Reports

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The future of northeast Syria is unsettled after eight years of civil war and the US intervention to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). It also faces the various divergent interests of powerful external actors, including Russia and Turkey. In mid-April 2019, the Atlantic Council, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, and the Foreign Policy Research Institute convened a group of scholars, intermediaries, and civil-society members from the United States, Europe, and the Middle East to discuss Syria’s northeast at the granular level. The group focused on the building of local security and governance infrastructure, how these efforts interact with the interests of outside parties, and whether a broader power-sharing arrangement can be reached to manage, or help end, the conflict. Over the course of the two-day dialogue, a general consensus emerged that any solution in Syria will require a clear US position on the future of Syria and what Washington is prepared to accept in any post-conflict scenario. The same is true for Russia, the second-most-powerful external actor involved in the conflict, and the guarantor of security, locally and internationally, for the Bashar al-Assad government in Damascus; as well as a third actor, Turkey. In a new report, Aaron Stein and Emily Burchfield summarize and build on the themes discussed at the conference and provide their own analysis and policy recommendations toward the evolving situation in northeast Syria.

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Trade at a Crossroads: A Vision for the US-India Trade Relationship, a joint report with the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center and the U.S. India Strategic Partnership Forum, provides an expert analysis of the current state of the relationship, including recent negotiations, and recommendations for the path forward in the short-, medium-, and long-term. This report urges both countries to prioritize efforts to manage current tensions, reach an early agreement and build on successes to initiate a series of cooperative projects in areas such as intellectual property rights, digital trade and regulatory coherence, mirroring previous successes on the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Finally, the report provides a sober assessment of future prospects for a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA). While highlighting many compelling reasons to avoid rushing into exploration of an FTA in the near future, it concludes with a vision of this ultimate form of economic integration through trade negotiations.

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From the time Chairman Kim Jong-Un started his “charm offensive” early last year until the fallout of the second summit meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February 2019, officials and experts have debated whether North Korea is ready for denuclearization on the terms of the United States and its allies. Rather than focus negotiations on a foundation of unverifiable assumptions about Kim Jong-Un’s “intentions,” the United States and its allies in Northeast Asia (Japan and South Korea) need to start by asking themselves about their own priorities and interests.
The purpose of “Priority-Based Approach to the North Korean Nuclear Issue— An Enlightened Dose of Self-Centeredness," a comprehensive report by Taisuke Mibae, visiting senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, is to present important questions that should be answered for negotiating with North Korea and review elements to be taken into account when deciding the answers. Although it is still unclear if and how US-North Korea denuclearization talks will reset and resume, this report will be a valuable measure for stepping back and viewing the current stalemate.

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2018 saw political tides turn in three of Latin America’s largest democracies. These elections also saw deep polarization and distrust in institutions among Brazilians, Mexicans, and Colombians in an information environment ripe with disinformation. And while disinformation and misinformation are nothing new, the spread of false information at alarming rates is more effective and worrisome than ever. A year-long effort to identify, expose, and explain disinformation around elections in Latin America using open source methodologies yielded the following key findings and recommendations.

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For more than half a century, the US-Japan and US-ROK alliances have played critical roles for maintenance and enhancement of peace and security in Northeast Asia, the entire Asia-Pacific region, and even the world. The future course of US-North Korea and inter-Korea negotiations over denuclearization and building a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula is hard to predict, but whatever the endstate, it will have an impact on the United States’ and its allies’ plans for the appropriate posture of US forces in Northeast Asia.

Efforts to denuclearize North Korea and reduce military threats on the Korean Peninsula could dramatically affect the size and structure of US Forces Korea, as well as political support for US military presence in Northeast Asia. The growth of China’s military capabilities and its behavior will also influence decision-making in Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington. The United States and its allies should seriously examine political and security dynamics in the region and discuss alternative military postures, so that they are prepared to respond positively and cohesively to future developments.


