The call was moderated by Jason Marczak, Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

Marczak kicked off the discussion by laying out the political landscape post-election. He emphasized the fact that the stark contrast between extensive pre-election polling predicting a comprehensive victory for opposition parties and the announcement of a sweeping electoral victory for President Nicolás Maduro and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) have drawn rightful suspicion of fraud, leading the United States to deem them as having been neither “free nor fair.”

Smolansky, a prominent figure in the opposition coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), gave the coalition’s interpretation of the electoral events both on election day and in the run-up. He described several tactics used by the Maduro government to sway the election in its favor: not allowing candidate substitutions, switching citizens’ electoral districts at the last minute, installing broken voting machines in opposition-controlled areas, leaving the door open for multiple voting by not using indelible ink, and refusing international oversight. Smolansky laid out the opposition’s next steps, arguing that “the National Assembly has to appoint new authorities for the Electoral Court in Venezuela”. He also warned that “as soon as the National Assembly finds new authorities for the Electoral Court, they will be prosecuted, so we have to be ready to swear them in as exiles.

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On Tuesday, October 17, the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center and Baker McKenzie jointly hosted a discussion on the implications for businesses of the latest geopolitical and security developments in the Americas. The conversation, moderated by Deputy Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center Andrea Murta, occurred amid the latest round of NAFTA renegotiations, the continued unraveling of the crisis in Venezuela, and the ongoing implementation of the Colombia peace process. Distinguished speakers included Gen. Douglas Fraser, former commander of US Southern Command; Dr. Rebecca Bill Chavez, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for western hemisphere affairs; Peter MacKay, partner at Baker McKenzie and former minister of national defense, foreign affairs, and justice of Canada; and Miguel Noyola, partner at Baker McKenzie. The discussion was moderated

Following welcome remarks by Ted Murphy, partner at Baker McKenzie, Gen. Fraser opened the event by addressing security trends in the region, including the Colombian peace process and the crisis in Venezuela. He noted the positive movement of the Colombian peace process, and the challenges of long-term success, while also highlighting the need to address the problem of growing coca production. When discussing the crisis in Venezuela, he described the several ways the government is trying to hold on to power, doors the crisis has opened for Russia, China and Iran to increase their influence in the region, and the danger of increased mass migration as the humanitarian crisis deepens.

Above all, Gen. Fraser named transnational criminal organizations as the biggest security concern in the region. Their ability to undermine governments in the Northern Triangle through corruption and violence creates a need, he argued, to address their operations in and beyond Central America.

Following keynote remarks, the conversation opened with a discussion of the biggest challenge for the United States in the region. Gen. Fraser expressed concern with the availability of US forces in the region for traditional operations and emergencies as the United States turns its focus toward security threats from Russia, the Middle East and East Asia.

Dr. Chavez highlighted the bilateral security relationship with Mexico is under threat by tensions stemming from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations. She further argued that “a reduction in any of four areas of cooperation [counterterrorism, counternarcotics, coordinated efforts in the Northern Triangle, disaster response] could be very bad for stability in North America, but also Central America.”

Focusing on opportunities for businesses in the region, Miguel Noyola noted the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) significance for regional economic growth. “For Mexico, [NAFTA] propelled the country from being a closed economy to one that feels competent competing in global markets. So, with or without NAFTA we have [already] adopted that shift.”

While he emphasized the urgency of fully appreciating the damage NAFTA’s collapse would inflict on the United States, adding that he would expect the US Congress to intervene if NAFTA were to approach such a point, Peter McKay expressed optimism for the long term. He emphasized the trilateral relationship has and will continue to traverse a single country’s administration: “We are going to get through this. Administrations will come and go. This relationship in North America between Canada, the US and Mexico has a long enduring history,” he stated.

Beyond North America, Gen. Fraser discussed the growing influence of US competitors in the Americas, noting that “the opportunity presented to China by a changing dynamic in NAFTA or any trade relationship is real and is of geostrategic concern to the United States.” He added that “China is looking for every opportunity to fill a void… but I also take example that Russia is not out of this opportunity… They are looking for any opportunity to undermine the efforts of the United States to engage.”

Pivoting to the position of US companies on the current NAFTA renegotiations. Mr. Noyola argued that private enterprises are adaptable and will continue to find investment opportunities abroad regardless of trade agreements.

Minister McKay added that he expects NAFTA negotiations to continue well into next year considering the complexities and lack of immediate progress negotiations have yielded so far.

To conclude, the panel addressed the impact of next year’s elections in the region on the security and economic relationships with the United States. Minister McKay and Dr. Chavez agreed certain policies coming out of the United States have helped the leftist populist candidate in Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), increase his support for the upcoming election, with Dr. Chavez and Mr. Noyola both agreeing that he would win if elections were held today. Mr. Noyola concluded that even if AMLO wins he expects a more mature civil society to act as a check on his power and therefore moderate his more radical policies.
On Tuesday, October 17, the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center hosted Dr. Adal Ag Rhoubeid, President of the Movement for Democratic Renewal (MDR) Tarna, for a private roundtable discussion on the security situation in Niger and the broader Sahel region.

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On Monday, October 16, the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, in collaboration with the International Republican Institute (IRI), hosted Ambassador Martin Kimani, director of Kenya’s National Counter Terrorism Centre and special envoy for countering violent extremism, and Dr. Korir Sing’Oei, legal adviser in the executive office of the deputy president of Kenya, for a private roundtable discussion on the security situation in Kenya amid its unprecedented and ongoing electoral crisis.

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On October 13, 2017, the Atlantic Council’s Eurogrowth Initiative hosted a private roundtable discussion with Dr. Elke König, Chair of the Single Resolution Board (SRB).

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