Tag: Democracy and Rule of Law

Peace picks, February 19-25

  1. Iran’s Missile Program in Perspective| Tuesday, February 20 | 9:00am – 10:30am | Atlantic Council | Register here |

The Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative invites you to a panel discussion on Iran’s missile program, its role in Iranian defense strategy, and as a source of tension in the region and beyond. While the primary threat posed by the program stems from its potential connection to Iran’s nuclear program, Iran’s neighbors and the United States are also concerned about the transfer of shorter-range rockets to Iranian-backed militant groups in Yemen and Lebanon. The Trump administration has raised the issue as a “flaw” of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and is discussing a possible side agreement with key European nations that would include missiles. Iran has rejected changes to the JCPOA and views the missile program as an essential element of its military doctrine, a means of deterrence and a tool of statecraft. Please join Aaron Stein (Resident Senior Fellow,Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council), Michael Elleman (Senior Fellow for Missile Defense, IISS), and Melissa Dalton (Senior Fellow and Deputy Director, International Security Program, CSIS). Bharath Gopalaswamy (Director, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council) will moderate.


  1. The United States and India: Forging an Indispensable Democratic Partnership | Tuesday, February 20 | 10:00am – 11:30am | Center for American Progress | Register here |

The relationship between the United States and India has become an important priority for both nations and is increasingly important to advancing their shared interests of promoting economic prosperity, security, and democratic institutions. Over the past year, the Center for American Progress organized a binational group of Indian and American experts in a wide variety of fields to work together to craft a vision for the future of U.S.-India relations. The resulting task force report — “The United States and India: Forging an Indispensable Democratic Partnership” — outlines a path forward for the bilateral relationship, along with a series of concrete recommendations that both sides can take to advance shared interests. Please join CAP for the release of the report and a discussion with the task force co-chairs—Nirupama Menon Rao (former Indian Ambassador to the United States; former Foreign Secretary of India) and Richard Rahul Verma (former U.S. Ambassador to India; Vice Chairman, The Asia Group)—on the future of the U.S.-India relationship. With an opening statement by Neera Tanden (President and CEO, CAP). Kelly Magsamen (Vice President, National Security and International Policy, CAP) will moderate.


  1. Neither Free nor Fair: What to Do About Venezuela’s Presidential Elections? | Wednesday, February 21 | 9:00am – 10:30am | Atlantic Council | Register here |

Please join the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center for a conversation on Venezuela’s electoral conditions, the uncertain road ahead, and the need for a revamped role of the international community in spurring change. Speakers include H.E. Camilo Reyes (Ambassador of Colombia to the United States), Gerardo De Icaza (Acting Secretary for Strengthening Democracy, Organization of American States), and Luis Lander (President Venezuelan Electoral Observatory), among others. Tracy Wilkinson (Reporter, Washington DC Bureau, Los Angeles Times) will moderate.


  1. Envisioning Palestine: Strategies for Palestinian Self-Determination | Wednesday, February 21 | 12:30pm – 2:00pm | Middle East Institute | Register here |

Relations between the U.S. and the Palestinians are in free-fall. The Trump administration’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then cut funding to UNRWA to force the Palestinians back to the negotiating table have been met with mass protests and official recriminations. Meanwhile, peace has never seemed more distant, with a recent poll showing support for a two-state solution at a historic low among both Israelis and Palestinians. What are the prospects today for advancing Palestinian self-determination? At a time when Palestinian options seem limited, what new and creative roles are the Palestinian grassroots, civil society and leadership playing in supporting a resolution to the conflict and an end to the occupation? The Middle East Institute, Foundation for Middle East Peace and the OneVoice Movement are pleased to host a panel of distinguished experts to discuss those questions and more, featuring Maya Berry (Executive director, Arab American Institute), Khaled Elgindy (Fellow, Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution), and Abdallah Hamarsheh (Deputy director and co-founder, ZimamPalestine). OneVoice’s regional director in the Mid-Atlantic, Obada Shtaya, will moderate the discussion.


