Analysis

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.
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.
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.”
The expectation that US President Donald J. Trump will decertify the nuclear deal with Iran this week raises the question: what would be the implications of decertification?

Trump faces an October 15 deadline to certify to the US Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement that the Islamic Republic struck with the five permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council plus Germany in 2015. The deal cuts off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.

Despite criticizing the agreement as “terrible,” Trump has twice before certified Iran’s compliance with the deal. The president doesn’t need a reason to decertify the deal. Trump is expected to state that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is not in the United States’ national security interests.
Catalonia’s controversial independence referendum has left Spain with many unanswered questions and an unclear path forward, according to Carles Castello-Catchot, chief of staff in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

On October 1, the regional government of Catalonia in northern Spain went ahead with a referendum that Spain’s constitutional court had deemed illegal. A majority of the 2.3 million people who voted in the referendum favored independence for Catalonia. The Catalan government has announced it will move forward with a declaration of independence forty-eight hours after the election.

The competing narratives have left the country “in a legal black hole where everything is up for discussion,” Castello-Catchot said in a Facebook Live interview on October 2. 
In his first address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 19, US President Donald J. Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, called Iran a “rogue nation” and the nuclear deal with that country “an embarrassment,” said the United States was “prepared to take further action” on Venezuela, and lashed out at what he called a “corrupt, destabilizing” regime in Cuba.

Atlantic Council experts provided their analysis on the speech. Here is what they had to say:
In a reaction that is sure to bolster the narrative of those claiming responsibility for the attack, US President Donald J. Trump released a series of tweets labeling the incident at London’s Parsons Green subway station on  September 15 an act of terrorism before British authorities had done so. Trump claimed, among other things, that Scotland Yard had failed to identify and prevent the attack and that the solution was to “cut off” the Internet and make his travel ban to the United States “far larger, tougher, and more specific.”

The perceived success of a terrorist attack is a subjective measure, filled with uncertainties and spin, and partly dependent on the level and type of coverage it receives in the media—this includes the reactions of world leaders and the effect those words have on their countries’ populations.
A new Atlantic Council report that seeks to enhance the US State Department’s effectiveness recommends, among other things, a more results-oriented budget and streamlined foreign aid.

 A key recommendation is to use the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as “the platform to build a more robust, effective civilian assistance capacity, empowering it with an expanded mission set and greater control over US foreign assistance efforts.”

 The report’s authors—ten foreign policy experts—also agreed that in order to make the State Department more effective, its structure must be refined, its personnel properly prepared for their jobs, and its relationship with the US Congress improved.

 This analysis is “more important than ever,” US Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) said at the Atlantic Council on September 6. Royce delivered the keynote address at the report’s launch.
North Korea’s missile test over Japan on August 29 came “perilously close” to being an act of war; the question now is how will US President Donald J. Trump react, said the Atlantic Council’s Robert A. Manning.

In response to past North Korean missile tests, Trump vowed to rain down “fire and fury”  on the hermit kingdom. After the latest test on Aug. 29, he warned Pyongyang that “all options are on the table.”

“[North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un has threatened to fire missiles at Guam, but the North Koreans are very careful to calibrate their actions so that they fall just under the threshold that would force a US response. However, I think this time there is an accumulation of frustration and anger building in the White House,” said Manning, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. Guam is a US territory and home to the United States’ Andersen Air Force Base.

Noting Trump’s past rhetoric on North Korea, Manning said: “The missile test is the equivalent of [North Korean leader] Kim [Jong-un] throwing a pie in his face.”
As the United Kingdom (UK) proceeds with negotiations to leave the European Union (EU), it must account for mounting security concerns regarding the potential drop-off in shared intelligence with EU countries.

A recent report published by the UK’s House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee concluded there will be a “barrier” to security if data transfers between EU nations and the UK are obstructed after Brexit, which would negatively impact the national security and counter terrorism efforts of not only the UK, but EU member states as well.  

In recent years, especially after the attacks in Brussels, Paris, Nice, and Berlin, there has been more cooperation within the EU to keep European citizens safe, highlighting both the growing importance and validity of intelligence sharing. The most recent attack in Barcelona on August 17, when a vehicle driven through crowds of pedestrians killed twelve and injured eighty, only underscores the growing need for collaboration in counterterrorism efforts throughout Europe. As a result, the UK needs to make the reconciliation between its security system and that of the EU a priority in the Brexit negotiations, working hard to secure the best UK-EU intelligence-sharing arrangement possible.


    

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