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In the long list of electoral interference attempts in recent years, one case stands out: the 2017 French presidential election--because it failed. Its failure lies in the fact that the result of the election did not coincide with the aim of the attackers. This new report, “The #Macron Leaks Operation,” by Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer analyzes the coordinated attempt to undermine Emmanuel Macron’s candidacy, with a disinformation campaign consisting of rumors, fake news, and even forged documents; a hack targeting the computers of his campaign staff; and, finally, a leak—15 gigabytes (GB) of stolen data, including 21,075 emails, released on Friday, May 5, 2017—just two days before the second and final round of the presidential election.
This leak was promoted on Twitter by an army of trolls and fake accounts (bots), with the hashtag #MacronLeaks appearing in almost half a million tweets in twenty-four hours, and so the attack is now remembered as “the Macron Leaks.” However, the leak itself was only the pinnacle of a coordinated operation that started months before, with a disinformation campaign and a hack. Therefore, we should rather speak of a “Macron Leaks” operation, which did not sway French voters and change the result. Winning 66.1 percent of the vote, Macron defeated Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate. The aim of this report is to provide the most detailed single account to date of the “Macron Leaks” operation. With the benefit of hindsight, it explores what happened, who (likely) orchestrated the affair, how it was successfully countered, and what lessons can be learned. In conclusion, it will also explain what France has accomplished since then in order to fight information manipulation and what is yet to be done.

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América Latina tiene un problema de corrupción, especialmente en lo que se refiere a licitaciones públicas. Un nuevo informe del Atlantic Council y el Diálogo Interamericano presenta una hoja de ruta para abordar el problema de la corrupción en América Latina con la ayuda de la tecnología. Ahora es el momento de seguir construyendo sobre el sentimiento anticorrupción de América Latina. Los importantes avances tecnológicos están empoderando a los ciudadanos de la región con la oportunidad de ver gobiernos más transparentes.

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Latin America has a corruption problem, especially as it relates to public contracting. A new brief by the Atlantic Council and the Inter-American Dialogue lays out a roadmap for addressing Latin America’s graft problem with the help of technology. Now is the time to keep building on Latin American’s strong anti-corruption sentiment. Important technological advances are empowering the region’s citizens with the opportunity to see more transparent governments.


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This working paper, the second in a series on the global illicit economy, focuses on the “dark pharma” trade in Central America, where no country has been spared the problem of counterfeit and contraband pharmaceuticals making their way to consumers. As this paper argues, the illicit sale of pharmaceutical drugs is a growing global concern, most particularly in developing countries such as in Central America, where the lack of adequate healthcare forces people to seek cheaper drugs. In the absence of effective systems of regulation and access to affordable pharmaceuticals, the demand for cheap medicines drives a criminal market.

In “Dark Pharma: Counterfeit and Contraband Pharmaceuticals in Central America,” Peter Tinti notes that the damage caused by such markets relates not only to the quality of the medicines available to consumers but also to the corruption these markets create and reinforce, reducing citizens’ confidence in the public health sector and the government. These substandard and ineffective drugs may worsen the condition of sick individuals, hinder medical professionals’ ability to make accurate diagnoses, accelerate the spread of communicable diseases, increase drug resistance, and ultimately kill people.


The desire to search for broad solutions to a global problem like counterfeit and contraband pharmaceuticals must at the same time be matched with locally calibrated strategies, given that each region, sub-region, and individual country requires solutions tailored to their realties. Tackling the “dark pharma” problem requires concurrent responses and implementing systems that can provide solutions to local problems while scaling upward regionally and globally.
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Foreign interference in democratic elections has put disinformation at the forefront of policy in Europe and the United States. The second edition of Democratic Defense Against Disinformation takes stock of how governments, multinational institutions, civil-society groups, and the private sector have responded to the disinformation challenge. As democracies have responded, our adversaries have adapted and evolved. As the speed and efficiency of influence operations increase, democratic societies need to further invest in resilience and resistance to win the new information war. Democratic Defense Against Disinformation 2.0 is a report card on efforts and a roadmap for policymakers and social media companies.


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The year 2019 marks one hundred and one years of relations between the United States and the countries of Central Europe that emerged from the wreckage of the First World War. After a century of work together, of tragedy and achievement, Central Europe and the United States have much to celebrate and defend, but also much to do. After accessions to NATO and the European Union, Central Europeans may have thought that their long road to the institutions of the West, and to the security and prosperity associated with them, was finished. The United States began to think so as well, concluding that its work and special role in Central Europe were complete. Now, Central Europe, the United States, and the entire transatlantic community face new internal and external challenges. As a result, the transatlantic world has seen a rise of extremist politics and forms of nationalism that many thought had been banished forever after 1989. The great achievement of a Europe whole, free, and at peace, with Central Europe an integral part of it, is again in play. The Atlantic Council and GLOBSEC’s new report “The United States and Central Europe: Tasks for a Second Century Together” examines a century of relations between the United States and Central Europe: what went right, what went wrong, and what needs to be done about it.


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