What sets apart the Atlantic Council is the clarity of its mission, the dynamic character of its work, and the results-oriented culture of its staff. Our stated mission sounds simple enough, “Shaping the Global Future Together.” To achieve that, however, requires work that goes beyond arm’s-length analysis and galvanizes US leadership alongside partners and allies to tackle the defining challenges of our era. To achieve that, our team of intellectual entrepreneurs design their projects to achieve results.
At the end of each calendar year, our staff participates in a survey that identifies our most significant work over the previous twelve months. Yet the fifteen choices below—not intended to be listed in any order of importance—only scratch the surface of what we achieved across our dozen programs and centers. What you’ll see, however, captures the breadth, depth, and diversity of our work.
Our list includes the launch of our newest center, the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center, aimed at making a billion people in the world more resilient, particularly in the face of environmental threats. And it includes the significant first step of our Digital Atlantic Council project, the launch of our new website.
You’ll see several projects aimed at strengthening democracies, crucially through our ground-breaking work against disinformation, and at reinvigorating the rules-based international order. We continue to lead on issues regarding our transatlantic core, from the future of NATO to our relations in Central Europe. At a time when Ukraine was becoming a bitter US political and impeachment issue, we continued our crucial work on defending the country’s sovereignty and supporting its reforms.
We worked on regional challenges around the world, from Sudan, where democracy advanced, to Venezuela, where authoritarianism deepened. In the Middle East, we tracked a new major power competition involving Russia and China. In Asia, we worked to revitalize relations with allies, and in India, we worked to improve trade relations.
We galvanized communities that address issues ranging from the future of energy to the geopolitics of technological change, setting the stage for a new GeoTech Center launch in 2020. And we continued our efforts to prepare a next generation of leaders to wrestle with this challenging world.
We did all of that in the non-partisan, values-driven manner that has defined the Atlantic Council’s work throughout its fifty-eight-year history, always working alongside allies and partners to achieve significant, sustainable results.
We hope you find this list informative and inspiring—as we do.
Here are the highlights from a busy 2019:
1. Adrienne Arsht – Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center
This year, the Atlantic Council announced a game-changing, $25 million gift from business leader and philanthropist Adrienne Arsht to endow the Adrienne Arsht Center for Resilience. This came in response to a $30 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, effective May 1, the single largest gift the Atlantic Council has received. The result was the renamed Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center.
By identifying, implementing, and scaling solutions to the urgent crises of climate change, migration, and security, the new Center seeks to enhance the resilience of one billion people by 2030.
2. Operation Secondary Infektion
Continuing its ground-breaking work to counter disinformation, the Digital Forensic Research Lab published an exclusive open-source investigation exposing the latest Russian-based information operation. Dubbed “Secondary Infektion,” the operation revealed the ongoing vulnerability of online platforms, the capabilities of increasingly sophisticated bad actors, and what we can expect in the future. While the operation had a presence on Facebook—which helped expose Secondary Infekton based on its partnership with DFRLab—and Twitter, it also maintained fake accounts on platforms such as Medium and Reddit as well as online forums from Australia and Austria to Spain to San Francisco. DFRLab continues to ensure the Council is the vanguard of defending open democracies from disinformation operations.
3. Artificial intelligence and the geopolitics of technology
The Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security (SCSS) helped shape the US and allied response to the national security implications of emerging technology. General James L. Jones published a Strategic Insights Memo on the threat of Chinese Huawei 5G infrastructure in Europe. The memo was briefed to senior US and European officials, helped to put the issue in the media spotlight, and helped encourage many governments to reassess their cooperation with Huawei. SCSS also published an Atlantic Council Strategy Paper, “A candle in the dark,” and its recommendations informed the work of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and the Department of Defense Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. The Cyber Statecraft Initiative played a role in shaping the final product of the Cyber Solarium, a bipartisan, Congressionally mandated, review of US cyber-security. Furthermore, the Scowcroft Center’s partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation on the possibility of international cooperation on artificial intelligence helped lay the groundwork for the launch of the Council’s new GeoTech Center early in 2020.
