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  • Author: Abdullah Al-Arian
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies
  • Abstract: Prof. Abdullah Al-Arian discusses how Islamist movements have historically viewed diplomacy as important to their activist missions.
  • Topic: International Relations, Cold War, Diplomacy, Politics, History, Islamism
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North America, Egypt, United States of America
  • Author: Younes Mahmoudieh
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: When I visited Iran this summer, severe panic attacks, depression, and anxiety—longstanding byproducts of post-traumatic stress disorder—caused me to seek out a trauma therapist. After weeks of contacting Iranian pharmacies, hospitals, charities, and relief organizations, my prescriptions for Zoloft, Xanax, Ativan, and Clonazepam remained unfilled. Since the United States exited the Iranian nuclear deal (JCPOA) and imposed new sanctions, this kind of shortage has become commonplace.
  • Topic: Health, Sanctions, International Community, International Court of Justice (ICJ)
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Scott M. Thomas, Anthony O'Mahony
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: In February 2019, Pope Francis became the first pope to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Like John-Paul II before him, he has also visited Egypt, and he went to Morocco in March 2019. The pope participated in a colloquium on “human fraternity” and interreligious dialogue sponsored by the UAE-based Muslim Council of Elders—the brain-child of Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the most important Sunni Muslim university in the world. The Council of Elders sponsors initiatives to engage young Muslims on Islamist ideology by promoting a more “authentic” interpretation of Islam. Islamist violence—with its beheadings and mass executions—has provoked disgust across the Muslim world and is causing young Muslims to become more distant from their imams and mosques. It is becoming clear to many Muslim intellectuals in Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon that, in order to defeat Islamism, there needs to be greater dialogue and coexistence with Christians. Pope Francis is attempting to lead the way, extending his “culture of encounter.”
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Culture, Violence, Catholic Church
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, United Arab Emirates, Vatican city
  • Author: Huma Saeed
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Afghanistan’s presidential election took place on September 28, 2019, with less than 2 million people participating out of 9.7 million registered voters. Taking into consideration Afghanistan’s total population of 35 million, the turnout was a historic low—a problem further amplified by the fact that the government poured a huge amount of financial and human resources into election preparation. The main explanation for such low turnout is twofold. On the one hand, security threats such as suicide attacks or gun violence—which reached their peak during the presidential election campaigns—deterred many people from going to polling stations. On the other hand, Afghans have become wary about determining their own political fate because, for decades, regional and international powers have steered the political wheel in Afghanistan, rather the people. After four months, election results have still not been announced, leading to further speculation and anxiety among a population which has already been the victim of four decades of violent conflict in the country. This anxiety is further exacerbated by the ongoing “peace” negotiations with the Taliban. Afghan people have learned from experience that, even in the best-case scenario of the election results or peace negotiations, they cannot hope for new justice measures to heal their wounds. As demonstrated by the experience of Afghanistan and other countries, peace and security will not last without addressing the people’s demands for justice.
  • Topic: Development, Human Rights, Politics, Elections, Taliban, Justice
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Central Asia, Middle East
  • Author: Max Erdemandi
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Recent discussions on the Turkish state’s actions, which have devastated Kurdish people within and outside of its borders, suffer from a familiar deficiency: they neglect the historical and cultural foundations of the dynamics that placed the Kurdish people at the center of Turkey’s national security policy. Serious human rights violations and voter suppression in southeast Turkey, the massacre of Kurdish people in various parts of northern Syria, and purging of Kurdish politicians on false accusations are all extensions of Turkey’s decades-long, repeated policy mistakes, deeply rooted in its nationalist history. Unless there is a seismic shift in the drivers of Turkish security policy, especially as it pertains to the Kurdish people, Turkey is bound to repeat these mistakes. Furthermore, threat externalization with linkage to legitimacy of rule will further erode the democratic institutions of the state and other authentic aspects of Turkish identity.
  • Topic: Security, Nationalism, Ethnicity, Syrian War, Borders, Violence, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Kurdistan
  • Author: H. Sebnem Düzgün
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The Soma Mine Disaster (SMD) was the most massive mine disaster of the twenty-first century, with 301 fatalities. This was due to a mine fire in an underground coal mine. Although mine fires usually do not cause a large number of casualties in comparison with other explosions in underground coal mines, the SMD has an anomaly. The cause of the mine fire has not been precisely determined, though various groups of experts developed several hypotheses. Most of the fatalities were due to an inadequate safety culture, unstructured organizational and human performance, and improper decision-making and risk perception during the emergency management. So far, only minimal steps have been taken to improve the safety standards of the coal mines. Larger improvements are necessary to address the variety of factors that contributed to the disaster.
  • Topic: Disaster Relief, Science and Technology, Natural Resources, Labor Issues, Regulation, Mining
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: What’s new? A U.S. resolution seeking to extend UN arms restrictions on Iran beyond their October 2020 expiration failed at the Security Council. Washington has asserted that it will claim the right to unilaterally restore UN sanctions, which were terminated as part of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Why does it matter? Any U.S. attempt to reimpose sanctions will be controversial, given the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and likely to create deadlock at the Security Council. The administration’s goal is clear: kill the deal or make it that much harder for a successor administration to rejoin it. What should be done? The remaining parties to the deal should be united in resisting Washington’s efforts, as should other Security Council members. They should essentially disregard a U.S. “snapback” – restoring sanctions – as ineffectual, obstruct attempts to implement it and discourage Iran from overreacting to what will end up being a symbolic U.S. move.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, United Nations, Sanctions, UN Security Council
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: What’s new? Turkey has to deal with thousands of citizens who travelled to join ISIS and have now returned. Of the few convicted, many will soon be released from jail. Others are under surveillance. The fate of the rest is murky. Why does it matter? ISIS’s diminished stature and measures adopted by the Turkish authorities have spared Turkey from ISIS attacks for more than three years. But while the threat should not be overplayed, it has not necessarily disappeared. That Turkish returnees turn their back on militancy is important for national and regional security. What should be done? Ankara’s approach toward returnees or others suspected of ties to jihadism relies mostly on surveillance and detention. The government could consider also offering support for returnees’ families, alternatives for youngsters at risk of being drawn into militancy and support for returnees released after serving ISIS-related jail time.
