Issue Briefs

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Over the past eighteen years, Vladimir Putin has perfected a peculiar style of rule in Moscow. A product of the KGB, Putin quickly appointed many of his siloviki colleagues to senior positions in the government shortly after coming to power. Once in office, his associates enriched themselves by looting state resources and seizing vulnerable private resources. The quest for economic gain also opened the door to cooperation between senior government officials and organized crime.

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As unrest over the Iraqi government’s failure to provide essential services grips southern Iraq, the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East is offering insight and analysis beyond the headlines. In a new issue brief, Beyond Security: Stabilization, Governance, and Socioeconomic Challenges in Iraq, Dr. Harith Hasan explores the ways in which economic and social issues play into Iraq’s instability and the genesis of violent conflict. In addition to Iraq’s flailing economy and demographic boom, the author highlights growing disillusionment with the political system, demonstrated by the low turnout in Iraq’s contested May 2018 election. Lack of political participation risks widening the gap between ruling elites and public demands, which could ultimately lead to further radicalization and conflict.

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Environmental degradation has become a major issue in Iran. It is a source of economic hardship, ill health, social disruption and recent political protests. Climate change has been a factor in this deterioration but so has mismanagement of the country's once ample natural resources. Our latest issue brief, Environmental and Wildlife Degradation in Iran, authored by ecologist David Laylin, reveals the monumental challenges faced by the Islamic Republic as it contends with water shortages, disappearing lakes and wetlands, polluted air, sandstorms, desertification, biodiversity loss and shrinking forests. This comprehensive analysis also outlines practical steps that the government of Iran and international partners can take to begin to overcome these challenges.

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The uncertain results of President Trump’s June 12 summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un underscore the fact that the United States needs to keep developing tools to intensify the “maximum pressure” campaign that helped bring North Korea to the negotiating table. If North Korea proves unwilling to denuclearize and diplomacy breaks down once again, the Trump administration will need game-changing options in its sanctions arsenal. In “How to Increase Pressure if Diplomacy with North Korea Fails” authors Daleep Singh, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and Peter E. Harrell, adjunct senior fellow at CNAS, explain that a truly “maximum pressure” campaign on North Korea would require the credible threat of targeted sanctions against China. The authors identify opportunities to increase pressure on China to curtail its economic support for North Korea by proceeding in three parts. First, Singh and Harrell assess China’s financial vulnerabilities. Second, they review key US sources of leverage. Finally, the authors provide specific recommendations on potential sanctions if the current diplomatic opening with North Korea fails to resolve the crisis.

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Since Putin’s annexation of Crimea and military aggression in Donbas—and especially since the 2016 US presidential election—the spread of Kremlin propaganda and disinformation has become a dominant subject of discussion and debate in the West. Academic research, investigative journalism, government inquiries, and NGO activities have drawn back the curtain on the Kremlin’s efforts to meddle in and distort the Western information space.

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As the energy sector has become more globalized and increasingly complex in its reliance on software components, the supply-chain risk has evolved and expanded. One such risk that stands out is unintended taint, namely flaws in software components unintentionally built into products in design or implementation. Unintended taint may lead to unintended supply-chain subversion, and represents a significant and credible threat to the uninterrupted functionality of critical infrastructure within the energy sector. In this issue brief, we outline a taxonomy for understanding certain energy sector risks and provide concrete recommendations for policy makers and the private sector.

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Economic sanctions have proven to be an important foreign policy tool for the Trump Administration. In less than a year, it has expanded existing economic sanctions in response to disputes with North Korea, Russia, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela. In Secondary Economic Sanctions: Effective Policy or Risky Business, author John Forrer, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Business & Economics Program, explains that one specific strategy used to increase the effects of US sanctions is referred to as “secondary sanctions.” This type of sanction is adopted in addition to the “primary sanctions” imposed on a sanctioned individual or entity. The author adds that globalization has lessened many countries’ vulnerability to traditional sanctions, and poses severe challenges to designing and implementing economic sanctions. Mr. Forrer argues that secondary sanctions can bolster the effectiveness of primary sanctions. At the same time, he cautions that secondary sanctions can be controversial, and their effectiveness is highly contested. The author stresses the importance of fully understanding secondary sanctions’ promise and pitfalls, before embracing a strategy of expanded use of this foreign policy tool.

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Over the past year, many have questioned the extent to which the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) are an arm of the Lebanese state or beholden to Hezbollah. Pointing to the LAF’s complicated relationship with Hezbollah, congressional and other voices in the United States have criticized US security assistance to Lebanon and threatened to withhold assistance. Yet, over the past decade, the military capabilities of the LAF have improved significantly, and the group has effectively defended Lebanon’s borders, including against ISIS. In “The United States–Lebanese Armed Forces Partnership: Challenges, Risks, and Rewards”, Atlantic Council nonresident senior fellow Nicholas Blanford assesses LAF capabilities, the trajectory of the LAF over the past decade, and what leverage the United States has achieved through its investment in the LAF, in particular relative to Hezbollah, Iran, and other actors.

 

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In cybersecurity, it is time to go beyond sharing and ad hoc cooperation, to collaboration at scale across borders, stakeholders, and sectors. This effort should begin with a determined study of the responses to past incidents and how to improve them, then proceed to new, action-oriented Cyber Incident Collaboration Organizations (CICO) to streamline response. The goal of a CICO must be to streamline the current response process for an incident type, to provide an umbrella to make such work easier or to upscale it. In this issue brief, Jason Healey presents the next generation of innovations that will simplify agile, scalable response to incidents—across borders, stakeholders, and sectors.

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“Unlike in the legacy industries, there are no Ukrainian IT oligarchs, no IT-supported political parties in the Rada, and no IT-controlled Ukrainian media channels,” argue Andrei Kirilenko and Tetyana Tyshchuk in From Legacy to Digital: Ukraine’s Plugged-in Economy, a new issue brief by the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center. In fact, Ukraine has a long and proud history in the development of information technology (IT), both hardware and software. MESM, the first digital electronic computer in continental Europe, was completed in 1951 in Feofania on the outskirts of Kyiv. Despite the war, unfavorable investment climate, and weak institutions, Ukraine’s IT industry has been experiencing double-digit growth for several years running. This issue brief examines the rising IT sector in Ukraine and how the new digital economy is integrating into global markets and increasing the productivity and competitiveness of Ukraine’s human capital.

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