  1. ‘Last Men in Aleppo’: A Reel Progress screening and discussion | Wednesday, February 21 | 7:00pm – 8:30pm | Center for American Progress | Register here |

“Last Men in Aleppo” is a 2017 Oscar-nominated documentary highlighting the volunteer search and rescue organization Syria Civil Defence, commonly known as the White Helmets. Since 2013, the White Helmets have gained international attention for rescuing and assisting civilians targeted by the Assad regime and Russian forces in Syria. “Last Men in Aleppo” documents the lives and personal struggles of these brave volunteer rescue workers as they conduct rescue missions across Aleppo, Syria.Please join the Center for American Progress’ Reel Progress program and Grasshopper Film for a screening of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Last Men in Aleppo.” The screening will be followed by a short panel featuring the film’s director, Feras Fayyad—the first Syrian filmmaker to be nominated for an Oscar—along with Brian Katulis (Senior Fellow, CAP), and Steven Cook (Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations). Nadia Bilbassy-Charters (Senior Correspondent, Al Arabiya TV) will moderate the discussion.


  1. The U.S.-Japan Alliance and the Problem of Deterrence| Thursday, February 22 | 9:00am – 11:00am | Brookings Institution | Register here |

A fundamental purpose of the U.S.-Japan alliance has always been to reduce the incentive that any adversary would have to wage war against Japan. To that end, Japan has built up the capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces over several decades. For its part, the United States has clearly stated its commitment to Japan’s defense and a willingness, if necessary, to use nuclear weapons should an adversary attack Japan. Recent shifts in the regional security environment, particularly North Korea’s relentless effort to build nuclear capabilities to hit the continental United States can undermine Japanese confidence in the U.S. defense commitment. In particular, Japanese security experts worry that Washington will no longer be willing to use nuclear weapons to defend Japan once North Korea can retaliate with its own nuclear program. The Center for East Asia Policy Studies will convene a public event examining U.S. extended deterrence in Japan and Asia. Featuring Narushige Michishita (Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies), M. Elaine Bunn (Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy, DoD), Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Noboru Yamaguchi (Professor, International University of Japan), and Eric Heginbotham (Principal Research Scientist, Center for International Studies, MIT). Robert Einhorn (Senior Fellow, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative, Brookings Institutions) will moderate the discussion.


  1. In the Taiwan Strait, China Sets its Own Rules | Thursday, February 22 | 9:00am – 11:00am | Hudson Institute | Register here |

On January 4, the People’s Republic of China unilaterally and without consultation activated the M503 flight route through the Taiwan Strait. The move violated several cross-strait agreements and threatened the status quo. The flight route change represents just one instance in a broader trend of Chinese actions that violate international laws, agreements, and norms in order to further China’s own interests. “With Chinese characteristics” has become a buzz phrase for Beijing’s effort to enjoy the benefits of a stable international order while insisting on its own conflicting foreign policy and military goals. The Hudson Institute will convene a panel of experts to discuss the challenges such actions pose to broader regional and international interests. Please join Seth Cropsey (Director, Center for American Seapower, Hudson Institute), Doug Feith (Director, Center for National Security Strategies, Hudson Institute), Vice Admiral Mark Fox (ret.) (corporate vice president of customer affairs, Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding division), and Peter Wood (scholar, Jamestown Foundation)


  1. Restoring Venezuela’s Democracy and Halting the Humanitarian Disaster| Friday, February 23 | 10:00am – 11:30am | Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) | Register here |

As Venezuela further collapses under a narco-state regime, with hyperinflation, widespread scarcity of food and medicine, one of the world’s highest homicide rates, thousands fleeing to neighboring countries every day, and with no clear electoral way out, the importance of the role of the international community to increase pressure on Venezuela’s regime has become more crucial than ever. Secretary Tillerson’s recent visit to the Americas elevated the urgency of building a comprehensive approach from the international community to use the different mechanisms available to increase pressure on Nicolas Maduro’s regime. CSIS President and CEO Dr. John Hamre will provide opening remarks. Michael Matera (Director Americas, CSIS) will introduce our speakers, Luis Almagro (Secretary General, Organization of American States), Juan Zarate (former Deputy National Security Advisor), and Maria Corina Machado (leader in the Venezuelan opposition), who will join via video conference. Moises Rendon (CSIS Associate Director) will lead the conversation.