  • Topic: Human Rights, Law Enforcement, Violent Extremism, Islamic State
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: With the Syrian regime’s offensive in Idlib paused, the time is now for a deal sparing the rebellion’s last stronghold the full wrath of reconquest. The parties should pursue an improved ceasefire including the regime, Russia, Turkey and the Islamist militants entrenched in the province. What’s new? A Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive against rebel-held Idlib halted when Russia and Turkey negotiated a ceasefire in March. Turkey is sending reinforcements, signalling a military response to what it deems a national security threat. For now, this step may dissuade Russia from resuming the offensive, but the standoff appears untenable. Why does it matter? Successive Russian-Turkish ceasefires in Idlib have collapsed over incompatible objectives, diverging interpretations and exclusion of the dominant rebel group, Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is UN-sanctioned and considered by Russia and others a terrorist organisation. A Russian-backed regime offensive to retake Idlib likely would result in humanitarian catastrophe. What should be done? All actors should seek a more sustainable ceasefire – optimally including HTS, notwithstanding legitimate concerns about the group – that avoids the high military, political and humanitarian price of another offensive. Turkey should push HTS to continue distancing itself from transnational militancy and display greater tolerance for political and religious pluralism.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Conflict, Syrian War, Islamism, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Federal forces now patrol Kirkuk, the diverse, oil-rich province disputed between the central and Kurdish regional governments. The arrangement is unsettling communal relations, with Kurds feeling excluded. With outside help, Baghdad and Erbil should design a joint security mechanism including a locally recruited multi-ethnic unit. What’s new? In October 2017, the Iraqi army restored central government control over the disputed Kirkuk governorate and its oil fields in the country’s north. Since then, multiple federal forces including paramilitaries have policed the area. The new arrangement reassured the province’s Arabs and Turkmen but left local Kurds feeling abandoned. Why did it happen? The federal government’s move into Kirkuk was triggered by a Kurdish independence referendum staged the previous month, which raised Baghdad’s concerns that the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil would declare Kurdish statehood and annex Kirkuk, other disputed territories and their petroleum riches. Why does it matter? Finding an equilibrium that satisfies Kirkuk’s three main ethnic groups by ensuring that none dominates the security apparatus at the others’ expense is a fundamental condition for the area’s stability. Only such a configuration will ensure peaceful coexistence and help prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State. What should be done? With international support, Baghdad and Erbil should establish joint security management in Kirkuk that includes a locally recruited multi-ethnic force under federal command. This arrangement would help protect the area from renewed insurgency, contribute to intercommunal peace and lay the foundations for an eventual settlement of Kirkuk’s status in Iraq.
  • Topic: Security, Oil, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Kirkuk
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: An uprising of unprecedented scope has rocked Lebanon as the country’s economy tumbles deeper into recession. Poverty and unemployment could lead to violent unrest. Donors should put together an emergency package but condition further aid upon reforms to tackle corruption, a major grievance driving protest. What’s new? The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Lebanon’s economy, which was already slowly imploding, has brought it to the brink of total collapse. Since October 2019, popular protests have pushed for greater accountability from an elite that, having engorged itself, seems incapable of instituting critical reforms. Why does it matter? The accumulation of crises is driving ever greater numbers of Lebanese into absolute poverty. While the lockdown is gradually easing, the loss of jobs and purchasing power triggered new protests that are turning violent and may prefigure the disintegration of state capacity and institutions. What should be done? Lebanon will need emergency external assistance to ward off the worst social consequences of the crisis. Beyond that, external actors and donors seeking to help the country exit the crisis should focus on efforts geared at rooting out corruption and clientelism.
  • Topic: Corruption, Poverty, Protests, Crisis Management, Unemployment
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Naval incidents in the Gulf have spotlighted the danger that a U.S.-Iranian skirmish could blow up into war. The two sides have little ability to communicate at present. They should hasten to design a military-to-military channel to lower the chances of inadvertent conflagration. What’s new? Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have repeatedly brought the two sides to the brink of open conflict. While neither government seeks a full-fledged war, a string of dangerous tit-for-tat exchanges amid mounting hostile rhetoric underscores the potential for a bigger military clash. Why does it matter? Due to limited communication channels between Tehran and Washington, an inadvertent or accidental interaction between the two sides could quickly escalate into a broader confrontation. The risk is especially high in the Gulf, where U.S. and Iranian military vessels operate close to one another. What should be done? The U.S. and Iran should open a military de-escalation channel that fills the gap between ad hoc naval communications and high-level diplomacy at moments of acute crisis. A mechanism facilitated by a third party might contain the risk of conflict due to misread signals and miscalculation.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Military Affairs, Conflict, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: For years, Gulf powers have mulled the notion of regional dialogue to calm existing crises and head off new ones. Today, with several active Middle Eastern conflicts, all sensitive to rising U.S.-Iran tensions, it is an idea whose time has come. What’s new?* Middle East tensions spiked in the past year following attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities, the U.S. killing of a senior Iranian commander and Iranian military retaliation. Some of Washington’s allies, losing confidence the U.S. will reliably extend military protection, have started making cautious diplomatic overtures to Iran. Why does it matter? While these tentative steps toward de-escalation are welcome, they risk being inadequate, particularly in the absence of regular, high-level communication channels among potential conflict actors. Existing UN-led mechanisms for resolving individual conflicts, such as Yemen, are worthwhile but insufficient to lessen region-wide tensions. What should be done? Diplomatic efforts are needed to both de-escalate tensions and make progress toward resolving regional conflicts. Gulf actors, supported by external stakeholders, should consider launching an inclusive sub-regional dialogue aimed at reducing the risk of inadvertent conflict by opening new communication channels.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Turkish intervention in Libya’s war stopped the besieged Tripoli government from collapsing. But fighting with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces has since escalated, threatening a protracted conflict. Both Ankara and Haftar’s regional backers should urge their allies toward a return to negotiations and a ceasefire. What’s new? In January, Turkey stepped up military support to Libya’s UN-backed government of Prime Minister Faiez Serraj, stalling an offensive by forces allied with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Its foray, underpinned by its own strategic, political and economic interests, has further complicated the already multi-layered Libyan crisis. Why does it matter? Turkey’s intervention has neither de-escalated the conflict nor yielded productive negotiations between rival political and military factions. It has instead exposed a different risk: the more outside actors provide military hardware and fighters to their respective Libyan allies, the longer the conflict may last and the deadlier it may become. What should be done? As Turkey’s intervention appears not to be producing a ceasefire or a return to negotiations, and since no outside actor is likely to back out unilaterally, Ankara should engage with other external players involved in the conflict to explore potential compromises regarding their respective interests in Libya and beyond.