4. Europe’s future
The Atlantic Council and GLOBSEC’s report, “The United States and Central Europe: Tasks for a Second Century Together,” examines a century of relations between the United States and Central Europe and recommends an action plan for their second century together. In the context of fraught relations and many challenges between the two, this paper advanced the Future Europe Initiative’s strategy of constructively engaging with our Central European allies and outlining areas for deeper US-Central European cooperation. The paper provided an opportunity to host the Visegrád Four foreign ministers in Washington to discuss its recommendations. It was also an example of our new strategic partnership with GLOBSEC, an impressive think tank partner in Central Europe. This paper was just one of many elements in the Council’s intensified regional engagement, including the launch of the Weiser Family Distinguished Fellowship, with Ambassador Dan Fried as its inaugural holder, to support our work bolstering ties in this region.
5. Revitalizing the global order
The Scowcroft Center played a major role in formulating US and allied approaches to revitalize, adapt, and defend the rules-based international system. The Atlantic Council Strategy Paper “Global risks 2035” described the long-term trends and risks pulling at the seams of the rules-based system. To address these challenges, SCSS released a new Declaration of Principles for Freedom, Prosperity, and Peace. These principles formed the basis for the Atlantic Council Strategy Paper “Present at the re-creation,” which was briefed to high-level policymakers in the United States and around the world, including the policy planning directors of every NATO country. The strategies outlined in the paper also received widespread media attention, including in The Economist, Fareed Zakaria GPS, and Politico.
6. NATO Engages and permanent deterrence
To underscore the enduring importance of NATO as it celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2019, the Council and its Transatlantic Security Initiative (TSI) convened two NATO Engages events as part of a consortium of transatlantic think tanks. “NATO Engages: The Alliance at 70,” held in Washington alongside NATO’s official anniversary commemoration in April, became the public platform for key officials and rising leaders to issue their support for the Alliance. “NATO Engages: Innovating the Alliance,” one of our most innovative public outreach events to date, built on this momentum in London alongside the December 2019 Leaders Meeting of Heads of State and Government.
Meanwhile, a Council task force produced a high-impact report, “Permanent Deterrence,” that recommended enhancements to bolster deterrence in Northern Europe. The report’s recommended package became the baseline for the final posture agreement between the US and Polish governments.
At a crucial moment in the country’s history, the Atlantic Council continued to be the go-to DC think tank for the battle over Ukraine’s future. As Ukraine was drawn into impeachment proceedings and bitter US domestic politics, politicians and media outlets have portrayed Ukraine in ways that could undermine support for a policy that opposes Russian aggression and supports reform in Ukraine. In this toxic environment, the Eurasia Center has done its most important work since Kremlin aggression in Ukraine started in 2014. The Center has extensively debunked disinformation about Ukraine’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election and advocated for sound policies; organized a bipartisan conference in Congress in concert with nine other think tanks; and launched an initiative to bring to Ukraine former senior officials to make clear that US support for Ukraine remains strong. We have also continued to be a key resource for the US Congress, which passed a National Defense Authorization Act in December that reaffirmed and deepened support for Ukraine.
8. Sudan Initiative
African communities harnessed the power of social media and public protest to challenge authoritarian states in 2019. The removal of longtime Sudanese ruler Omar al-Bashir in April was the most striking, if still fragile, achievement. Bashir’s fall has left a power vacuum that can only be resolved through a long and complex sequence of reforms, which will require the cooperation of both Sudan’s security forces and active reengagement by the West. As the country’s civilian-led transitional government has worked to find its footing, the Africa Center provided an effective forum for research and analysis. In May, we recruited Senior Fellow Cameron Hudson to lead the Center’s Sudan programming. The Center also hosted two strategy sessions for the United States government and provided the venue for a public address by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, marking the first official visit of a Sudanese head of government to Washington in more than thirty years.
9. The Venezuela crisis
The ongoing collapse of Venezuela is the worst man-made crisis in the Western Hemisphere. The Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center (AALAC) has made supporting a unified and coordinated peaceful democratic transition in Venezuela central to its mission. Working with Venezuelan stakeholders and the international community, the Center has promoted constructive dialogue among a broad array of Venezuelans, coordinated international support to press for political change and buy-in for a post-Maduro plan, raised awareness about the meddling of pro-Maduro foreign actors, and exposed and explained disinformation in the region. AALAC remotely hosted Juan Guaidó just two weeks before he became interim president. Within days of the formation of his interim government, we convened a strategy session with Venezuela’s new ambassador in Washington and its now-special envoy for foreign relations. The Council organized a ground-breaking private Peace Game simulation and put a spotlight on the humanitarian crisis by hosting Priority Venezuela in New York City during UN General Assembly week to discuss how a more robust international response can improve the lives of Venezuelans and promote regional stability.