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Do it now

The German foreign minister this week gave Kosovo an early 10th birthday present (the date is February 17). Sigmar Gabriel said in Pristina:

If Serbia wants to move toward the European Union, the building of the rule of law is a primary condition, but naturally also the acceptance of Kosovo’s independence. That is a central condition to take the path toward Europe.

Everyone has known this for a long time, though Serbian politicians like to deny they have ever heard it. Dutch, Swedish and other EU diplomats have told me they have clearly and repeatedly made this point in private. Plus it is no secret that ratification of Serbian accession to the EU in the Bundestag and several other parliaments isn’t going to happen without acceptance of Kosovo’s independence.

The time has come to make the point loudly and publicly. Belgrade has already accepted that Kosovo will qualify for EU membership separately from Serbia, which certainly implies its de facto independence. But some in Serbia may still be imagining that the EU would be prepared to do what it did for Cyprus: allow a derogation for part of its “sovereign” territory. There is absolutely no European interest in doing that , but illusions die hard in the Balkans.

Now is the time to dissipate the illusion that Belgrade can continue to put off the issue, hoping it will somehow go away. It won’t. If Serbia has not yet accepted Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by the time Belgrade is completing its negotiations for EU accession, it can expect absolutely nothing in return. All the leverage then will be with Germany and the others who insist on acceptance of Kosovo’s status as an independent state. Slovenia and Croatia have already been through that wringer, and Montenegro is preparing itself: all prospective EU members have to cede on the last remaining issues before accession.

Kosovo will still then face the Spanish hurdle. Madrid has foolishly suggested there is a parallel between Catalonia and Kosovo, an analogy that only holds up if Madrid wants its treatment of Catalonia to be seen in the same light as Milosevic’s treatment of Kosovo. But Madrid is also saying that it can accept whatever Belgrade deems acceptable. That will also be true for the four other EU members that have not yet recognized Kosovo.

The time has come for as many EU members as possible to make it clear in public: Serbia cannot become a member until it completely normalizes its relations with Kosovo, which means diplomatic recognition and exchange of ambassadorial-level representatives. Doing so now would be a major contribution to maintaining peace and stability in the Balkans.


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Frustrated expectations

Iran is in a state of upheaval. In January, a wave of nationwide anti-regime protests kept the country in suspense. These protests were more radical than prior demonstrations of discontent. They called often for the overthrow of the entire political system and occurred in areas considered to be strongholds of the regime. This challenge has upset the ruling cadre of the Islamic Republic, who reacted both with repression and confusion. The regime has brutally cracked down on dissidents, as the alleged murder of the prominent academic Kavous Seyed Emami exemplifies. Yet part of the regime has also signaled readiness for concessions, as President Hassan Rouhani’s proposal for a referendum on Iran’s political system demonstrates. A power struggle both on the streets and within the regime appears to be ongoing.

Where is Iran heading?

On February 12, the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative hosted a panel discussion on “Iran’s Political Future” in light of the recent protests. Moderated by the Initiative’s Director Barbara Slavin, panelists Nazila Fathi, an Iranian-Canadian journalist and author, Suzanne Maloney, Deputy Director of the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings Institution, and Alireza Nader, researcher at Rand Corporation, offered their insights on the current state of affairs and prospects for political reform in Iran. (A full recording of the event can be seen here.)

Alireza Nader expects further instability in light of an increasingly agitated population but argues that the political system in Iran will remain in place. The Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) has become Iran’s key decision-maker and has a strong interest in maintaining the current order. President Rouhani, on the other hand, is weak and diminished. He is isolated among the establishment and has lost popular support, given his meager track record. Iranians are increasingly disillusioned. People are aware of widespread corruption and demand accountability as well as economic stability. The political establishment is however unable to deliver, and the deteriorating economic situation will only spur further discontent. The regime is in a “lose-lose situation” and a deeper crisis is merely a matter of time.

