Original

Original pieces written by Atlantic Council staff or affiliates.
  • Why Ukraine's Week of Protests Quickly Fizzled

    A week of protests on behalf of needed reforms in Ukraine have rapidly fizzled having made limited headway in pressing for legislative action while discrediting a segment of liberal reformers with its populist rhetoric and aggressive tactics.

    The protest outside parliament, which some organizers had expected would bring at least 10,000 to the streets, peaked on October 17 at around four thousand.

    By October 20, the fourth day of mass action, the ranks had fallen to a few hundred, and the tent city they had constructed was largely empty, with almost as many tents as protestors. On October 22, crowds gathered again, peaking at 1,500, around a third of those who had come out at the onset of protests; on October 23, a small band of protestors remained in the tent city around the parliament.

    The demonstrators had three demands: lifting parliamentary immunity, changing the electoral system to an open-party list, and creating a National Anticorruption Court.

    But these demands were lost amid the insurrectionist tenor of the protests, including some acts of violence by some in the crowd. The creation of a gauntlet of shame for the degradation of one pro-government parliamentary leader and the pelting of another with eggs further detracted from the message.

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  • The North Korea Nuclear Threat and Homeland Missile Defense

    In order to effectively address the growing tensions posed by North Korean nuclear capabilities, Washington needs a comprehensive strategy that will include a range of efforts, including, importantly, strengthened homeland missile defenses.

    Last week, US President Donald J. Trump, referring to the North Korean missile threat, claimed that “we have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time, and if you send two of them, it’s going to get knocked out.” This comment led to a flurry of criticism of the president’s statement and of US missile defense policy in general. However, the critics, who point to technical problems and high costs and oppose improved missile defenses, miss the mark. The president’s statement is technically accurate and homeland missile defense is essential to US defense strategy toward North Korea.

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  • Another Independence Referendum in Catalonia?

    Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on October 21 announced his government’s intention to remove the leaders of Catalonia’s regional government and called for elections to be held as soon as possible.

    “By deciding to hold elections in Catalonia, the Spanish government is essentially calling a repeat referendum on independence in an extremely polarized situation,” said Fran Burwell, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council.

    “Whether that election will have any credibility—despite its legality—will depend on which parties participate, whether activists are released from jail, and whether the true costs of independence—which will be severe—can be debated in a rational manner,” she added.

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  • Financial Pressure Needed to Prevent Financial Crimes in the DRC

    The United States should apply sanctions on illicit financial networks and crack down on money laundering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where a "violent kleptocracy" has fueled an ongoing and deadly conflict, John Prendergast, co-founder of The Sentry and founding director of the Enough Project, said at the Atlantic Council.

    Increased consequences for government corruption and humanitarian atrocities are brought to bear “through the tools of financial pressure that are used when the United States is serious about a policy issue,” said Prendergast. Such measures can be seen in Washington’s dealings with Iran and North Korea. In regions such as the DRC, “by far the deadliest warzone in the world since World War II,” according to Prendergast, “conventional tools of diplomacy and crisis response are simply inadequate.”

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  • A Blueprint for a US Strategy in Asia

    The United States should update, revitalize, and defend the rules-based international order while considering “hard-headed” engagement with China, according to the latest in a series of Atlantic Council strategy papers.

    This “is not a strategy designed in Washington to be imposed on the region,” said Matthew Kroenig, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

    Kroenig, along with Miyeon Oh, a senior fellow in the Scowcroft Center, is the author of A Strategy of the Trans-Pacific Century: Final Report of the Atlantic Council’s Asia-Pacific Strategy Task Force.

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  • Ukrainians Are Protesting Again. Will It Amount to Anything?

    On October 19, several thousand protesters in Kyiv cheered as parliament passed a bill that will lift parliamentary immunity. It was not the only victory of the day; parliament approved major health care reform as well.

    This was the third day that thousands of Ukrainians have taken to the streets to demand that President Petro Poroshenko establish an independent anticorruption court, change the electoral law, and lift parliamentary immunity or resign. The protests, which began on October 17, are the largest since the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, which prompted former President Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Moscow and brought a pro-Western government to power. Since then, Ukraine has made serious but halting progress, thanks in large measure to Ukraine’s outspoken activists.

    Protesters have been mainly holding signs and waving flags in front of the parliament building. Thousands of national guardsmen and riot police, probably ten times the number of actual protesters, have surrounded the building and put up barriers. Some see this as a signal that Poroshenko is afraid of the opposition.

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  • US Disengagement from Cuba will Hurt Ordinary Cubans

    Actions by US President Donald J. Trump’s administration—the withdrawal of all non-essential US diplomats from Havana after they reported mysterious ailments and the expulsion of fifteen Cuban diplomats from the United States—have made the US-Cuba relationship look eerily like it was before 2015. There is a danger that disengagement will limit the flow of resources to the island, further isolate Cubans, and deepen the social and economic gaps in the country.

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  • Xi Seeks to Solidify Grip on China

    The National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which opened in Beijing on October 18, will solidify Chinese President Xi Jinping’s grip on Chinese politics and society, part of a plan to guide the Asian nation toward dominance on the world stage, potentially at the expense of the United States, according to Atlantic Council analysts.

    During a three-and-a-half-hour speech which opened the Congress, Xi lauded the economic, social, and political gains made during his first five-year term. He also laid out his vision for further progress.

    Hardline reforms and a political crackdown from Beijing have brought China to the cusp of what Xi deems “new era.”

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  • Austrian Elections Demonstrate Success of Aestheticized Populism

    The victory of Sebastian Kurz’s conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in parliamentary elections on October 15 is the latest manifestation of the rightward shift in European politics and the consequence of adjustments conservative politicians are making to attract a wider base. 

    The ÖVP came in at first place with more than 30 percent of the vote, followed by the far-right, anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPÖ) and incumbent Chancellor Christian Kern’s center-left Social Democrats (SPÖ).

    As Austria’s next chancellor, thirty-one-year-old Kurz will be the world’s youngest elected leader. Ahead of the election, he rebranded ÖVP the “New People’s Party” with an energetic slogan—“Zeit für Neues” (Time for Something New).

    Kurz asserts his positions as pro-European Union (EU)—free movement, with secure borders. As a consequence, he is mainstreaming his politics—an embrace of a populist, closed-door stance on refugees—as European. Far from revolutionary, Kurz’s success is a victory for en vogue conservatism framed as pragmatism and dressed in cosmopolitan garb.

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  • RT: A Low-Grade Platform for Useful Idiots

    RT is coming under increasing scrutiny for its role in the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign against the West. The US Justice Department is allegedly requesting that individuals associated with the network’s US branch, RT America, register as foreign agents. Nascent Congressional efforts to investigate and counter the Kremlin’s influence operations have also targeted RT.

    These are promising if still limited developments. RT unambiguously qualifies as a Kremlin disinformation outfit and as an instrument of hostile foreign influence intended to weaken Western nations and the transatlantic alliance. Numerous studies have robustly unmasked the network’s tactics and synchronization with the Kremlin’s political agenda.

    In January, the declassified intelligence report published jointly by the CIA, FBI, and NSA identified RT as a significant agent of influence during the 2016 presidential election. This assessment was based on the apparent social media success of RT’s pro-Trump and anti-Clinton coverage; the report cites that RT’s most popular video on Hillary Clinton, “How 100 Percent of the Clintons’ ‘Charity’ Went to [...] Themselves,” received more than nine million views on social media, while its most popular video on Donald Trump, “Trump Will Not Be Permitted to Win,” had 2.2 million views.

    Yet contrary to the judgments of the report, most experts agree that RT’s impact on public opinion is minimal.

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