  • Topic: Military Intervention, Conflict, Negotiation, Crisis Management, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Libya
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon have thought many times about going home but in the end deemed the risks too great. Donors should increase aid allowing the Lebanese government to continue hosting the Syrians, so that any decision they make to leave is truly voluntary. What’s new? Pressure on Syrian refugees in Lebanon to return home is rising. Although Syria remains unsafe for most, refugees are trickling back, escaping increasingly harsh conditions in Lebanon and hoping that the situation will improve back home. Procedures that clarify refugees’ legal status are making return more plausible for some. Why does it matter? While even a small number of successful repatriations represents positive news, conditions are too dangerous for mass organised returns. Yet the Syrian government and some Lebanese political factions increasingly insist that it is time for large-scale returns to begin. What should be done? Donors should plan for many refugees to stay for many years, and provide support to help Lebanon meet Syrians’ needs, ease the burden on Lebanon’s economy, and reduce friction between refugees and their Lebanese hosts. The Lebanese government can take additional administrative steps to ease voluntary returns.
  • Topic: Government, Refugees, Syrian War, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Syria
  • Author: Jakob Lindgaard, Moritz Pieper, Cecilie Felicia Stokholm Banke
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: Turkey-NATO relations are still sufficiently strong to keep the relationship from the brink, a new DIIS-report finds. But more dynamics are also gaining strength to render further troubles increasingly likely. The future of Turkey’s NATO membership has been the subject of heated debate of late, from both outside and within Turkey. What ramifications will Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air anti-missile system have for Turkey’s NATO future? Has the Syrian conflict exposed deep strategic differences between Turkey and other key NATO members? In response to such questions, a number of foreign policy practitioners as well as researchers and long-standing Turkey watchers have cautioned that a number of centripetal forces – dynamics that keep member states together - remain sufficiently strong at a structural level to keep Turkey-NATO relations on track. There seems to be widespread agreement on both sides that the alternative is simply worse. At the same time, the report also argues that these centripetal forces are losing their strength, and that centrifugal forces pulling the alliance apart are gaining strength and salience. Barring wild card developments, the net result is that this will increase the likelihood of further troubles ahead for Turkey-NATO relations The report is based on an analysis of the published policy commentary, scholarly literature, as well as a series of semi-structured interviews conducted with practitioners and academic experts during the course of 2019.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, NATO, Diplomacy, International Organization
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Turkey, Middle East, Denmark
  • Author: Telli Betül Karacan
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Danish Institute for International Studies
  • Abstract: Studies of IS propaganda show that it uses both new and old, proven methods to recruit members and conquer new territories following the loss of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Terrorism, Non State Actors, Fragile States, Islamic State, Conflict, Peace
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, India, Asia, North Africa, Syria
  • Author: Karen E. Young
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Much energy has focused on China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the debt-trap diplomacy it represents. But there is another set of players on the scene whose growth and influence in this sphere have been largely ignored. Gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have increasingly embraced an aggressive growth, investment, and development model for the broader Middle East. This report and the accompanying Gulf Financial Aid and Direct Investment Tracker are an effort to understand the breadth and scope of Gulf aid and financial intervention into a representative set of cases in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa, and West Asia. The objective is to demonstrate the competitive landscape for foreign investment in the receiving case countries and indicate the growing strength of Gulf capital investment, as it measures against a perception of Chinese capacity in the wider Middle East and emerging markets broadly. Most important, the comparative data here also demonstrate how private capital flows from the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union compete against flows of capital from state capitalism sources such as China and the Gulf.
  • Topic: Foreign Direct Investment, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Investment, Strategic Competition, State Capitalism
  • Political Geography: China, Middle East, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Emily Estelle
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Great-power competition and the terrorist threat intersect and interact with one another in Africa and the Middle East. US disengagement from these regions to prepare for great-power competition in other theaters will increase a growing vacuum that is drawing more regional and global actors—states and non-state extremist groups—into a series of vicious cycles that will pose grave threats to American national security in the coming decades. Breaking the vicious cycle will require the US and its allies to separate the Libyan and Syrian conflicts and disentangle and discourage proxy conflict by external players while supporting the development of responsive governance in the two countries. Preventing similar crises will require a proactive strategy to seal off localized conflicts and prevent them from becoming larger competitions between external players while taking action to improve governmental responsiveness in at-risk areas.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, National Security, Power Politics, Violent Extremism, Strategic Competition
  • Political Geography: Africa, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Rubin
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Iran has embraced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as a major pillar of its military strategy. Iranian officials may exaggerate their capabilities, but Western analysts should not dismiss the threat posed by Iranian drones. Iranian authorities have invested in and experimented with drones for 35 years. Iranian authorities use drones for two main purposes: surveillance and attack. Iranian controllers now have the ability to conduct missions over the horizon and in most weather. Attack drones fall in two categories: Those with the ability to drop bombs or launch missiles and return to base and “kamikaze” drones that seek targets of opportunity. Iranian authorities have had more success with the latter. The biggest danger posed by Iranian UAVs, however, in years to come may be the result of Iranian proliferation of its drones to proxy groups, such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and the transfer of the ability to manufacture those drones. This will create some ambiguity in the operational environment as uncertainty about the identity of the drone’s controller can undercut momentum to hold that controlling country or group to account. This ability to escape accountability might actually make the use of drones more likely in surprise and terrorist attacks in the coming years.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Weapons , Drones
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Kenneth Pollack
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: For the first two to three decades after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian-led “Axis of Resistance” was little more than rhetoric, ascribing greater unity of effort to an amalgam of states, semi-states, and non-state actors that opposed the Middle Eastern status quo than was ever the reality. Because of the events of 2014–16, when key Shi’a groups and governments faced severe threats, there has been a significant shift in the Axis’ composition and effectiveness. Today, the Axis is comprised of an increasingly cohesive coalition of groups functioning more directly under Iranian guidance. Iranian support for these groups has also shifted from covert terrorist collusion, funding, intelligence sharing, rhetorical support, and tacit diplomacy to overt force deployments, joint military operations, economic assistance, deterrence, and alliance solidarity. Nevertheless, Iran’s successes have led to additional problems. The Axis of Resistance strategy was born out of necessity, and it is unclear, especially without Soleimani, whether Iran will be able to adapt moving forward.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Non State Actors, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Katherine Zimmerman
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Sahel-based Salafi-jihadi groups including al Qaeda and the Islamic State coordinate and cooperate across organizational divides united by common objectives, shared histories, and ethnic ties, creating a unique ecosystem of ideology and terror. The Salafi-jihadi ecosystem in the Sahel is strengthening rapidly. The number of attacks will continue to rise and will become deadlier as groups’ capabilities improve. The groups’ coordinated effort to transform Sahelian society and governance into their vision under Islam has helped destabilize the region and has created additional opportunities for Salafi-jihadi growth.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Defense Policy, Non State Actors, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Salafism, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa, Sahel
  • Author: Frederick W. Kagan, Nicholas Carl, Marie Donovan
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Ground Forces are organized around headquarters that are meant to coordinate the operations of Iranian paramilitary forces and support the Quds Force’s use of proxy groups such as Iraqi Shi’a militias abroad. Their basing in Iran indicates a primary focus on suppressing internal unrest and waging irregular warfare in the rear of an invader rather than on defending against an invasion conventionally. Their organizational structure and the pattern of their operations in Syria suggest that they might be challenged to coordinate large-scale (multi-division) operations abroad and possibly at home. The fact that the Iranian leadership has not yet had to use them on a large scale to suppress growing domestic unrest suggests that the regime still has a potent reserve force to ensure its survival even if the unrest grows considerably, as long as it does not also face a requirement for large-scale military operations abroad.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Armed Forces, Qassem Soleimani, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC)
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Leah Zamore, Hanny Megally, Tayseer Alkarim
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center on International Cooperation
  • Abstract: After five years of devastating conflict, Yemen now faces an escalating COVID-19 crisis. The effects of the war have drastically diminished the country’s ability to cope with a pandemic, and the economic impact of the crisis is rapidly becoming devastating as well. If allowed to take hold, COVID-19 threatens the lives of nearly 30 million people who are already suffering through the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Nor is the risk posed by COVID-19’s spread in Yemen limited to Yemenis. A pandemic that recognizes no borders or fault-lines cannot fester anywhere without threatening health security everywhere. Yet the international response so far has been both muted and slow. A new approach is urgently needed—one that aims not only to address the immediate threat that COVID-19 poses, but to tackle the underlying conditions that have left Yemen so uniquely vulnerable to the virus in the first place. This report explains how Yemen became so vulnerable to COVID-19, traces the impact of the pandemic so far, including the risk to vulnerable groups, and offers a critical perspective on the international action necessary to prevent further catastrophe in a country already suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis—from renewed pressure for a ceasefire to a dramatically scaled-up humanitarian response.
  • Topic: Conflict, Crisis Management, Humanitarian Crisis, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen
  • Author: Hanny Megally, Elena Naughton
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center on International Cooperation
  • Abstract: Tens of thousands of people have been unlawfully detained by the Syrian government and other parties to the conflict in Syria. In most cases, their fate—and if they are alive, their whereabouts—remains unknown. Many families have been waiting for word of their spouses, children, and other relatives since mass protests first began in 2011. This situation is adversely affecting not only Syrians inside the country—including over 6.5 million who are internally displaced—but also many of the 5.6 million refugees who are likewise desperately seeking answers about family members from abroad. This joint report from the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) recommends a set of urgent steps that should be taken to assist families in obtaining information about the whereabouts of their loved ones, gaining access to them, and achieving their prompt release. Authored by CIC's Hanny Megally and ICTJ's Elena Naughton, the report details the scope of the detention crisis and argues that answers and coordinated action are needed now. Time is of the essence, as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be accelerating in Syria, putting those detained in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons at further risk. Any meaningful progress toward a political agreement in Syria will be dependent on more than a negotiated ceasefire or reduction in violence and urgent access to humanitarian assistance. There will be little or no possibility of lasting peace without addressing critical issues, like the question of the missing, detained, abducted, and forcibly disappeared.