Nazila Fathi likewise stresses that the Iranian regime is facing a fundamental crisis. The recent protests have demonstrated that the Islamic Republic’s ruling cadre is losing its grip on even its core supporters. Corruption and mismanagement have devastated the economy and caused widespread unemployment, particularly in rural areas where strong support for the regime has  suffered. Support for the Basij and the IRGC has dropped. The regime is unable to respond to this new challenge. In its search for scapegoats, it attacks environmentalists such as Kavous Seyed Emami and uses violence to distract attention. A change of the political system is still unlikely due to the IRGC’s political, economic, and military strength. The Islamic Republic will remain, though the structure of its top leadership might see modification. Fathi believes that there will not be another Supreme Leader after Grand Ayatollah Khameini; rather, a supreme council will take over.

According to Suzanne Maloney, Iran faces a trap of unfulfilled expectations. The country’s political system cannot be reformed since the unelected institutions are unwilling to give up power. The regime has consistently advocated social justice but failed on its promise. The latest episode of this story is the JCPOA and the unfulfilled peace dividend. This has caused great frustration among ordinary Iranians. Since the political system offers no accountability mechanism, they have begun to question the legitimacy of the regime.

The panel agreed that the United States must carefully chose its response to this uncertain situation. Maloney argues that the US government should scold Tehran over human rights violations. Yet Washington should not go after the JCPOA, but rather lift the travel ban. Nader emphasizes the need for tougher sanctions on the IRGC business empire. Fathi underscores Europe’s role in exerting pressure in Iran. Only if the United States and its European allies act in concert, will Tehran change.

The recent protests in Iran have highlighted the Islamic Republic’s fragility, but the regime is crisis-tested. It was able to survive the Green Movement of 2009, widespread student protests in the late 1990s, and the turmoil surrounding Grand Ayatollah Khomeini’s succession. Iran’s current leadership has no Plan B. The downfall of the Islamic Republic would result in the demise of most of its current ruling cadre. The fight over Iran’s future is hence a battle for life or death. The regime will not give in easily. Those who expect swift or fundamental change, both in Tehran and abroad, will be frustrated.

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Completing sovereignty

Kosovo is ten years independent Saturday. It has a lot to be proud of: a functional, more or less democratic state built in less than twenty years, despite determined opposition from Serbia and Russia. Most people in Kosovo live the normal lives they were denied for 20 years prior to independence. They earn significantly higher wages than in the past, they are safe and secure in their homes and on the street, they enjoy at least rudimentary educational opportunities and health care, and they get to vote every few years for whomever they prefer. That’s the good news.

There is bad news too. While most of its citizens are pleased with independence, some are not. There are Serbs who prefer to be citizens only of Serbia and Albanians who would prefer to be citizens of a “greater” Albania rather than Kosovo. Kosovo’s political leadership too often enjoys a standard of living its salaries alone cannot support. While all vow to make Kosovo a European Union member, few are prepared to make the difficult choices required to hasten the day. Cronyism and nepotism too often determine who gets hired and contracted. Unemployment is the fate of far too many, even if some of them work in the informal sector.

The statebuilding project is still incomplete. Despite widespread bilateral recognition, Kosovo is not yet a member of the United Nations or its specialized agencies. NATO-led forces guarantee Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The four Serb-majority northern municipalities are not yet fully integrated with the rest of the country. International prosecutors and judges still ensure equity in Kosovo’s courts, including the special tribunal convened in The Hague to consider “crimes against humanity, war crimes and other crimes under Kosovo law which allegedly occurred between 1 January 1998 and 31 December 2000.” Pristina has so far failed to demarcate its border with Montenegro and to agree or demarcate formally its border with Serbia. Perceived official corruption is at regionally high levels.

Independence, sovereignty and statebuilding are too often confused, not just in the case of Kosovo. It is entirely possible to be independent but not fully sovereign. That is also Taiwan’s fate, since it does not even claim sovereignty but is an independent state. You can also have a state but not be independent or sovereign: witness Iraqi Kurdistan. You can also be sovereign and independent but lack a state: I’d say that is Somalia’s current fate, more or less. You can even be sovereign but not fully independent. I’d say EU members are in that category, since they adhere to a set of rules (the acquis communautaire) over which none of them have complete authority, having delegated sovereignty to the European Commission.

