Category: Sebastian Gerlach

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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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)

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  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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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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Iranian power projection

Throughout the past couple of years, Iran has obtained a significant strategic advantage in the Middle East. In Syria, the Islamic Republic was able to keep the Assad regime alive and has gained the upper hand in the country’s civil war. In Iraq, Tehran utilizes local political allies and Shi’a militias to wield substantial influence over domestic politics. In Lebanon, the Iranian proxy Hezbollah constitutes the country’s dominant political and military force. It appears that the Islamic Republic today controls a strategic corridor stretching from Tehran in the East to the Lebanese capital Beirut in the West.

On February 2, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy addressed the question of Tehran’s apparent rise in a policy forum titled “Rolling Back Iran’s Foreign Legions.” Hanin Ghaddar, a veteran Lebanese journalist who currently serves as the Friedman Visiting Fellow at the Washington Institute, presented the findings of her latest reportIran’s Foreign Legion: The Impact of Shia Militias on U.S. Foreign Policy.Phillip Smyth, who is the author of the blog “Hizballah Cavalcade” and a Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute, joined the discussion via Skype. (A full recording of the event is available online).

Ghaddar argues that Iran has taken over power in Lebanon. Political balance in the country has ceased to exist. Hezbollah is not only the strongest military force but has also infiltrated the political system. The Iranian proxy controls public institutions and uses the state as vehicle to dominate Lebanon. Hezbollah is no longer a state within the Lebanese state as commonly believed. Rather, as Ghaddar emphasizes, “the Lebanese state has become part of the Hezbollah state.”

PMU soldier in Iraq. Source: Ahmad Shamloo Fard, Wikimedia Commons

She stresses that Iran will emulate the Hezbollah model in both Syria and Iraq. In both countries, Tehran – through the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – commands a remarkable number of Shi’a militias which have so far mostly acted as the backbone of Iranian military endeavors. The Islamic Republic is eager to transform these irregular fighting forces into political actors which will take hold of state institutions. The participation of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) in the upcoming elections in Iraq is a clear sign of this approach. According to Ghaddar, the Hezbollah model will provide Tehran with substantial influence over Lebanese, Iraqi, and Syrian politics and hence enshrine Iran’s preponderance in the Middle East.

Ghaddar highlights that this potency manifests itself in the establishment of a strategic corridor between Tehran and Beirut. This land bridge constitutes a critical supply route that enables the cheap and steady transportation of arms. Moreover, the land bridge is of pivotal ideological importance. Located at the heart of the Shi’a crescent, it enables a transnational Shi’a identity. The consequence is a decline of national identities among Shiites and the erosion of the current state system, which will be replaced by an Iranian-dominated order.

Phillip Smyth expects that this new system will increase polarization in the region. For many Iranian proxies, the religious principles of the Islamic Republic have become subordinated to the mere struggle against the other, i.e. Sunni Muslims. Iran’s non-inclusive ideological project is therefore likely to cause a backlash among Sunnis. They will react in increasingly radical ways if they become convinced that all Shia are agents of Iran.

Ghaddar draws a bleak picture of the future of the Middle East. Iran’s creation of a Shi’a foreign legion that seeks military and political hegemony will escalate sectarian clashes. In the absence of an outside power preventing these conflicts, perpetual war is on the horizon.

Whether this Hobbesian doomsday scenario proves true remains to be seen, however. Indeed, Tehran’s perceived strength often does not reflect the situation on the ground. Headed by Ayatollah Sistani, Iraqi Shiites remain independent. In the Syrian theater, Iran depends greatly on Russian support. The upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon will show whether Hezbollah really controls the country. The actual strategic importance of the land bridge between Tehran and Beirut is debatable. Likewise, it is questionable whether the Islamic Republic could sustain a strategic corridor, considering military and economic overstretch. Domestic change within Iran could quickly alter the country’s positioning in the wider Middle East.

