Venezuela’s default on a massive international debt and Russia’s ongoing financial assistance to the South American country that is under both US and European Union (EU) sanctions, will push Caracas further into Moscow’s sphere of influence, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

“The Russians are throwing lifelines to the criminal Venezuelan regime with the intention of further pushing Caracas into Moscow’s orbit. With Venezuela both under US and EU sanctions and being shunned by the major countries of the hemisphere, the Russians see an opportunity to swoop in and use the situation to their advantage,” said Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. He described how a country that is diplomatically isolated and run by an anti-US regime “provides a huge opportunity for Russia to establish a further footprint in a country that is within the geostrategic, geographical orbit of the United States.”

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As Latin America embarks on the path to economic recovery, the region is in dire need of job creation sources, which, given dwindling US engagement with its southern neighbors, might be increasingly reliant on China.

Beijing has rapidly increased its investments in the region, with over $10 billion invested per year since 2012. If current trends continue, the incipient China-Latin America partnership could become an engine for employment growth and broader economic development.

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As US President Donald J. Trump grapples with the North Korean nuclear crisis, two former US officials have some words of advice: attempt dialogue before pre-emptive military strikes, and broaden the scope of that discussion to include the security needs of the region, including North Korea's.

Ernest Moniz, who served as energy secretary in Barack Obama’s administration, said heaping sanctions on North Korea alone cannot produce results and that this approach will only “spin wheels.”

R. Nicholas Burns, who served as undersecretary of state for political affairs in George W. Bush’s administration, said exhausting the diplomatic option before considering the military one is the “wisdom” gleaned from the first nuclear age. “Kim Jong-un is not a more deadly rival of the United States than Stalin was or Khrushchev was in the 50s and 60s,” he said.

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The decision by US President Donald J. Trump’s administration to designate North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, while of questionable efficacy, marks a justified increase of pressure from Washington on Pyongyang, according to Atlantic Council analysts.

In the latest move in an ongoing diplomatic crisis between the United States and North Korea over the latter’s growing nuclear arsenal, North Korea was placed back on the US Department of State’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list on November 20. North Korea joins Iran, Sudan, and Syria on the list.

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Robert Mugabe’s decision to resign in the face of pressure from the military, his party, and the Zimbabwean people paves the way for a new chapter in Zimbabwe’s history, said the Atlantic Council’s J. Peter Pham.

Mugabe, a liberation struggle hero who led Zimbabwe since 1980, saw his star eventually tarnished by corruption, cronyism, and misrule. He abruptly resigned on November 21 as impeachment proceedings against him began in parliament in Harare.

“Mugabe’s resignation clears the way not only for the resolution of the political impasse on a constitutional basis, but also for the beginning of a new chapter in Zimbabwe’s history,” said Pham, who is director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.

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Chancellor is vital for European solidarity on Russia sanctions, says Atlantic Council’s Fran Burwell

If German Chancellor Angela Merkel were to step down from her role it would create uncertainty over the fate of sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine, according to Fran Burwell, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“There is one area where her absence would make a great deal of difference potentially and that is on the sanctions on Russia,” said Burwell.

“With the British leaving [the European Union] and her leaving—if she should leave—that makes the continued adherence to these sanctions less certain. Depending on what happens in the Italian elections, those sanctions could be vulnerable indeed,” she added.  

Moreover, Burwell noted, instability in Germany would be a blow for the European Union (EU), which is grappling with the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the Union and the eurozone crisis.

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In light of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s resignation, the United States should be prepared to work with his likely successor, a man who is subject to US sanctions, said the Atlantic Council’s J. Peter Pham.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose ouster from the vice presidency by Mugabe early in November triggered the current political crisis in the first place, will likely be the next leader of Zimbabwe. Mnangagwa is the subject of US Treasury sanctions imposed in the early 2000s for his role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in the country.

Noting that a prominent opposition leader and longtime Mugabe foe, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has embraced Mnangagwa, Pham, who is director of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, said: “We’re not saying whitewash the past, but it is in the interests of everyone that Zimbabwe is engaged at this critical time.” 

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The new European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (CoE) in Helsinki is, according to US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, an “institution fit for our times.”

With membership from eleven European Union (EU) nations and the United States, the CoE is one of the most tangible examples of the pledge by NATO and the EU to work more closely together, addressing what both organizations recognize is a threat to their very foundations. Mattis visited the center in Finland last week.

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New and existing diseases tend to emerge and re-emerge in rural regions with limited public health systems. A disease jumps the species barrier, moving from animal to human host. Historically, these outbreaks would fizzle out close to where they began, as patient zero infected his community but the combination of death, immunity, and lack of new hosts stopped further spread of the pathogen.

Today, however, this cycle is exacerbated by two factors: a huge increase in livestock numbers, especially in the developing world, and the rapid growth of urban slums. With more animals living near humans, and humans living closer together than ever before, the chances of diseases emerging and spreading rapidly are significantly increased.

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While the twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP23) was beginning in Bonn, the US House and Senate Armed Services Committees were wrapping up negotiations on the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. The bipartisan conference report that emerged from those negotiations calls climate change “a direct threat to the national security of the United States [that] is impacting stability in areas of the world both where the United States Armed Forces are operating today, and where strategic implications for future conflict exist.” 

For the past two weeks, much of the global conversation on climate change has focused on the talks in Bonn and how parties to the Paris Accord—from which the United States regrettably announced its intention to withdrawal—plan to meet their carbon reduction goals. However, the Armed Services Committees’ conference report emphasizes the national security risks associated with changing global temperatures.   

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