For Kosovo, the challenge of the next ten years is to complete its sovereignty in a way that enables the country to apply for NATO and EU membership. Anything that detracts from this goal threatens the welfare and safety of its citizens as well as regional peace and stability. In practice, this means building credible security forces that can take over the immediate defense of its territory, improving Kosovo’s judicial system so that it can equitably decide cases involving Serbs and other non-Albanian citizens, agreeing and demarcating borders, integrating the four northern municipalities, and ending impunity for corrupt and violent behavior.

I am reasonably confident all this can be done, but it will require serious commitment on the part of Kosovo’s citizens to ensure that the leadership moves in the right direction. Despite the current gloom and doom about the Balkans, Kosovo remains a singular and extraordinary achievement of international intervention combined with indigenous determination. It is hard to sustain such determination over decades, especially when Belgrade and Moscow are doing everything they can to complicate matters. But there is no substitute for citizens: they shape the state, determine what independence can achieve, and make completing sovereignty possible.

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Peace picks, February 12-18

  1. Geostrategic Flashpoint: The Eastern Mediterranean | Monday, February 12 | 9:00am – 10:00am | CSIS | Register here |

The Eastern Mediterranean forms a geostrategic seam between Europe and the Middle East, and for over seventy years, the region represented a strategic anchor for the United States. Today, Washington and its allies are struggling to adapt a coherent Eastern Mediterranean regional policy that acknowledges dramatically new economic, political, and security realities.  As Syria enters its seventh year of conflict, Russia and Iran deepen their military footprints in the region, and NATO ally Turkey radically alters its domestic and external policies, the strategic importance of the region to the United States is growing while U.S. influence there appears to be waning. To assess regional security challenges and discuss NATO and U.S. Navy operational approaches to the Eastern Mediterranean, we are pleased to host Admiral James G. Foggo, III (commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples; commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe; commander, U.S. Naval Forces Africa) for a timely conversation. Jon Alterman (CSIS) and Heather Conley (CSIS) will offer reflections and observations on a recently concluded CSIS research project on the Eastern Mediterranean.


  1. Iran’s Political Future | Monday, February 12 | 12:00pm – 1:30pm | Atlantic Council | Register here |

The Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative invites you to a panel discussion on “Iran’s Political Future,” in the aftermath of recent protests. The demonstrations, which took place in more than 100 Iranian cities and towns in late December-early January, focused on poor economic conditions, Iran’s interventions abroad, and domestic political constraints. Analysts are divided over whether the Iranian system can profit from the protests to enact meaningful reforms or whether the system is too repressive and brittle to change through relatively peaceful evolution. Please join Nazila Fathi (Iranian journalist and author), Suzanne Maloney (Deputy Director, Foreign Policy Program, Brookings Institution), and Alireza Nader (former Senior International Policy Analyst, RAND Corporation). Barbara Slavin (Director, Future of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council) will moderate.


  1. Conflict Prevention and Resolution Forum: The New Landscape of CVE in Southeast Asia | Tuesday, February 13 | 9:30am – 11:00am | Johns Hopkins University SAIS | Register here |

The dynamics of international violent extremism are rapidly changing. Groups like ISIS are losing physical territory, and their ambition post-caliphate is uncertain. Former fighters are returning to their home countries, creating new security risks and raising important questions about how to effectively rehabilitate and reintegrate foreign fighters. Southeast Asian countries from Indonesia to the Philippines have experience preventing and countering violent extremism, but as the global dynamics change, what can be learned from long-standing efforts to prevent violent extremism in Southeast Asia? How is the landscape changing? What are the key risks emerging? Join a panel of experts to discuss the needs and opportunities for countering violent extremism in Southeast Asia. Featuring Sinisa Vukovic (Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins University SAIS) and Luke Waggoner (Senior Governance Specialist, International Republican Institute). Kimberly Brody Hart (Senior Manager, Search for Common Ground) will moderate the discussion.