  • Topic: Prisons/Penal Systems, Syrian War, Crimes Against Humanity, Humanitarian Crisis, State Abuse
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Jean-loup Samaan
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College
  • Abstract: This monograph explores the emerging challenge of nonstate actors’ anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) strategies and their implications for the United States and its allies by looking at two regions, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, with case studies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Houthis in Yemen, and separatist groups in Ukraine.
  • Topic: Non State Actors, Armed Forces, Military Affairs, Hezbollah, Houthis, Hamas
  • Political Geography: Europe, Ukraine, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Yemen, Gaza, Lebanon, United States of America
  • Author: C. Anthony Pfaff
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College
  • Abstract: Security cooperation with Iraq remains a critical component of the US-Iraq relationship. Despite neighboring Iran’s ability to limit US political and economic engagement, Iraq still seeks US assistance to develop its military and to combat resurgent terrorist organizations. This monograph provides a historical and cultural basis from which to understand the limitations and potential for US cooperation with Iraq’s armed forces.
  • Topic: Security, Politics, Terrorism, Military Strategy, Armed Forces, Military Affairs, Islamic State, Economy
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Kamal A. Beyoghlow
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College
  • Abstract: This monograph analyzes the current political tensions between the United States and Turkey and suggests ways to manage them. The two countries have been strategic allies since at least the end of World War II—Turkey became a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member and participated with its military forces in the Korea War, and during the Cold War protected NATO’s southern flank against Soviet communism, and Turkey’s military and intelligence services maintained close relationships with their Western and Israeli counterparts. These relationships were not without problems, due mostly to differences over minority and civil rights in Turkey and over Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1973 and continued tensions with Greece. The special relationship with the United States was put to the final test after the Islamic conservative populist political party, Justice and Development, and its current leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came to power in 2002. Turkey opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the NATO-backed regime change in Libya in 2011. Most recently, Turkey has had strained relations with Cyprus, Greece, and Israel—all key US allies—and has alienated the US Congress and select NATO members further by its October 2019 invasion of Syria against Kurdish forces aligned with the US military against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, all against a background of a military rapprochement with Russia. This monograph highlights differences between US agencies concerning Turkey and ways to reconcile them, and offers several policy recommendations for new directions.
  • Topic: NATO, Politics, History, Military Strategy, Bilateral Relations, Armed Forces
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Last year’s Washington Institute forum on post-Soleimani succession suggested that the IRGC would lose a unique coordinating capability and its most important totem once he left the scene. Last April, The Washington Institute held a closed-door roundtable to discuss the potential impact if Qassem Soleimani no longer commanded the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. Governed by the Chatham House rule, participants discussed how succession might work in the Qods Force and what Iran would lose if Soleimani became permanently unavailable, reaching consensus on many key issues. Now that the commander is indeed gone, their conclusions can help policymakers navigate the stormy seas ahead, though some aspects of his importance remain a matter of heated debate.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Strategy, Conflict, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Soner Cagaptay
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Turkey, Russia, and Washington have compelling reasons to welcome a new ceasefire agreement, however imperfect, but they still need to address the longer-term dangers posed by the Assad regime’s murderously maximalist strategy. Recent fighting between Turkish and Syrian regime forces in Idlib province has seemingly wiped away the last vestiges of the September 2018 Sochi agreement, brokered by Russian president Vladimir Putin as a way of pausing hostilities and dividing control over the country’s last rebel-held province. Beginning last December, renewed Russian and Syrian attacks against civilians sent a million residents fleeing toward the Turkish border, creating another humanitarian disaster. Then, on February 27, thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed when their unit was attacked in Idlib—Ankara’s largest single-day loss in Syria thus far. Turkey initially blamed Bashar al-Assad for the deaths, but eyes soon turned to his Russian patron as the more likely culprit, elevating tensions between Ankara and Moscow to a level not seen since Turkish forces shot down a Russian plane in November 2015. Meanwhile, the Turkish military and its local partner forces launched a string of attacks against the Syrian regime and its Iranian-backed militia allies. On March 5, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with Putin in Moscow to discuss these rising tensions. If the two leaders reach another ceasefire deal, will it last any longer than the short-lived Sochi agreement? More important, what effect might it have on the latest refugee crisis threatening to wash over Turkey and Europe?
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Treaties and Agreements, Syrian War, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, Idlib
  • Author: Heidi Peltier
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University
  • Abstract: Throughout the 18 years the U.S. has been engaged in the “Global War on Terror,” mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government has financed this war by borrowing funds rather than through alternative means such as raising taxes or issuing war bonds. Thus, the costs of the post-9/11 wars include not only the expenses incurred for operations, equipment, and personnel, but also the interest costs on this debt. Since 2001 these interest payments have been growing, resulting in more and more taxpayer dollars being wasted on interest payments rather than being channeled to more productive uses. This paper calculates that the debt incurred for $2 trillion in direct war-related spending by the Department of Defense and State Department has already resulted in cumulative interest payments of $925 billion. Even if military interventions ceased immediately, interest payments would continue to rise, and will grow further as the U.S. continues its current military operations.
  • Topic: Debt, War, Military Spending, 9/11
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Iraq, Middle East, Yemen, Syria, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Hiba Itani
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Conference Board
  • Abstract: The Conference Board estimates the Gulf region’s GDP growth to fall at -5.7 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. The slight improvement in oil prices in Q3 along with the easing of production cuts as of August will give oil GDP a small boost. As worries of a possible second wave of coronavirus in Q4 mount, consumer demand will weaken further, netting the rise in oil GDP.
  • Topic: Oil, GDP, Economy, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Hiba Itani
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Conference Board
  • Abstract: The Gulf countries face a somber outlook, with the GDP of the region expected to contract by 5.9% in 2020 compared to 2019. The Gulf countries whose economies remain highly dependent on hydrocarbon are ahead of “perfect storm” like scenario: a humanitarian crisis, that morphed into a global demand shock and pushed oil prices into a free-fall. A historical oil production cut agreement barely managed to improve prices.
  • Topic: Oil, Natural Resources, GDP, Economy
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Sujata Ashwarya
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown University Press
  • Abstract: Despite substantial efforts and investments in rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the country is still struggling to deliver on public services. Years of destruction in conflict, as well as alleged mismanagement and neglect, have taken a heavy toll on the country’s power infrastructure. Severe power cuts and rolling blackouts are endemic in Iraq today. Between 2014 and 2018, Islamic State terrorism inflicted billions of dollars in damage on the already dilapidated electricity infrastructure, causing a cumulative potential and actual loss of a whopping 7GW in generation and transmission capacities.
  • Topic: Economics, Energy Policy, Infrastructure, Business , Conflict, Services, Electricity
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Michał Wojnarowicz, Szymon Zaręba
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: On 12 November 2019, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) issued a judgment on products from Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Golan Heights. It states that EU members are required to ensure that the origin is properly marked. The implementation of this requirement may cause disputes in the EU because of differences in Member States’ policies towards Israel. Tensions in relations with the U.S. are also possible, especially in the context of that country’s recent change in policy favouring the Israeli position on settlements. Hence, it is advisable for the EU to develop a uniform policy regarding imports and labelling of products from all occupied territories.
  • Topic: International Law, Territorial Disputes, European Union, Occupation, Judiciary, Trade
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, Israel, Palestine, North America, United States of America, West Bank, Golan Heights
  • Author: Sara Nowacka
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Iraq remains an area of rivalry between the U.S. and Iran. The latest example was the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by the U.S. in January. The Iraqi parliament then demanded the withdrawal of all foreign military troops. However, the fear of the resurgence of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and continued protests against Iranian influence, ongoing since October 2019, may lead the Iraqi authorities to alter their position. An alternative option to request a NATO mission to take over some of the activities of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS may be a good solution.
  • Topic: NATO, Military Affairs, Islamic State, Military Intervention, Qassem Soleimani
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Karol Wasilewski
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Turkey has sent aid to fight the COVID-19 pandemic to more than 20 countries. Although the gesture has a humanitarian dimension, it is also calculated to achieve political and economic benefits in the future. The challenge to these plans is the dynamics of the pandemic in Turkey, which may force the authorities to focus on the internal situation.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Humanitarian Aid, Coronavirus, Pandemic
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East
  • Author: Marcin Andrzej Piotrowski
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Iran’s official figures on cases and deaths from COVID-19 (the disease resulting from coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2) do not reflect the real scale of the pandemic in that country, which might be among the hardest hit in the world. The pandemic will deepen the economic crisis and disfunction of the state, becoming a challenge to Iran’s ruling elite. The regime might survive thanks to the security apparatus and, in parallel, continue its support of Shia militias in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, and the Syrian government. Only the succession of power after Ali Khamenei will be the real test of the coherence of the Iranian elite, and in case of disruption, it might result in the collapse of Iran’s theocracy.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Economics, Government, Health, Coronavirus, Pandemic, Elites
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Yemen, Lebanon, Syrian Arab Republic
  • Author: Michał Wojnarowicz
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Russia is strengthening its relations with both the Palestinian Authority leadership and Hamas in Gaza Strip. It is part of Russia’s consistent strategy towards the Middle East to build a network of influence among regional actors and boost its image as an attractive political partner. In developing relations with the Palestinians, Russia exploits Israel’s sensitivity to Russian activity in Syria, poor relations between Palestine and the U.S., and the deadlock in the peace process.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Geopolitics, Grand Strategy, Hamas
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Gaza, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Karol Wasilewski
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The agreement signed on 5 March between Russia and Turkey has halted the offensive by the Syrian army on Idlib and led to a new division of influence in the province. Both Turkey and Russia are using the truce to strengthen their military presence in this territory. The coronavirus pandemic may delay the resumption of fighting in Idlib, giving the EU time to prepare for a renewed escalation and attempts by Turkey to instrumentally use an exodus of Syrian refugees to exert pressure on the Union.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Strategy, Syrian War, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Sara Nowacka
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The activity of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a state-financed organisation of around 60 militias, deepens the political crisis in Iraq. This was mirrored in their brutal suppression of anti-government protests and a series of attacks between PMF Kataib Hezbollah (KH) forces and U.S. troops. The structure of the PMF and their political influence in Iraq and abroad prevent the state from controlling the militias. This hinders attempts to calm the ongoing protests in Iraq and threatens the security of the military missions present there. The absorption of PMF members directly into the army and demobilisation of some militias could counteract this.
  • Topic: Security, Non State Actors, Islamic State, Protests, Militias
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Michał Wojnarowicz
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: Israel took early preventive measures against the COVID-19 pandemic that contributed to low infection and mortality rates. This allowed lifting the restrictions and restarting the economy at the end of April. The cooperation undertaken with the Palestinian Authority helped limit the spread of COVID-19 across the Palestinian territories. The successful fight against the spread of the coronavirus in Israel has strengthened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the newly earned support may be halted by the impending economic slowdown.
