Issue Briefs

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It is the core purpose of the Atlantic Council to foster bipartisan support for policies that promote the security of the United States and the transatlantic community. The signatories of this piece have either served in Afghanistan, been involved in the formation of US policy in government, or otherwise devoted considerable time to Afghan affairs. They have come together to register a broad, bipartisan consensus in support of certain principles that they believe should guide policy formation and decision-making on Afghanistan during the remainder of the Obama administration and the first year of a new administration, of whichever party. It is critical that the current administration prepare the path for the next. A new president will come into office facing a wave of instability in the Islamic world and the threat from violent extremism, which stretches from Asia through the Middle East to Africa. This will continue to pose a considerable challenge and danger to American interests abroad, and to the homeland. The signatories support the continued US engagement required to protect American interests and increase the possibilities for Afghan success.

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Despite the sectarian barbs traded between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Iran's unique ability to meet the kingdom's fast growing demand for electricity may help spur a reconciliation, according to the Atlantic Council's Jean-François Seznec. In his report Crude Oil for Natural Gas: Prospects for Iran-Saudi Reconciliation, Seznec argues that the two dominant energy producers do not necessarily need to see their energy production as competition.

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The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a civil society group comprising the Tunisian General Labor Union; the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade, and Handicrafts; the Tunisian Human Rights League; and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, October 9, 2015 "for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia." In a new Atlantic Council Issue Brief, "Tunisia: The Last Arab Spring Country," Atlantic Council Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East Senior Fellows Mohsin Khan and Karim Mezran survey the successes of Tunisia's consensus-based transition and the challenges that lie ahead.

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In the latest FutureScape issue brief from the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security's Strategic Foresight Initiative, author Peter Engelke discusses the long-term economic, environmental, and policy implications of urbanization. Entitled "Foreign Policy for an Urban World: Global Governance and the Rise of Cities," the brief examines how urbanization is hastening the global diffusion of power and how cities themselves are increasingly important nodes of power in global politics.

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Since the Maidan revolution, the Ukrainian government has embarked on a comprehensive reform agenda. But almost two years since the revolution, reforms are still lacking in core areas. The most prominent achievements are the establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau to fight high-level corruption, the introduction of a new police force in the cities of Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv, the reform of the banking system, and the restructuring of the natural gas sector. However, there were few attempts to reform the civil service and businesses continue to claim that middle-and low-level employees at tax and customs agencies remain corrupt. The authors of "Ukraine: From Evolutionary to Revolutionary Reforms" warn that, if the Ukrainian government does not follow through with an ambitious reform agenda, public support for reforms will wane while dissatisfaction will increase, threatening political stability and the country's successful future. There is no time for slow evolutionary changes. Radical and revolutionary reforms are the only way to success.

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The United States and the Nordic states enjoy a strong, productive relationship. However, stability in the Nordic-Baltic area is under increasing stress, which has implications for both NATO and its partner members, Finland and Sweden. In "Nordic-Baltic Security and the US Role," the Atlantic Council's US Navy Senior Fellow Mark Seip argues that the United States must prioritize bolstering assurance among NATO members, principally the Baltic states. Additionally, the United States and NATO should enhance its capabilities through collaboration, leverage soft power instruments, and find mutuality between NATO and its key partners, Finland and Sweden. In do¬ing so, the United States and the Nordic nations stand to solidify the gains of the thriving region and strengthen European security.

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Concerns in the United States and its traditional Middle Eastern allies about Iran's expanding regional role in the aftermath of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached between Iran and the P5+1 on July 14, 2015, fail to take into consideration a significant debate within the Iranian policy elite. In "Iran Debates Its Regional Role," University of Tehran Professor Nasser Hadian dispels commonly held myths about Iran and its regional goals, and presents a native perspective of Iran's threat calculations and the resulting spectrum of policy perspectives.

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The West has responded to the Kremlin's increasingly bellicose policy in the former Soviet space by imposing punitive measures against Russia's energy sector. The immediate impact of such measures appears limited as neither oil nor gas flowing from Russia is expected to suffer right away. However, the sanctions' long-term implications may prove more important. In "Energy Sanctions and Russia: What Comes Next?," Adnan Vatansever, a Nonresident Fellow at the Atlantic Council's Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and a Global Energy Center Fellow, argues that the sanctions could diminish Russia's capacity to produce the same amount of oil and hamper a number of its gas objectives abroad.

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The South China Sea (SCS) has been, and remains, an area rife with tension. Disputes among SCS states stem from unresolved issues relating to sovereignty, exclusive economic zones, natural resources, and acceptable uses of the military. In the past two decades, fishing boats have been detained or damaged, fishermen and sailors arrested or killed, and artificial islands constructed for military purposes. These years of strife have led to the current SCS state of play: it is a vitally important region where competition is high and trust is low.

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Despite the many external players involved, the Syrian war is ultimately a local conflict. In "Seizing Local Opportunities in Syria," authors Faysal Itani of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center and Co-Founder of People Demand Change Bassam Barabandi identify three opportunities on the ground for the United States to develop partnerships with segments of the Syrian population. By taking advantage of these openings, the United States can help further its goals of facilitating a lasting political transition and weakening jihadists in Syria. These opportunities include encouraging a Sunni-Druze coalition in the south and an Arab-Kurdish one in the north, as well as deepening contact with Jaish al-Islam (JAI) in the Damascus suburbs of Eastern Ghouta.

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