The United States should nevertheless be vigilant. Iran is seeking to increase its regional influence on many fronts, and Washington must be prepared to support local forces that stand up to Tehran’s ambition of creating a hegemonic order.

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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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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).

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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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Peace picks, February 5-11

  1. Stabilizing Raqqa: Connecting Current Operations to U.S. Policy Objectives | Monday, February 5 | 9:30am – 11:00am | CSIS | Register here |

CSIS invites you to join a panel discussion on local Syrian and Coalition stabilization efforts in Raqqa. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Coalition forces drove ISIS from its self-proclaimed caliphate capital in Raqqa in 2017. Enduring security in ISIS-cleared areas now depends on local governance and restoration of services. Following a recent visit to Raqqa, Syria by Ambassador Mark Green, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and General Joseph Votel, Commander of United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), panel speakers will discuss the importance of stabilization efforts in Raqqa and the challenges of connecting current operations with U.S. policy objectives. Featuring Karen Decker (U.S. Department of State), Maria Longi (USAID), Mark Swayne (U.S. Department of Defense), Robert Jenkins (USAID), Melissa Dalton (CSIS), and Erol Yayboke (CSIS).

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  1. Taking Stock of Mexico’s Security Landscape | Monday, February 5 | 8:30am – 1:00pm | Wilson Center | Register here |

The Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute invites you to attend its fifth annual Mexican security review. The forum will provide a careful examination of security challenges in Mexico. Of particular interest will be a review of 2017 and a discussion of trends in 2018, including establishing new bonds in U.S.-Mexico military-to-military relations and strengthening the rule of law in Mexico. We will also be launching a new book The Missing Reform: Strengthening the Rule of Law in Mexico, which analyzes the concrete obstacles that Mexico faces to implement the rule of law. Featuring presentations from leading policy analysts, including Iñigo Guevara Moyano (Director at Jane’s Aerospace, Defense and Security), David Shirk (University of San Diego), Viridiana Rios (David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University), Matthew Ingram (University of Albany, SUNY), and others.

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  1. Russia’s Influence in the Balkans: Methods and Results | Tuesday, February 6 | 12:30pm – 2:00pm | Johns Hopkins University SAIS | Register here |

Moscow is increasingly active politically, militarily and economically in the Balkans. What are its goals and methods? What has it achieved thus far? What will it do in the future? The Center for Transatlantic Relations and the Conflict Management Program at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) will convene a panel of experts to examine these key questions, featuring Reuf Bajrovic (Former Minister of Energy of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina), Metodija A. Koloski (President, United Macedonian Diaspora), Jelena Milic (Director and Chair of the Board, Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies, Belgrade), Steve Rukavina (President, National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation), Sinisa Vukovic (Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins University SAIS). SAIS Director of Conflict Management Daniel Serwer will moderate the conversation.

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  1. UNRWA’s Role in Promoting Israeli-Palestinian Stability | Wednesday, February 7 | 2:00pm – 3:15pm | Middle East Institute | Register here |

In the wake of his announcement to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, President Trump has also vowed to cut funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) by 83 percent, in a stated effort to bring the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table. International governments and NGOs swiftly condemned these funding cuts by the United States, citing the critical role UNRWA plays in promoting security and stability in the region through health, education, and assistance programs for Palestinian refugees. The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to host UNRWA’s West Bank Director, U.S. Army Maj. (ret.) Scott Anderson, and the director of UNRWA’s Representative Office in Washington, Elizabeth Campbell, who will discuss the regional impact of this decision and UNRWA’s global funding push to support its critical work. MEI’s Director for Gulf Studies and Government Relations, Amb. (ret.) Gerald Feierstein, will moderate the discussion.

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  1. Threats to Democracy in the Trump Era | Wednesday, February 7 | 10:00am – 11:30am | Brookings Institution | Register here |

From Russia to South Africa, from Turkey to the Philippines, from Venezuela to Hungary, authoritarian leaders have smashed restraints on their power. The freedom of the media and the judiciary have eroded. The right to vote may remain, but the right to have one’s vote counted does not. Until the U.S. presidential election of 2016, the global decline of democracy seemed a concern for other peoples in other lands. However, some see the political rise of Donald Trump as the end to that optimism here at home. In his new book, “Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic,” David Frum outlines how Trump could push America toward illiberalism, what the consequences could be for America and the world, and what we can do to prevent it. On Wednesday, February 7, Frum will join a panel of experts at Brookings to discuss the burgeoning threats to democratic institutions in the Trump era.

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  1. How to Interpret Nuclear Crises: From Kargil to North Korea | Wednesday, February 7 | 12:15pm – 2:00pm | Stimson Center | Register here |

With tensions mounting between the United States and North Korea, what has been clear is the wide disagreement among scholars about what constitutes a nuclear crisis, how dangerous it is, and what dynamics dictate how it plays out. The Stimson Center is pleased to host Mark Bell, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota, to discuss his co-authored paper on the subject in which he and Julia MacDonald, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver, argue that nuclear crisis dynamics depend on incentives to use nuclear weapons first and the extent to which escalation can be controlled by leaders involved. Rebecca Hersman, Director of the Project on Nuclear Issues at CSIS, and Austin Long, senior political scientist at RAND, will offer comments. Sameer Lalwani, Co-Director of Stimson’s South Asia Program, will moderate the discussion.

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  1. Cyber Mercenaries: States and Hackers | Thursday, February 8 | 4:30pm – 5:30pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | Register here |

As cyberspace has emerged as a new frontier for geopolitics, states have become entrepreneurial in their sponsorship, deployment, and exploitation of hackers as proxies to project power. Such modern-day mercenaries and privateers can impose significant harm undermining global security, stability, and human rights. In a new book, Cyber Mercenaries: The State, Hackers, and Power, Tim Maurer examines these state-hacker relationships and the important questions they raise about the control, authority, and use of offensive cyber capabilities. Drawing on case studies in the United States, Iran, Syria, Russia, and China, the book establishes a framework to better understand and manage the impact and risks of cyber proxies on global politics. Maurer will be joined in conversation by Eric Rosenbach (Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School), and Ellen Nakashima (Washington Post) will moderate.

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  1. War Powers and Military Force | Thursday, February 8 | 4:00pm – 5:15pm | Atlantic Council | Register here |

In an age of unprecedented disruption and escalating inter- and intrastate conflict, we have seen a surge in the need for nations to resort to military force. As one of the most consequential decisions for a nation to undertake—with enormous consequences to a country’s security, prosperity, and global standing—the gravity of such decisions cannot be understated. Please join Nuchhi Currier (former President of Woman’s National Democratic Club), Bruce Fein (former Associate Deputy Attorney General), and John Yoo (University of California, Berkeley), three of the world’s most renowned experts on the issue of war powers, as they dissect this topic of immense geopolitical importance.

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  1. Securing a Place for Taiwan in International Organizations | Thursday, February 8 | 10:00am– 11:00am | Heritage Foundation | Register here |

Taiwan increasingly finds its efforts to obtain meaningful participation in international bodies such as the WHO, INTERPOL, and ICAO checked by external forces. Setting aside political issues, there are valid reasons of health, safety, and livelihood for Taiwan to be included, even if only as an observer, in these organizations. Join us as our panel of experts discusses how to increase Taiwan’s role in international organizations and expand its international operating space, while addressing the swift and strong reaction from China that invariably results from such efforts. Featuring Jacques deLisle (Professor of Law & Political Science, Director, Center for East Asian Studies, UPENN), Valérie Niquet (Director, Asia Program, Fondation pour la recherche stratégique (FRS), Paris), and Theodore R. Bromund (Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations), hosted by Walter Lohman (Director, Asian Studies Center, Heritage Foundation).

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