  • Topic: Economics, Government, Coronavirus, Pandemic
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine
  • Author: Sara Nowacka
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The fight against the spread of the coronavirus in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has forced cooperation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, which were in conflict within the GCC. At the same time, the UAE took advantage of other countries’ need for support in countering COVID-19 to strengthen relations with China, Iran, and Syria, among others. The UAE’s activity emphasizes its ambition for domination of the region, which may lead to a new dispute within the GCC between the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Gulf Cooperation Council, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Bastien Revel
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Since 2014, Turkey has not only hosted the world’s largest refugee population but has also modeled a best practice for the global refugee policy discussion. Turkey’s experience on the key issues such as jobs and employment should be examined as lessons for both refugee hosting countries and donor countries alike. The country has provided Syrians under Temporary Protection the right to access work permits and formal employment. Facilitating self-reliance for such a large number of refugees’ households remains a challenging task, even in the medium to long-term. This is especially the case in a context where increasing levels of unemployment in Turkey compounded by the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have posed a serious challenge to job creation and increased competition for available opportunities. Many Syrians living in Turkey experiencing partial or complete loss of income while incurring higher expenses, which is compounded for most households by a lack of savings. Addressing these challenges requires to draw lessons learnt at both policy and operational level to effectively support access to livelihoods opportunities. This notably involves fostering greater engagement and partnership with the private sector, on the one hand, and exploring innovative solutions such as e-work and online livelihoods opportunities on the other. The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be an important test on the government’s and their international partners’ relevance and flexibility and their ability to quickly step up efforts in that direction. In this context, UNDP Turkey—a longstanding development partner and the co-lead of the Refugee and Resilience Response Plan (3RP)—joined hands with the Atlantic Council’s program on Turkey—”Atlantic Council IN TURKEY”—to explore policy options to foster socioeconomic inclusion among Syrians under Temporary Protection. Building on the experience and expertise of both organizations, our joint policy report : “Turkey’s Refugee Resilience: Expanding and Improving Solutions for the Economic Inclusion of Syrians in Turkey” aims at outlining pragmatic and innovative options to facilitate refugees’ access to decent employment so as to contribute to our common objective to #leavenoonebehind.
  • Topic: Migration, Science and Technology, United Nations, Women, Refugees, Economic growth, Youth, Conflict, Syrian War, Crisis Management, Resilience
  • Political Geography: Europe, Eurasia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Nicholas Blanford, Assaf Orion
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Almost fourteen years since the 2006 war, Hezbollah and Israel seem to be drifting closer to war than at any time in the last decade. Even as Lebanon and Israel grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, neither the Israeli military nor Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah are allowing the disease to distract from their long-running enmity. With the military buildup on both sides, the mutual destruction would be far reaching. Given the risks at hand, the Atlantic Council has released a new report, “Counting the Cost: Avoiding Another War between Israel and Hezbollah,” authored by Nicholas Blanford, a Beirut-based nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Middle East programs, and Brig. Gen. (Res.) Assaf Orion, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. The authors examine the current force posture of the Israel Defense Forces and Hezbollah, identify potential triggers that could lead to a war, analyze how the next war would be fought by both sides, and offer recommendations to at least maintain the current relative calm and avoid a conflict that could cost thousands of lives and bring unprecedented ruin to both Lebanon and Israel.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Conflict, Crisis Management, Hezbollah, Israel Defense Forces (IDF)
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Lebanon
  • Author: C. Anthony Pfaff
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: With US-Iraq ties strained and a Strategic Dialogue between the two countries set to begin in June 2020, this Atlantic Council Iraq Initiative report by Nonresident Senior Fellow and former White House National Security Council Iraq Director Dr. C. Anthony Pfaff analyzes the current challenges in the relationship and presents policy recommendations. Dr. Pfaff argues in the report that the United States should: Avoid dragging Iraq into its broader campaign against Iran; Play to its comparative advantage: The United States can be a better security partner for Iraq than other countries and can also assist with integrating it into the international community and developing the economic and financial capabilities necessary to participate in the global economy; Continue to insist on the integration of Iran-backed militias into Iraq’s security forces; Highlight US aid to Iraq and while acknowledging US mistakes, push back against politicized narratives that explain Iraq’s lack of recovery; Emphasize military interoperability, so that in the event of an ISIS resurgence – or the emergence of a like-minded group – US forces can quickly fill in the Iraqi armed forces’ capability gaps; Promote reconciliation and provide an alternative to Iranian mediation while at the same time avoiding advocacy for a particular outcome; Provide economic assistance to set conditions for foreign investment by US companies and like-minded partners; Focus additional COVID-19 related assistance on economic recovery;.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, Bilateral Relations, Military Affairs, Economic Development , COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Paul D. Miller
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: At the outset of some of the most impactful wars in history, policymakers have assumed that the duration of conflict would be brief. Unfortunately, their assumptions were often wrong, as may wars like those in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan only grew more complicated with the passage of time. However, at least in these three cases, the reality of prolonged stalemate did not stop policymakers from setting withdrawal deadlines to assuage public anxieties and improve military performance. The pressures contributing to these consistent decisions across time are still relevant now. Therefore, as the United States currently seeks to deter great-power rivals and rogue regimes while combating terrorism, it is as important as ever to understand the roles and potential outcomes of withdrawal deadlines in war. In this new Atlantic Council report, Withdrawal Deadlines In War: Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Dr. Paul D. Miller examines the effect of withdrawal timetables on public opinion, military success, and policymakers’ goals across the three titular case studies. He finds that “Withdrawal timelines do not achieve the political benefits that policymakers desire, but they do incur the risks policymakers rightly fear.” In the face of prolonged and difficult military challenges, withdrawal deadlines can exacerbate outcomes at crucial moments, and thus policymakers must tread carefully.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy, History, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, South Asia, Middle East, East Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Emerson T. Brooking, Suzanne Kianpour