10. Asian allies
The Scowcroft Center’s Asia Security Initiative (ASI) worked to revitalize links between US allies as they seek a coordinated response to the rise of China. At the height of renewed tensions between Japan and Korea, ASI published a Strategic Insights Memo, “How to Break the Japan-Korea Impasse,” that provided a detailed roadmap for US diplomatic engagement to reduce bilateral tensions between two essential US allies in Asia. Subsequently, US officials convinced their Korean counterparts to save a key military intelligence-sharing pact (GSOMIA). At the same time, ASI expanded its highest-level programming on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. In June, for the first time ever, the Council hosted a joint public appearance of both then-US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and his South Korean counterpart, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Do-hoon Lee, as keynote speakers at the 2019 Atlantic Council-East Asia Foundation Strategic Dialogue.
11. Global Energy Forum
The Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum has emerged as the go-to conference on the geopolitics of the energy transformation, where energy and foreign policy leaders come together to set the energy agenda for the year and examine the longer-term geopolitical and geo-economic implications of the changing energy system. The third annual forum in 2019 was its most impactful yet, with the highest participation of senior officials and business leaders and more media hits than the previous two years combined. Key discussion topics included the future of oil, the digitization of energy, and diversification in energy companies and energy-producing countries. The 2020 forum, this January 10 – 12, promises to be even more timely given the crisis in the Gulf and the potential impact on global energy security.
12. MENA great powers report
For the past two years, the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East has collaborated with the Italian Institute for Political Studies (ISPI) in hosting a conference in Washington on the most pressing challenges to the Middle East and the greater Transatlantic and Mediterranean communities. The AC-ISPI conferences have also coincided with the release of a joint publication, an edited volume that gathers analysis from top experts on the topic of the conference. This year, the conference and report focused on great power competition in the Middle East. The event featured remarks from Ambassador Armando Varricchio, General Joseph Votel, Assistant Secretary David Schenker, and others, who spoke on the US and transatlantic view toward renewed power competition in the MENA region and the role of rising regional and external powers like Turkey, Iran, China, and Russia.
13. Millennium Leadership Program in Colombia
The Millennium Leadership Program organized a two-week expedition to Colombia—as its flagship fellows project—focused on the theme of “Leading Change.” The fellows in this leadership accelerator program, chosen each year through a highly competitive process, brought this concept to life through conversations around Colombia’s peace process, the innovation of the Orange Economy, and the crisis in Venezuela. Participants held private, off-record discussions with Colombian President Ivan Duque and former President Alvaro Uribe as well as seven additional elected and cabinet-level officials. Fellows also meet with artists, activists, entrepreneurs, Venezuelan dissidents, and former combatants from different sides of Colombia’s internal armed conflict. To keep discussions anchored in practical leadership development, MLP integrated workshops and instruction on negotiation, adaptive leadership, and a range of individual leadership-development topics. The expedition concluded with a two-day offsite during which fellows consolidated their learning, synthesizing lessons from the trip’s meetings and leadership content.
14. India trade report
The US-India trade report was the South Asia Center’s most significant publication this year. This flagship project gathered input across a diverse range of stakeholders in both the United States and India, providing an overview of ongoing trade negotiations and recommending a series of next steps to repair the bilateral trade relationship. In doing so, it laid the foundation for future programming on US-India commercial ties and broader economic engagement in South Asia.
15. Digital Atlantic Council
The first step toward the creation of a more robust Digital Atlantic Council began in 2019 with the launch of our new website. Future steps will follow in 2020 that will further enhance our ability to provide more accessible, timely and cutting-edge content and engage worldwide communities of influence around crucial issues. Much work lies ahead, but the new website had already brought immediate benefits. Among them: we are featuring content in more creative, varied ways, including photo essays and through enhanced use of video and storytelling. This was an all-staff project with dozens of team members providing input and inspiration on the website’s design, structure and execution. The new website provides a powerful platform for future growth and innovative projects.
Frederick Kempe is president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe.