Reports

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As the United States faces important decisions regarding its future role in Syria’s conflict, a new Atlantic Council report by Dr. Steven Heydemann, “Rethinking Stabilization in Eastern Syria: Toward a Human Security Framework,” provides important context, analysis, and strategic policy recommendations.

Only two areas in Syria remain outside of the control of the Assad regime, and the United States maintains a military presence in both. In this report, the author contends that if the United States has an interest in shaping the closing trajectory of the conflict in Syria, it has a narrow window in which to do so. In eastern Syria, the United States has an opportunity to use stabilization to advance both short- and long-term interests. It can adopt a stabilization strategy that will improve the well-being of communities in eastern Syria, develop effective, legitimate local authorities, and assist local communities in preparing for an uncertain political future.

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Over one year after the announcement of the Trump administration’s strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia, significant opportunity remains to improve efforts to achieve peace. In the Atlantic Council South Asia Center’s new report, Review of President Trump’s South Asia Strategy: The Way Ahead, One Year In, authors Dr. Bharath Gopalaswamy, Director, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council; Ambassador James Cunningham, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council; General David Petraeus, Former Director, Central Intelligence Agency; Dr. Ashley J. Tellis, Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Ambassador Husain Haqqani, Director for South and Central Asia, Hudson Institute; Mr. Manish Tewari, Distinguished Fellow, Atlantic Council; and Ms. Anita McBride, Executive in Residence, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University offer a list of recommendations to bolster the administration’s strategy and move toward a successful peace process in Afghanistan.

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“Two years ago, the Kremlin attacked the United States through a coordinated influence operation targeting the 2016 presidential elections,” writes Dr. Alina Polyakova in The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses 3.0: Russian Influence in Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, a new report from the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. Following successful installments on Russian influence in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, the report examines Russian efforts to establish a political presence in Northern Europe.

This report is the final installment of a three-year-long project that sought to expose a less often discussed element of the Kremlin’s political warfare: the cultivation of political allies in Europe’s core. The aim of the project is to draw attention to Western Europe, where for far too long the Russian threat was either dismissed, ignored, or overlooked. As is now known, the Kremlin’s tentacles do not stop in Ukraine, Georgia, or East Central Europe. They reach far and deep in the core of western societies. Acknowledging the ongoing threat is the first step to countering its effects and building long-term resilience.

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Trade between Latin America and China has multiplied eighteen times since 2000. Between 2005 and 2016, China invested close to $90 billion in the region. In the context of high stakes global trade confrontations, there is a strong motivation for Latin America and China to explore fresh options to upgrade, diversify, and deepen their trade-and-investment relationship, not only to manage peril, but also to leverage new opportunities and strengthen economic cooperation. Deliberate initiatives and strategic actions are required to put in place the policy levers that will help unlock these areas of business opportunity.

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At the July 2018 Brussels Summit, NATO sought to enhance its deterrence capacity, war-fighting posture, and responses to unconventional challenges in today’s complex and evolving security environment. These commitments are comprehensive, and included meeting the allies’ 2-percent spending pledge, but the results of these decisions will depend on their implementation. This paper sets forth a policy and programmatic framework for that implementation, proposing four sets of actions that NATO should undertake related to enhancing conventional readiness, strengthening cyber defense and resilience, countering hybrid challenges, and updating strategic planning.

In this paper, Kramer, Binnendijk, and Speranza argue that, to be most effective, these actions should be adopted as part of a broader, coordinated strategy that includes diplomatic, information, and economic efforts, and could be incorporated into the new 2019 NATO Political Guidance. They also underscore that the enhancement of conventional military and counter-hybrid capabilities, including measures to be taken left of crisis, are pressing elements that should be prioritized accordingly.

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Territories between great powers—borderlands—have always been areas of strife. So it is with the countries caught between Russia and the West, those that were once part of the Soviet Union or firmly within its sphere of influence. Much of Europe has consolidated and, with the United States, established a lasting liberal democratic order, but Russia has been increasingly pushing back. Though most of the “borderlands” countries are now West-facing, Moscow wants to control at least the national security policies of its near neighbors.

The West should reject Moscow’s claim. It contradicts Western principles and is dangerous to our interests. The United States should lead the West in adopting an explicit strategy of promoting democracy, open markets, and the right of nations to choose their own foreign policy and alignments. This includes their right, if they meet the conditions, to join the EU and NATO.

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The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is experiencing a time of great transformation and as well as tumult. Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Dr. Karim Mezran and Dr. Arturo Varvelli of the Italian Institute for International Political Studies gathered experts to explore decentralization and political Islam in six MENA countries in “The Arc of Crisis in the MENA Region: Fragmentation, Decentralization, and Islamist Opposition.”

The report is divided into three parts. The first explores whether decentralization can positively contribute to more effective governance in fragmented environments across the region. The second examines the diverse manifestations of political Islam following the changes several countries experienced after the 2011 uprisings. The third addresses the issue of energy, including the challenges and opportunities it presents in the current political climate.

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International political dark money is a crucial, but little-understood, part of a toolkit of techniques that have been used, with accelerating intensity, to influence major liberal democracies and transition states over the last decade. Using three concrete case studies, this report outlines the active threat of dark money in the context of hostile powers’ subversion operations, explains how current legislation and enforcement mechanisms are inadequate, and proposes a “layered defense.”

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For several years, Turkey has been hosting the world’s largest refugee population. This report, “Toward Long-Term Solidarity with Syrian Refugees? Turkey’s Policy Response and Challenges,” takes a comprehensive look at the policies, actors and issues that have characterized Turkey’s approach to Syrian refugees since 2011. In this age of mass refugee flows, Turkey distinguishes itself from other countries for demonstrating both financial and organizational capacities, as well as a strong political will to welcome refugees. Open door, camps and temporary protection have been at the core of Turkey’s approach. But an uninterrupted inflow of refugees, as well as a complicated foreign and domestic political environment, has put some limitations on Turkey’s welcome. And Turkey’s praised policy put in place in 2014-2015 has been slowly dismantled over time (with the sidelining of camps, the closing of the border, the limitation on freedom of movement for Syrians, early returns, possible push backs, etc.), and a new sense of direction now needs to be put in place.

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In an era of increasing technological, cultural and geo-political change, the rise of disinformation undermines the institutions that nations rely on to function and creates risks across society. At the heart of the challenge is the battle of truth and trust. In this report, “Whose Truth: Sovereignty, Disinformation and Winning the Battle of Trust, John Watts draws upon a rich discussion on the threat that disinformation poses to state’s sovereignty by a diverse group of experts as part of a US Special Operations Command program. The paper explores the themes and key takeaways of a discourse that explored the causes and impacts of the current complex information environment, its implications for state sovereignty, the range of threats it poses and how a natural maturation of the changed environment can be accelerated by groups at every layer of society.

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