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Iran has invested significant resources and accumulated vast experience in the conduct of digital influence efforts. These clandestine propaganda efforts have been used to complement Iranian foreign policy operations for the better part of a decade. Nonetheless, Iranian influence capabilities have gone largely unstudied by the United States, and only came to widespread attention in August 2018 with the first public identification of an Iranian propaganda network. Following the US assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani and a sharp escalation in US-Iranian tensions, it is important to understand the perspective, methods, and intent of Iranian influence efforts. For Iran, information dominance represents a central focus of both foreign and domestic policy. Iran sees itself as engaged in a perennial information war: against Sunni Arab powers, against the forces of perceived Western neocolonialism, and particularly against the United States. Should the information conflict be lost, many Iranian officials believe the collapse of the state will soon follow. Accordingly, Iran has prioritized the development of digital broadcast capabilities that cannot be easily targeted by the United States or its allies. Iran has also prioritized information control. Although Iran boasts roughly fifty-six million Internet users, these users must navigate a culture of censorship and frequent state intimidation. Following the 2009 Green Movement, the Iranian government came to see social media activism as enabling an existential threat. Authorities created special cyber-police units, built a new legal framework for Internet regulation, and outlawed most Western digital platforms. They also began to develop systems to remove Iranian users from the global Internet entirely. In pursuit of foreign and domestic information dominance, Iran began operating Facebook and Twitter sockpuppets as early as 2010. As the United States and Iran entered into a period of rapprochement and negotiation, the number of accounts grew exponentially. These accounts have been used to launder Iranian state propaganda to unsuspecting audiences, often under the guise of local media reports. To date, Facebook has identified approximately 2,200 assets directly affecting six million users. Twitter has identified eight thousand accounts responsible for roughly 8.5 million messages. Much of this Iranian content cannot be characterized as “disinformation.” In sharp contrast to the information operations of Russia, which routinely disseminate false stories with the aim of polluting the information environment, Iran makes less use of obvious falsehood. Instead, Iran advances a distorted truth: one that exaggerates Iran’s moral authority while minimizing Iran’s repression of its citizens and the steep human cost of its own imperial adventures in the wider Middle East. As a whole, Iran’s digital influence operations represent a continuation of public diplomacy, albeit conducted through misleading websites and social media sockpuppets. Iran broadcasts a fairly consistent message to many different audiences: in Africa, in Southeast Asia, in Europe, in North America, and, most notably, in Latin America and the Middle East. The aim of these efforts is to “tell Iran’s story,” the same as any Western government broadcaster might strive to do. The difference is that, as an international pariah, Iran must pursue this work through more clandestine means. Global observers have long learned to doubt the truthfulness and sincerity of Iranian-branded media. As the United States considers policies to safeguard its elections and confront Iranian influence activities, three conclusions can be drawn about the nature of Iran’s modern propaganda apparatus. Iran’s digital influence efforts involve centralized goals and disparate agents. Different elements of Iran’s digital propaganda apparatus evidence the involvement of different government agencies. It is not clear how, or if, these agencies coordinate their operations. These goals are closely tied to Iran’s geopolitical interests. Nearly all content spread by Iran’s digital influence efforts relates directly to its worldview or specific foreign policy objectives. Consequently, it is easier to identify the operations of Iran than those of other actors like Russia, whose content is more likely to be politically agnostic. Iran may attempt direct electoral interference in 2020 and beyond. To date, there is little evidence that Iran has sought to affect the outcome of a US election. This does not, however, preclude future such campaigns based on Iranian interest in achieving rapprochement with the United States.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Politics, Media, Conflict, Disinformation
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Bina Hussein
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Atlantic Council
  • Abstract: Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are expected to witness a substantial growth in population over the next three decades. Many of the hydrocarbon-rich nations in this region will need to meet a commensurate increase in job demand. This report focuses on four nations that are predominantly reliant on the oil and gas sector: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, and Algeria. In all four nations, the majority of the local population is employed in the public sector, which, in the long term, will become economically unsustainable. In order to meet the growing job demand, these nations must both diversify their economies beyond the energy sector and expand their energy sectors beyond hydrocarbons. Doing so will create important employment opportunities in new industries. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait all have strategies in place that, if followed, could pave the way towards a diversified knowledge-based economy. Algeria, on the other hand, is at a crossroads. Even as it is undergoing a political transition, the transition can create opportunities for the new government to change the country’s course and push economic reforms that are not only aimed at lowering the current unemployment rate but also at making the private sector more enticing. Additionally, all four nations will need to take steps to increase female participation in the workforce by easing current restrictions and making labor laws more favorable towards women. The energy sector plays a large role in the economies of all four nations. This sector has a critical role to play in efforts to diversify the economy and teach skills that will be beneficial in the future or can be applied in other sectors as well. Moreover, all four nations also have sovereign wealth funds that either play, or can play, a key role in diversifying the economy, strengthening existing industries, and helping to create new industries altogether. This report offers the following recommendations on how these four nations can work towards meeting demographic challenges in relation to the economy, specifically the role of the energy sector: Governments can strengthen the private sector through increased foreign investment and by incentivizing entrepreneurship through reforms that open up the economy and make it more lucrative for investors. Governments can create laws and support structures that encourage women to work and increase female participation in the workforce. Opportunities should be provided to teach skills and impart knowledge relevant to the job market that will also be relevant in the future. Lessons should be learned from the experience of the energy sector and leveraged to achieve successes in other areas. For example, the state-owned oil and gas companies have successfully set up a structure that allows them to not only invest in their employees but also take care of the community by offering health care services, education, and more.
  • Topic: Demographics, Energy Policy, Markets, Oil, Governance, Geopolitics, Gas, Renewable Energy, Fossil Fuels, Transition
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Dina Smeltz, Amir Farmanesh
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Chicago Council on Global Affairs
  • Abstract: Both the United States and Iran have been among the countries worst hit by the coronavirus, but neither country has moved away from mutual confrontation. Nationwide surveys conducted by IranPoll this winter – before the spread of the virus and before the US strike against Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani – show that although Iranians say their country should not develop nuclear weapons, they have lost confidence in the nuclear agreement and think that the P5+1 countries (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council including China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany) have not lived up to their obligations. Chicago Council survey results from January 2020 show that a majority of Americans say they would favor rejoining the agreement if Iran restarts its nuclear weapons program.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Nuclear Weapons, Public Opinion, Disarmament, UN Security Council
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America