  1. Managing Fragility for Peace, Security, and Sustainable Development | Tuesday, February 13 | 1:00pm – 2:30pm | CSIS | Register here |

Countries experiencing significant fragility, while amounting to about 20 percent of the world’s population, are projected to be home to 80 percent of the world’s extremely poor by 2035. Societies affected by poor governance, limited institutional capability, low social cohesion, and weak legitimacy tend to exhibit erosion of the social contract, diminished societal resilience, and low levels of economic and human development. Spillover effects of fragility include increased risks of armed conflicts, forced migration, spread of diseases, organized crime, and terrorism. Ambassador Michel’s report places these challenges to security and development posed by fragility in the context of centuries-long trends toward declining violence and increased prosperity and freedom. Featuring Joseph Hewitt (Vice President for Policy, Learning and Strategy, USIP), Laurel Patterson (Senior Policy Advisor, Crisis, Fragility, and Resilience, UNDP), Romina Bandura (CSIS), and James Michel (CSIS).


  1. Colombia Peace Forum: Colombian Human Rights Defenders Navigate Post-Accord Challenges | Wednesday, February 14 | 10:00am – 12:00pm | U.S. Institute of Peace | Register here |

The government’s peace accord with the former FARC rebels presents a historic opportunity to work towards the construction of a democratic Colombia. At the heart of this process are human rights defenders and civil society organizations, who play a vital role in addressing the underlying economic and social root causes of violence and holding stakeholders accountable to the commitments of the accords. Join the U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) to hear from the leading Colombian human rights activists. They will discuss the challenges they face in their communities and the role they play in engaging regional institutions, local authorities and diverse social sectors to secure lasting peace in Colombia. Speakers include Carla Koppell (Vice President, Center for Applied Conflict Transformation, U.S. Institute of Peace), Enrique Chimonja (Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz), and Socorro Acero Bautista (Comité Permanente por la defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Colombia, CPDH), among others.


  1. U.S. National Security and the Korean Peninsula: Perspectives from a Defector, a Russian, and an Analyst | Wednesday, February 14 | 1:00pm – 3:30pm | Wilson Center | Register here |

Join us for a discussion on U.S. national security and the Korean peninsula from the perspectives of a former senior ranking official of the Kim Jong-un regime, a professor of St Petersburg University, and a renowned author on issues related to North Korea at a conference hosted jointly with the Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS). Featuring Jong Ho Ri (Former head, Korea Daehung Trading Corp., North Korea), Sergei Kurbanov (Professor, St Petersburg State University), Tara O (Adjunct Fellow, Pacific Forum, CSIS), Abraham Denmark (Director, Asia Program, Wilson Center), Synja P Kim (President and Chairman, ICAS). Sang Joo Kim (Executive Vice President, ICAS) will moderate the discussion.


  1. American Peacemaking Experience in the Balkans: Lessons for Ukraine | Thursday, February 15 | 10:00am – 12:00pm | U.S. Institute of Peace | Register here |

The United States played a leading role in ending wars that gripped the Balkans more than 20 years ago. Amid growing interest in the possibility of a peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine, a fresh look at American efforts in the former Yugoslavia is timely: What can be learned from the U.S. diplomatic experience in the Balkans that might be applied in the Ukrainian conflict? Ambassador James Pardew, former member of Richard Holbrooke’s negotiating team on the Balkans, will discuss insights captured in his new book, Peacemakers: American Leadership and the End of Genocide in the Balkans. Panelists include Michael Haltzel (Foreign Policy Institute Senior Fellow, John Hopkins SAIS), John Herbst (Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council), and Boris Ruge (Deputy Head of Mission, German Embassy to the U.S), among others.


  1. Vietnam’s Relations with China and the U.S.: A Delicate Internal and External Balancing Act | Thursday, February 15 | 9:30am – 11:00am | Stimson Center | Register here |

In recent years, Vietnam’s foreign alignment strategy has raised broad attention from the region. Vietnam has a long and complicated history with China. Particularly in light of the 1979 Sino-Vietnam war and the existing maritime disputes, there exists profound distrust. In contrast, against the history of the Vietnam War, US’ relations with Vietnam has made steady progress in the past decade. Secretary of Defense Mattis just completed his trip to Vietnam in late January 2018, opening channels for more conversations and defense ties that are widely interpreted to assist Vietnam to counter China’s growing strength and ambition in the region. Although the alignment choice for Hanoi appears clear, the picture is significantly complicated by Vietnam’s domestic politics. The power struggles among different political factions within the party play an innate role in determining and influencing the country’s foreign policy. The Stimson Center is pleased to host the top Vietnam specialists from China and the U.S., Dr. Pan Jin’e (China Academy of Social Sciences) and Murray Hiebert (Deputy Director of the Southeast Asia Program, CSIS) to discuss the current state of Vietnam’s relations with the two great powers, the triangular relationship and the factors influencing their future.


