Reports

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This groundbreaking study of the illicit tobacco trade in southern Africa explores how this trade supports organized crime, helps enable official corruption, and erodes state structures. A major feature of South Africa’s, and to a lesser extent Zimbabwe’s, political economy revolves around conflict—overt and covert, violent and non-violent—over who makes the most money from the illicit tobacco trade, who controls that trade, and how the state responds to it. This conflict now takes places in the midst of huge political transitions within the ruling parties of both countries.

The study maps the key dimensions of the illicit cigarette trade in Zimbabwe and South Africa, including the key actors, the pathways of trade and the accompanying ‘modalities’ of criminality, as well as other important dimensions of the illicit cigarette market in southern Africa. It identifies “good-faith actors,” primarily in South Africa, whose positions could be strengthened by policy and technical interventions, explores opportunities for such intervention, and assesses the practical solutions that can be applied to combat illicit trade and tax evasion in the tobacco industry.



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Human capital is fleeing Russia. Since President Vladimir Putin’s ascent to the presidency, between 1.6 and 2 million Russians – out of a total population of 145 million – have left for Western democracies. This emigration sped up with Putin’s return as president in 2012, followed by a weakening economy and growing repressions. It soon began to look like a politically driven brain drain, causing increasing concern among Russian and international observers.

In this pioneering study, the Council’s Eurasia Center offers a clear analysis of the Putin Exodus and its implications for Russia and the West. The study, which is authored by Ambassador John Herbst and Dr. Sergei Erofeev, examines the patterns and drivers of Russian emigration to the West since 2000 based on the findings from focused interviews and surveys with new Russian émigrés in four key cities in the United States and Europe.


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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 2014 to 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 be done to enhance the Alliance’s deterrence posture in the region. Against this backdrop, the government of Poland submitted a proposal earlier this year offering $2 billion to support a permanent US base in the country. While negotiations are ongoing, the issue is fundamentally about what the United States and NATO need to do to defend all of Europe.


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In global discussions over climate change and the policy interventions needed to address it, the role of land use – including forests – is often overlooked. Given its unique role as both a potential source of emissions – as well as storage – for carbon, the land use sector may play a crucial role in the world’s success or failure in avoiding dangerous levels of climate change over this century. Nowhere is the pivotal role of land use more apparent than in tropical forests, which have gone from serving as sinks for global carbon emissions to being a source of them amid rampant deforestation. Southeast Asia has witnessed some of the world’s most significant tropical deforestation over the past several decades, and is currently a significant contributor to the roughly eight percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions that tropical deforestation represents.

In a new paper, “Does Money Grow on Trees?: Restoration Financing in Southeast Asia,” authors Prajwal Baral, Mikkel Larsen, and Matthew Archer provide a compelling analysis of the current state of tropical deforestation in Southeast Asia, including its drivers, extant efforts to mitigate it, barriers to effective reforestation finance, and possible new policy and market tools that could finally tip economic incentives towards reforestation rather than deforestation.

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The H-1B visa program is one of more than twenty US guest worker programs, but it has arguably been in the spotlight more than any other. While the H1-B was originally intended to attract foreign workers to satisfy unmet demand for skilled labor, the current system undercuts opportunities for US workers and enables the exploitation of H-1B workers, many of whom who are underpaid, vulnerable to abuse, and frequently placed in poor working conditions. Adopting safeguards to ensure H-1B workers are provided fair working conditions and given greater employment rights would both improve the lives of visa holders and better protect US workers. In the Atlantic Council South Asia Center’s new report, Reforming US’ High-Skilled Guestworker Program, Dr. Ron Hira, Associate Professor at Howard University, and Dr. Bharath Gopalaswamy, Director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, explore the current flaws of the H-1B visa system and discuss potential policy measures for reform.

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There have been many interpretations regarding the exact nature of China’s obligations in reducing emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement. The e is complicated by the inherent difficulties of implementing climate policies across a vast region where policy execution requires cooperation and coordination among offices of the Chinese central government, its diverse subnational governments, and many other stakeholders.

In his paper, “From Paris to Beijing: Implementing the Paris Agreement,” Craig A. Hart identifies the disparate national and local government offices that have varied roles in setting emissions targets in order to provide context for the challenges that China faces in fulfilling its climate commitments. Finally, Hart portrays the nongovernmental organizations—both entrepreneurs as well as local environmental activists—that are also advocating on climate policy issues. Hart’s analysis makes the case for greater transparency at all levels of government, the elimination of subsidies—with the exception of low-carbon energy and technology, the alignment of climate policy with China’s trade stance, and inclusion of the Chinese public on climate policy debates.

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Demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG) has increased in recent years, as it has become increasingly available, affordable, and more environmentally sustainable than coal and crude oil. While Asian markets have become key importers of LNG, piping LNG to many countries in East Asia has presented great difficulties that have required, instead, transport by sea.

Jean-Francois Seznec’s paper, “Meeting Asian Energy Demand,” explores the many ways in which demand for LNG has had an impact on shipping routes as well as trade issues between the suppliers and importers of natural gas. Seznec presents the story of LNG transport against the backdrop of geopolitical tensions and diplomatic relations. Finally, Seznec evaluates countries that may soon come online as global suppliers of LNG, and assesses the political implications of countries in Africa, as well as Canada and Israel joining the ranks of exporters of natural gas.

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Most consumers in the United States are familiar with the advances in the electrification of cars and, perhaps to a lesser extent, with innovations in automotive biofuel. However, the importance of powering the aviation sector (both military and commercial) through sustainable fuels cannot be overstated. David Hitchcock’s paper, “Ready for Takeoff? Aviation Biofuels Past, Present, and Future,” provides a keen look at the history of biofuels, current uses of biofuel, and investments in research and development that will yield future dividends.

Hitchcock explains the context of US policy on biofuels, anchored in the revamped Renewable Fuel Standard as part of the 2007 Energy Policy Act, and also examines the interplay between federal and state legislation, using the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard as a case study. Finally, Hitchcock provides an overview of some of the most exciting research in the field, highlighting the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium and its innovations in producing biofuel through aquaculture.

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As oil has faced increasing competition from other energy sources—from natural gas to renewables, many observers are questioning the future of oil demand. Against this backdrop of uncertainty, a number of sovereign wealth funds—which had originally been created as holders of oil wealth, now have mandates that include economic diversification.

In her report, “Sovereign Investors: A Means for Economic Diversification?” Bina Hussein provides case studies of four sovereign wealth funds: the Kuwait Investment Authority, the UAE’s Mubadala Investment Company, the Qatar Investment Authority, and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. As an analytic counterpoint, Hussein also examines the case of Singapore’s Temasek. Throughout, Hussein argues for transparency metrics and measures in governance that will help sovereign investors build partnerships in a wide range of industries, bolstering countries’ efforts to move beyond reliance on oil.

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Over the last ten years, the United States has become the world’s leading producer of oil and gas, going from energy import dependence to energy dominance. This shift is due to the ability to produce from shale plays, a story which started in Texas and grew to have global ramifications. In a new report, The Future of Shale: The US Story and Its Implications, Global Energy Center Senior Fellow Ellen Scholl looks at the factors which enabled the rise of oil and gas production from shale deposits, focusing on the developments which have transpired in Texas.

This Global Energy Center report examines the Texas experience to draw lessons learned for countries hoping to utilize their shale resource potential and implications for global energy markets and geopolitics. The report concludes that the US case illustrates the challenges of operating in both a rural and an urban environment, underscores the unique advantages of the enabling ecosystem in the country, and demonstrates the importance of size and scale.

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