Issue Briefs

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The already turbulent bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan is deteriorating rapidly in response to India’s decision to revoke the special status of the Kashmir region. A presidential order issued by India on August 5 abolished Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution, and was shortly followed by the passage of the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization Bill by the Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament). Indian military troops quickly moved into the region, cellular networks were restricted, and high level government officials were placed under house arrest. In response, Pakistan has called on the international community, namely China and the United States, to take action, while India maintains that this is a matter of internal policy.

The briefing memo is a summary of recent events in Kashmir and discusses implications for the United States strategy in the region.


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The youngest president in Latin America, President Nayib Bukele has been an early symbol of hope and optimism for El Salvador, the region, and the United States as it seeks to stem irregular migration to its southern border. As he continues to settle into office, what policies from his proposed Plan Cuscatlán should his administration prioritize? From combatting corruption and cracking down on organized crime and insecurity, to creating economic opportunities and attracting foreign investment, how will the Bukele administration balance delivering on short-term needs along with long-term structural reforms?
A new Spotlight by María Eugenia Brizuela de Ávila, former minister of foreign affairs of El Salvador and nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, and Domingo Sadurní, program assistant with the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, explores the challenges and opportunities in four policy priorities of the Bukele administration during his first six months in office.


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The bilateral relationship between Japan and the Republic of Korea—two key US allies in Asia—is deteriorating rapidly. Japan has implemented export restrictions on three materials critical to Korea’s high-tech industry and has removed Korea from its “white list” of countries that benefit from preferential treatment on export of sensitive products, effective August 28, 2019. The Supreme Court of Korea has ordered Japanese companies to compensate colonial-era forced laborers, and Korea may decide not to renew its annual military information-sharing pact with Japan, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).

On July 25, 2019, the Atlantic Council’s Asia Security Initiative (ASI), housed within the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, hosted a strategy session with a small group of top US experts and officials to discuss ways forward and offer actionable, practical policy recommendations to the United States to help mitigate bilateral tensions and resolve the ongoing confrontation between Japan and Korea.


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The Gulf remains one of the most strategically critical regions in the world. Its stability and security have global implications, yet are far from certain. Consequently, the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and the Arabia Foundation hosted a matrix game simulation with the intent to challenge commonly held assumptions of US and regional policymakers about the possibility for conflict in the Gulf, and plausible, but underappreciated, conventional and unconventional Iranian military options. Along with the Arabia Foundation, the Atlantic Council believes a convergence of trends in the region has created an inflection point, meaning actions today could have historic and long-lasting consequences.

In this issue brief, “Avenues for Conflict in the Gulf: A Matrix Game Simulation,” game-runner and senior fellow John Watts reports on the results of the game – he explains how players of the game saw potential ways conflict could occur between Iran, the United States, and its regional partners; what that conflict might involve; and how regional and international players might respond.

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Chief among Latin American countries that have pioneered the fight against corruption sits Chile. Over the past two decades, Chile’s commitment to address corruption via progressive laws, restructured antitrust policies, and efforts to hold political representatives more accountable has established Chile as a regional leader on transparency and anticorruption matters. A new Spotlight by Laura Albornoz Pollmann, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, examines what makes Chilean efforts to curb corruption exceptional and explores how other Latin American countries can learn from the Chilean example.

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An alliance under tension, NATO today faces the challenges of burden sharing, a multipolar world full of old adversaries and emerging challengers. In “Collective Defense of Human Dignity: The Vision for NATO’s Future in Cyberspace,” Christopher Porter, a nonresident senior fellow in the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council analyzes member states struggling with diverging stances on cyber defense policy and planning—especially on the issue of Chinese investment and deployment of high-speed 5G cellular networks. In these challenging times, dialogue on these issues often devolves into allies talking past one another, without a shared basis of facts with which to frame the debate.

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As Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei age, the international community of Shia Muslims faces a looming void in religious and political leadership. Whoever succeeds these leaders will determine the extent of international influence in Iraq, the direction of Iran’s foreign policy and nuclear program, and the nature of both countries’ relations with the United States. As the Atlantic Council’s Iraq Initiative Director Abbas Kadhim and Future of Iran Initiative Director Barbara Slavin argue in their new Issue Brief "After Sistani and Khamenei: Looming Successions Will Shape the Middle East," the successors to these two prominent leaders will be paramount in defining the political and social landscape of Iraq, Iran, and the greater Middle East.

Throughout the paper, Kadhim and Slavin explain Sistani’s and Khamenei’s unique political philosophies. Although Sistani is primarily a religious figure, he possesses unparalleled de facto authority in Iraqi politics. With his support, Iraq established a civil state and is pursuing democratization. Meanwhile, Khamenei leans right in both Iran’s foreign and domestic policy, supporting the opportunistic expansion of influence in the region and repressing democratic aspirations at home. Changes in either of these leadership styles could disrupt the current trajectory of Middle Eastern politics, particularly as tensions between Iran and the United States continue to mount.


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The Trump administration has raised the alarm about China’s domination of large infrastructure projects in Africa, diagnosing the growing indebtedness of African nations to China as a threat to US national security, as well as the sovereignty of the countries affected. They also correctly bemoan the unfair advantages conferred on Chinese firms by Beijing’s multi-billion dollar financial commitments. China’s commercial interests in Africa have evolved from infrastructure-centric, government-to-government (G2G) financing to challenge areas of traditional US investment strengths, such as foreign direct investment, private equity, and venture capital. As a result, the administration needs to account for the true nature of the economic challenge to US interests that China’s changing engagement with Africa poses.

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Iran is facing a myriad of challenges, domestically, regionally and internationally. Its economy is suffering from sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, its regional adversaries are building a united coalition against it, and diplomatic efforts have not been enough to escape further international isolation. But even while facing sobering external challenges, Iran has not lost sight of its domestic and expatriate political opposition. As Atlantic Council nonresident senior fellow Borzou Daragahi argues in his new issue brief, "Beyond Control: Iran and Its Opponents Locked in a Lopsided Confrontation," the Islamic Republic still perceives these groups and any group not under its direct control as a threat to regime stability.

Throughout the paper, Daragahi shows how Iran’s political opposition groups are largely weak and fragmented. Reformists within the country are beholden to moderates, and they have failed to shift the direction of Iran in any substantive way. Foreign-based opposition groups like the monarchists are removed from the reality on the ground, and they inherently lack the credibility to present a viable alternative to the current system. And although the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) may curry favor with the current US administration, their support is more limited within Iran.

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Russia’s military modernization and aggressive behavior continues to threaten the security of NATO’s frontline Allies, the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Russia’s proximity to these states and their distance from other NATO Allies presents the Alliance with a fundamental problem: if a crisis were to erupt with little warning in the Baltic States, NATO reinforcements may not be able to arrive quickly enough to stop a rapid Russian advance. At the same time, the Baltic States’ small size and relatively small budgets limit the level of defense investments they can make. How then, can the Baltic States put their resources to best use to defend their territory and deter Russia?
In “The Melians’ Revenge” Dr. T.X. Hammes advocates for a novel approach to defense investment in the Baltic States, harnessing emerging , high-tech, low cost systems to present Russia with a complex defense of inexpensive autonomous drones, missiles, and ubiquitous improvised explosive devices. When supported by other NATO nations’ forward-deployed units, cruise missiles, and long-range autonomous drones, this defense can present the Russian bear with an indigestible porcupine.

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