  1. The Best Way Forward in Afghanistan | Friday, February 16 | 12:00pm– 1:30pm | Middle East Institute | Register here |

The war in Afghanistan, the longest in U.S. history, shows little sign of winding down. Despite hundreds of billions of dollars in military aid and state support, Afghanistan still struggles with resilient Taliban and Islamic State insurgencies. Increasingly, questions are being asked as to why the United States maintains a presence in Afghanistan. How is a U.S. presence serving American security interests? The Trump administration has pledged an indefinite commitment to victory in Afghanistan, but what does success look like and what would have to change to achieve it? Does the U.S. have a clear and coherent strategy going forward and what, if any, are the alternatives? The Middle East Institute is pleased to host an expert panel to discuss these and other questions about the US mission in Afghanistan. MEI’s Director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies, Marvin G. Weinbaum, will moderate the discussion with Vanda Felbab-Brown (senior fellow, Brookings), Christopher Kolenda, (adjunct senior fellow, Center for a New American Security), Ahmad Khalid Majidyar (fellow and director of the IranObserved Project, MEI) and Amb. (ret.) Ronald Neumann (President, American Academy of Diplomacy; former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan).

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Kosovo’s travail

I’ve already expressed my enthusiasm for the EU’s re-opening of the window for enlargement in the Western Balkans. I don’t take any of it back. But my friends in Kosovo are upset: the final text of the plan apparently erases explicit references to Kosovo, due to Spain’s concern that it represents a model for Catalonia.

I wish that hadn’t happened, but it is far from incurable. It is still clear that the EU is opening the window and that Serbia will have to settle its issues with Kosovo completely–“normalizing relations” is the euphemism–before acceding. The Union is not willing to bring in any new members that have problems with their neighbors. That means recognition and establishment of diplomatic relations between Pristina and Belgrade. I am assured on good authority that Madrid has made it clear that once Kosovo and Serbia settle their issues Spain will go along.

What Spain has done is nevertheless a diplomatic auto-goal. By implicitly accepting the analogy between Catalonia and Kosovo, Madrid makes itself analogous to Milosevic’s Belgrade. Objectively, that is not the case. I may think some of what Madrid is doing to fight the Catalan independence movement is unwise and counterproductive, but it is nowhere near the criminal abuse that Milosevic indulged in. Spain has not chased hundreds of thousands of Catalans from their homes, and the international community has not had to intervene to stop war crimes and crimes against humanity. Nor has Catalonia been governed for the better part of a decade by an international administration entrusted by the UN Security Council with developing self-governing institutions with a view to an eventual decision on final status. Worrying about Kosovo as if it is Catalonia in disguise is foolish.

Kosovars are also partly responsible for their own fate. They have spent years now refusing to ratify a border agreement with Montenegro and months threatening to undo their agreement to a special, internationally staffed tribunal to try accusations of war-time and post-war crimes. Small countries need lots of friends. The border issue is not worth 15 minutes of high quality diplomatic time, never mind years. The special tribunal was tough for Kosovo’s politicians to swallow, but regurgitating it would be no less painful. Had Pristina proceeded with the border demarcation and avoided a new debate over the special tribunal, it would no doubt have had more time, energy, and international credit to ensure better treatment in the EU strategy.

The opening of a Balkan window for enlargement by 2025 is an extraordinary thing for Brussels to do. There is no telling when the window will close again. The only productive response is to get ready as quickly as possible by meeting the entry requirements. For Kosovo, that means border demarcation (not only with Montenegro but also with Serbia) as well as complying with whatever the special tribunal decides. The alternative is decades in purgatory, where friends are few. Kosovo’s citizens would do well to avoid that.

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