The first major showdown of our new era of great power competition, unfolding with accelerating speed over the past ten weeks in Venezuela, has entered a dangerous new phase. That is true, most of all, for the Venezuelan people, but also for Latin American democracies and for vital US interests in the Western Hemisphere.

How this drama turns out may mark the most significant test yet of the Trump administration's credibility, following a highest-level chorus this week of President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, who all declared – in one way or another – that Russia had to get out of the country.

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The next week matters for European policy makers. EU finance ministers are meeting in Brussels on April 5 and 6. This will be followed by an emergency European Council summit on April 10 at which EU leaders will not only discuss Brexit, but also discuss the European Union’s position on negotiating a narrow free trade agreement with the United States. On April 12, European finance ministers and central bank governors will take part in important Group of Twenty (G-20) side discussions alongside the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank spring meetings in Washington. These leaders would have been focused on worrying signs of slumping global growth and trade tensions with the United States, but leaks to Reuters on April 3 suggest that policy makers are returning to another Brexit sore point: non-bank financial regulation. 

The leaks show European policy makers are beginning to raise concerns regarding capital markets and non-bank financial institutions, most of which are located in the United Kingdom and the United States. They are also reviving a focus on euro-denominated securities, most of which are traded and settled in London.  It seems that Euro area policymakers have turned a corner and are preparing to create a framework for “future European financial sovereignty” as described in this speech today in Bucharest by the French central bank governor who is also a board member of the European Central Bank.   

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Libya, once again, is on the boil.

Khalifa Haftar, who leads the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) in the eastern part of the country, set off alarm bells this week when he ordered his troops to march on Tripoli where an internationally recognized government is seated. Haftar refuses to accept the legitimacy of this government, which is led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj. And therein lies the problem.

Haftar’s forces control large swathes of territory in the eastern and southern parts of Libya and have steadily gained ground.

In response to Haftar’s orders to the LNA, militias in the western cities of Libya have rallied to defend Tripoli.

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On NATO’s seventieth anniversary on April 4, foreign ministers from the twenty-nine allies, as well as the foreign minister of North Macedonia — soon to be the thirtieth member of the Alliance — met in Washington to discuss the growing threats the Alliance faces and the progress being made to strengthen it for the decades to come.

Before the meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said foreign ministers would “reflect on our achievements over these last seven decades, but we will also look to the future.” Speaking to reporters after the meeting, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Alliance “took important decisions on urgent problem sets,” including burden sharing, Russia, and Afghanistan.

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The Islamic State, pushed out of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq, could seek to establish a caliphate in the heart of Africa, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi warned in a meeting at the Atlantic Council in Washington on April 4. He sought a “strategic partnership” with the United States, one of the pillars of which would be military assistance to address the challenge of terrorism.

“It is easy to see how the defeat of Daesh, the Islamic State, in Syria and Iraq could lead to a situation where these groups are now going to come into Africa and take advantage of the pervasive poverty and also the situation of chaos that we have, for example, in Beni and Butembo, to set up their caliphate,” Tshisekedi said, referring to cities in northeastern DRC which have been gripped by deadly violence.

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Britain’s political structures are falling apart and, ironically, nothing illustrates this better than the fact that the leaders of its two biggest political parties are supposedly seeking to cooperate to deliver something that they once campaigned to oppose: Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

Prime Minister Theresa May leads a Conservative Party whose members of parliament overwhelmingly oppose any Brexit deal she might be able to strike with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. As for Corbyn, while most of his MPs might just support a May-Corbyn Brexit deal if it guaranteed continued membership of a customs union with the EU, a rump element remains fiercely opposed to any such outcome.

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For generations, NATO has defended against conventional enemies, promising its member countries solidarity in the face of adversity. That promise survived its first major test in 2001, but in a globalizing and technologically changing world, NATO risks being left behind as a 20th century institution holding on to an old political reality. To preserve its foundational strength, NATO should transition from an institution hinged solely on the promise of collective defense to a beacon of liberal thought leadership, emphasizing the critical roles for cooperation and diplomacy in preserving international security. Taking a two-pronged approach that emphasizes both high-level dialogue and on-the-ground engagement will best position NATO to take on this new mandate, addressing emerging issues and drawing in partners beyond its traditional Atlantic alliance.

As the world moves further from conventional warfare, the ensuing rush to embrace space-based warfare, drone swarms, and nation-state cyberattacks will generate mismatched expectations and execution, with rival states and watchdog groups leveling criticisms and accusations of illegality as governments struggle to parse out the limits of these new technologies.

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NATO is being celebrated in Washington this week. The Alliance, which turned seventy on April 4, is marking its anniversary in the very town it was born.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made history by becoming the first leader of the Alliance to address a joint meeting of the US Congress on April 3. He was treated like a rock star on Capitol Hill where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle showed their support for the Alliance. “The secretary general of NATO had so many standing ovations, I thought it was an aerobics class,” joked Atlantic Council President and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Kempe. 

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The time is right now to renew our vows and to engage a new generation in freedom’s cause,’ says former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

NATO is a critical part of US President Donald J. Trump’s foreign policy doctrine, which aims to strengthen rather than weaken the Alliance, a senior US State Department official said in Washington on April 3.

“The Trump doctrine I think speaks to some of the challenges that NATO has faced in recent years,” said Kiron K. Skinner, director of the Office of Policy Planning and senior policy adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Skinner said the US approach to NATO aims to preserve sovereignty of the nation state and focus on equitable burden sharing — “core aspects of NATO that will strengthen, not weaken, NATO.” 

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Says Russia funding ‘fight clubs and biker clubs’ in the Baltic States to exploit domestic instability

US Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) on April 3 warned NATO allies to be “constantly vigilant about the very quiet things that the Russians are doing that could ultimately lead to a traditional military confrontation.”

Pointing to Russian support for “fight clubs and biker clubs” inside the Baltic States, Murphy said they are “just there waiting for some kind of domestic instability to allow for an opportunity to do in a NATO country what the Russians have successfully done inside Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in Ukraine.”

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