Issue Briefs

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The transatlantic community has made significant progress leveraging global energy resources to increase energy security, thanks to improvements in renewable energy, energy efficiency, shale oil extraction, alternative source and route development, and infrastructure. However, European energy security remains a challenge, as malign actors use energy for geopolitical coercion, communities around the globe grapple with the realities of climate change, and geopolitical conflicts threaten the security of supply and access to sustainable resource development.

In their new issue brief, Atlantic Council Global Energy Center Founding Chairman Richard L. Morningstar, Senior Fellow András Simonyi, Associate Director for European Energy Security Olga Khakova, and Senior Fellow Irina Markina examine the current energy security landscape in Europe and assess the state of transatlantic cooperation. They argue that transatlantic cooperation with a focus on energy security will be essential to addressing global challenges and should be prioritized by US and EU leadership, since energy security translates into national, political, and economic security on both sides of the Atlantic.


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Russia and Iran are allies in Syria not out of mutual sympathy, but for pragmatic reasons. Iranian leaders were instrumental in convincing Vladimir Putin to send his air force to Syria to support Bashar al-Assad in September 2015, and the two countries cooperate within Syria to this day. However, their various differences highlight the limits of what looks like an alliance of convenience. A new report by Atlantic Council Nonresident Senior Fellow, Ambassador Michel Duclos, "Russia and Iran in Syria—a Random Partnership or an Enduring Alliance?," analyzes these points of contention and the potential for Western diplomacy with Russia to deter Iran and bring about a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

In the short term, Russia and Iran appear to disagree on how to handle the current challenges the regime faces in Idlib and the Kurdish-dominated northeast. There is a degree of competition between the Iranians and the Russians in trying to get access to Syria’s rare economic resources, such as port access and hydrocarbons. Both countries are also jockeying for influence with the Assad regime, trying to put people close to them in key positions in the Syrian military and security forces.


In the longer term, it seems Russia and Iran do not share the same vision for Syria’s future. Russia sees a secular Syria that is somewhat decentralized, while Iran sees something closer to the Lebanese model. There is no doubt that Russia and Iran have different ideas about the regional balance of which Syria should be a part, and particularly diverge on their stance towards Israel. Ambassador Duclos' new report investigates these tensions and the ways they might be exploited, with policy implications for Western countries.
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Russia is once again a major player in the Middle East. Moscow has notably backed the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while it has a growing footprint in Iran, Turkey, and the Gulf. Russia's return to the region has posed significant challenges for transatlantic policymaking in this era of renewed great-power competition. This new issue brief by Dr. Mark N. Katz addresses Russia’s growing role in the region and its economic, political, and security implications.


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As a great power competition with Russia plays out in Europe, the United States and its Allies in NATO must reassess the role and importance of the air domain to transatlantic security. While NATO has made notable strides in strengthening defense and deterrence in the land domain, more must be done in the air domain. Reemerging adversaries, including Russia, continue to invest in advanced assets and pursue strategies and risky behavior that test the Alliance and its ability to respond. Russia also poses significant challenges to allied air superiority, including A2/AD networks in Northern Europe, over the Black Sea, and in the Eastern Mediterranean that have the potential to limit allied access to these regions. While the United States and its NATO Allies and partners have enjoyed three decades of air supremacy, the pendulum is now swinging in the other direction. This could have real implications in a potential crisis.
In the latest issue brief from the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security’s Transatlantic Security Initiative, General Frank Gorenc, USAF (Ret.) maps out the challenges facing NATO—those posed by Russia and those stemming from gaps in Allied capabilities—and provides a series of recommendations for NATO to improve its posture in the air domain as a means to ensuring stability in Europe.


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The US-Danish relationship has proven itself remarkably flexible and effective throughout the post-Cold War era, and it is once again on the cusp of evolution with new challenges and opportunities. In the midst of the ongoing debate among NATO allies about burden-sharing, Denmark has consistently punched above its weight, contributing substantially to collective defense for a small country.

Indeed, at the start of 2019, the Danish government released a supplemental defense agreement committing Denmark to increase defense spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2023. The agreement demonstrates Denmark’s continued aspiration to contribute to the NATO Alliance and provides a needed influx of resources for defense and deterrence. These developments have the potential to profoundly affect a deep but often overlooked security relationship—that between the United States and Denmark.

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As energy markets and technologies rapidly change, international oil companies (IOCs) are facing a set of interconnected challenges that will fundamentally affect their business models. From changes in the supply and demand picture, to shifts in how energy is produced and consumed, to public pressure to decrease greenhouse gas footprints, companies have a wide range of issues to consider as they decide how to prepare for an unpredictable future. In a new issue brief, “Navigating the Energy Transition: International Oil Company Diversification Strategies,” Global Energy Center Senior Fellow David Koranyi provides a macro picture of select IOC’s strategic (re)thinking and explores some of the strategies IOCs have undertaken to diversify their portfolios and prepare for the unfolding energy transition.

IOCs have diverging views on many of the issues at hand and have chosen to address the energy transition in different ways, so which strategies will ultimately be successful? Only time will tell which companies will benefit from the current energy transition and which ones will struggle to cope with the disruptions to come, and to what extent the oil industry can play a constructive role in developing a new, more climate friendly energy system for the twenty-first century.

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North Central Europe has become the central point of confrontation between the West and a revisionist Russia. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia is determined to roll back the post-Cold War settlement and undermine the rules-based order that has kept Europe secure since the end of World War II. Moscow’s invasion and continued occupation of Georgian and Ukrainian territories, its military build-up in Russia’s Western Military District and Kaliningrad, and its “hybrid” warfare against Western societies have heightened instability in the region have made collective defense and deterrence an urgent mission for the United States and NATO.

The United States and NATO have taken significant steps since 2014to enhance their force posture and respond to provocative Russian behavior. Despite these efforts, the allies in North Central Europe face a formidable and evolving adversary, and it is unlikely that Russian efforts to threaten and intimidate these nations will end in the near term. Now, ahead of NATO’s seventieth anniversary there is more that can and should be done to enhance the Alliance’s deterrence posture in the region. In this vein, the government of Poland submitted a proposal earlier this year offering $2 billion to support a permanent US base in the country.

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The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi thrust an otherwise little-known sanctions program into the spotlight—the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (or GloMag in sanctions parlance). On November 15, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control used the GloMag authority to designate seventeen Saudi citizens for their role in the Khashoggi killing. In “Global Magnitsky Sanctions: Raising the Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Bar” author Samantha Sultoon, a visiting senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Business & Economics Program and Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, argues that the GloMag sanctions offer a targeted response to human rights violations and corruption. The author adds that this sanctions authority has far-reaching implications for international businesses because it creates the need for companies to shift to a proactive corporate risk and due diligence strategy to account for human rights and corruption issues. Sultoon points out that this sanctions authority opens the door for multilateral sanctions actions with US allies, partners, and international human rights groups seeking to raise awareness of human rights violations and corruption. Finally, the author provides specific recommendations of how to maintain the integrity and value of the GloMag authority:

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s persistent efforts to influence the domestic politics of his neighbors and countries well beyond Russia’s borders have posed enormous challenges in Europe and across the Atlantic. More than any other country, Ukraine has been the unwanted recipient of Moscow’s attention, particularly during the past five years. The Kremlin has sought to place a pliable client in command in Kyiv and block Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, including by pressuring the previous Ukrainian leadership against signing. The March 2019 presidential election will be a pivotal event in Ukraine’s history.

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The rapid uptake of disruptive technologies in Africa, such as mobile and financial technologies, is prompting speculation among tech investors about whether artificial intelligence (AI) applications will also take root on the continent.

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