Original

Original pieces written by Atlantic Council staff or affiliates.
  • Iran and the United States' Competition in Eastern Syria

    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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  • ‘We’re Not Going Back from a Low-Carbon Future’

    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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  • Saudi Arabia and the United States are on a Collision Course with Iran

    Donald J. Trump and Mohammed bin Salman have a similar outlook when it comes to Iran. Both see the Islamic Republic as a threat that needs to be contained. What then does the elevation of Mohammed bin Salman, commonly known as MBS, to the role of crown prince of Saudi Arabia mean for the Sunni kingdom’s relationship with Shi’ite Iran?

    “Nothing good,” said F. Gregory Gause III, head of the international affairs department at Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government and Public Service.

    “I do see the likelihood of an American-Iranian confrontation, whether it is in Syria, whether it is on the water in the Gulf, whether it is in Iraq after the campaign in Mosul is concluded,” said Gause. The US administration, including President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis, “came into office with a view that Iran was the major issue in the region,” he noted.

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  • How to Root Out ISIS from Libya

    True national reconciliation and inclusiveness are necessary ingredients for ending the cycle of statelessness and radicalization that has created a fertile ground for terrorist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), to flourish in Libya, according to a new Atlantic Council report.

    “People who fought in Syria, we call that the undergrad for jihad, they went to Libya to get their post-grad degree in jihad,” said Jason Pack, founder of Eye on ISIS in Libya and executive director of the US-Libya Business Association.

    “By coming from what they gathered in Syria to their post-grad in Derna and Sirte they founded their own brigades,” said Pack referring to mostly Tunisian jihadis who initially trained in Syria where a civil war has raged for the past six years. “The porosity of the Tunisian-Libyan border has been a real plague for Libya, and it has been a plague for Tunisia,” he added, pointing to high-profile terrorist attacks in Tunisia in 2015 at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis and on British holidaymakers in Sousse.

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  • Why Bot Makers Dream of Electric Sheep

    Using fake social media accounts to attract real users

    Social media “bots” have repeatedly made headlines over the past year, accused of driving traffic and distorting debate on social media platforms, especially Twitter, in the US, French, and UK elections. But what are bots, and how do they work?

    In social media terms, a bot is an automated account set up to make posts without human intervention. Such bots can play a range of roles, including sharing poetry, spreading news or attempting satire; many accounts make explicit that they are bots.

    One sort of bot is created to have a political effect. Political bots typically do not acknowledge that they are automated. Instead, they masquerade as human users, often with a made-up screen name and stolen photo. They artificially amplify political messages, for example by automatically retweeting posts from a set of accounts, liking any tweet which includes certain words, or following a specific set of users.

    The effect is to make a user, message, or policy appear more popular and influential than it actually is.

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  • Experts Urge Congress and Trump to Arm Ukraine

    A bipartisan task force made up of former US defense officials, ambassadors, and security experts renewed calls for the United States to give lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine. On June 21, the National Security Task Force of the Friends of Ukraine Network urged the United States to provide a range of weapons, intelligence, and training.

    “[T]he purpose of providing defensive weapons is to help Ukraine deter the Russians from carrying out further attacks, and to increase the pressure on Russia to negotiate seriously on implementing the Minsk agreements,” said Alexander Vershbow, a member of the task force and the former deputy secretary general of NATO. “The aim is not to encourage Ukraine to seek a military victory, which Kyiv knows isn’t possible,” he said at the launch event in Washington, DC.

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  • Russia, Not Ukraine, Is Serial Violator of Ceasefire Agreement

    Like many articles and analyses of the Minsk process, “Ukrainian Military Progress Could Violate Minsk Peace Process” requires additional analysis on the geopolitical underpinnings and implications of the issue at hand. Without this context, it is difficult to make sense of any facts presented.

    The context is this: Moscow is conducting the war in Ukraine’s east; without Russian leadership, troops, financing, and weapons, there would be no war. Both the EU and the United States levied sanctions to encourage Moscow to end its aggression and to discourage it from the expanding the war further into Ukraine.

    Equally important is that fact that the sanctions were levied not long before the Minsk I Agreement was negotiated in September 2014, but Moscow’s continuing aggression included the seizure of hundreds of square kilometers of additional Ukrainian territory. A Russian offensive violating Minsk I led to the negotiation of the Minsk II Agreement in February 2015, with terms far more negative for Ukraine. Those terms delayed the return of border control to Ukraine and permitted the Russian-controlled separatists to maintain their own military forces.

    The bottom line is clear: Moscow is conducting a low intensity war in the Donbas to destabilize the government in Ukraine by producing regular Ukrainian casualties, seizing small increments of additional Ukrainian territory, and overtaxing the economy.

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  • Why Talk About Disinformation Now?

    Disinformation has become a hot topic since Russia’s interference in the US presidential elections in 2016. As seventeen US intelligence agencies agreed in December of last year: “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” This influence operation aimed to undermine faith in democracy and the credibility of the Western institutions.

    Cyberattacks played a key, but relatively small part in this operation. Kremlin-backed hackers used targeted phishing e-mails to steal troves of documents and communications between Democratic Party operatives, but the bigger, and more sophisticated, part came later. Rather than using the stolen information for intelligence gathering—a normal and expected technique in the world of spycraft—the data instead appeared on WikiLeaks and other sites beginning in July 2016. It was at this point that an intelligence-gathering operation turned into an influence operation.

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  • No, Senator, it's not 90 percent.

    John McCain grossly exaggerates the power of defense contractors, and unfairly criticizes Patrick Shanahan.

    As Sydney Freedberg covered for Breaking Defense yesterday, Senator John McCain of Arizona was rather tough on the administration’s nominee to be deputy defense secretary. C-SPAN has the video, at roughly the 3:02:00 mark:

        I want to move forward as quickly as I can with your nomination, [but] I am concerned. Ninety percent of defense spending is in the hands of five corporations, of which you represent one. I have to have confidence that the fox is not going to be put back into the henhouse.

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  • Here’s How to Fight Back Against Russian Political Warfare

    Three-and-a-half years ago, Russia illegally annexed Crimea and launched its campaign to destabilize eastern Ukraine. Russian aggression prompted the biggest increase in NATO’s collective defense capabilities since the Cold War—including the historic deployment in June of four multinational battlegroups in the three Baltic States and Poland.

    But deterring military aggression is only half the battle. Russia has also engaged in political aggression against our societies, using cyberattacks, disinformation, propaganda, and influence operations (what the Soviets called “active measures”) to affect the outcome of elections and to undermine confidence in our democratic institutions.

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