March 25, 2019

Russian Challenges from Now into the Next Generation: A Geostrategic Primer

U.S. and Western relations with Russia remain challenged as Russia increasingly reasserts itself on the global stage. Russia remains driven by a worldview based on existential threats—real, perceived, and contrived. As a vast, 11-time zone Eurasian nation with major demographic and economic challenges, Russia faces multiple security dilemmas internally and along its vulnerable and expansive borders. Exhibiting a reactive xenophobia stemming from a long history of destructive war and invasion along most of its borders, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and perceived Western slights, Russia increasingly threatens others and lashes outward. However, time is not on Russia’s side, as it has entered into a debilitating status quo that includes unnecessary confrontation with the West, multiple unresolved military commitments, a sanctions-strained and only partially diversified economy, looming domestic tensions, and a rising China directly along its periphery. Washington still has an opportunity to carefully improve U.S.-Russia relations and regain a more stable relationship in the near term, but only if activities and initiatives are based on a firm and frank appreciation of each other’s core interests, including those of their allies and partners.

March 13, 2019

El Salvador's Recognition of the People's Republic of China: A Regional Context

In January 2016, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) abandoned an 8-year truce in its war with the Republic of China (ROC) over diplomatic recognition around the world and subsequently moved to aggressively woo traditional Taipei allies. This paper centers on the PRC’s recent successful push into Latin America, and particularly in Central America—historically a primary area of influence for the United States. Through a concerted effort—and often in exchange for promises of mega investments and financial aid—the PRC increasingly receives a warm welcome across the Latin American continent. This paper analyzes recent decisions by several countries in the Western Hemisphere in recognizing PRC and offers an in-depth assessment of El Salvador’s recent decision to break historic ties to Taiwan and embrace Beijing—a move that presents a significant strategic challenge to U.S. regional interests.

Feb. 26, 2019

The New Opium War: A National Emergency

Sadly, the current opioid crisis is reminiscent of past periods of addiction and overdose deaths in the United States. The crisis today, however, is on a much larger scale owing to how the American appetite for opioids has changed the nature of the drug trade in North America, from the consumption of marijuana and cocaine to that of heroin and fentanyl, and that Mexican transnational criminal organizations have been quick to capitalize on this demand signal at the expense of record levels of drug-related violence and homicides in Mexico. The opioid epidemic is now a health, security, social, economic welfare, and national security crisis. The public, private, and civic sectors must take a more active role in raising awareness of drug abuse and addiction to reduce the demand for opioids, particularly since this opioid epidemic does not discriminate against gender, race, age, economic status, or location. As a transnational crisis, international cooperation to address the supply of illicit opioids is also essential. A whole-of-society approach is required to triumph in the new opium war and overcome this latest opioid epidemic in North America.

Feb. 26, 2019

Only Connect: the Survival and Spread of Organized Crime in Latin America

Deeply entrenched over decades, organized crime has married with systemic corruption and high levels of impunity to generate multiple forms of political and economic capital across the ideological spectrum in Latin America. But recent experience gives some provisional grounds for optimism. The end point of popular disaffection with flawed democracies and illicit links between criminal groups, political elites, and the private sector need not inevitably result in an embrace of authoritarianism and/or charismatic caudillos.

Feb. 26, 2019

Extra-regional Actors in Latin America: The United States is not the Only Game in Town

In a multipolar world, jockeying for a geopolitical edge is not uncommon nor necessarily a threat. However, in the case of Latin America, none of the primary competitors with the United States share any of its fundamental values of fostering democracy and rule of law, nor strategic objectives such as drug interdiction, halting migrant flows, or building a mutually beneficial regional security structure. In fact, China, Russia, and Iran see the United States as an enemy and views diminishing U.S. influence and weakening its standing as strategic imperatives.The current trajectory in the Hemisphere cannot be altered solely with displays of military power or occasional threats and sanctions against bad actors. A genuine-whole-of-government strategic approach, including diplomatic, economic, intelligence, and military components, is the only option to shrink the operational space of adversaries intent on diminishing the influence and effectiveness of the United States in Latin America

Feb. 26, 2019

Security Challenges of the New Colombian Administration

Colombia faces one of the most complex security situations in its recent history, as it is simultaneously confronted by four intertwined security challenges—increased drug production, increased organized crime, peace negotiation complications, and a volatile border with Venezuela—that have formed a perfect Gordian Knot. The new administration led by President Iván Duque must cut this knot to maintain the security advances made by its preceding administrations during the past two decades.

Feb. 26, 2019

Great Expectations and Grim Realities in AMLO’s Mexico

There is no single strategy that can quickly overcome the violence consuming many Mexican communities. Andrés Manuel López Obrador—known simply as AMLO—assumed Mexico’s presidency on Dec. 1, 2018, with a robust mandate. AMLO can no more save Mexico through massive social programs than President Enrique Nieto could by enacting sweeping economic reforms or President Felipe Calderón by deploying tens of thousands of federal forces. Mexico’s criminal groups have proven to be as complex as the country itself, with an uncanny ability to mutate and migrate. Change will come community by community, municipality by municipality, and state by state by initiating effective violence prevention programs, ensuring genuine transparency, strengthening civilian law enforcement, and building a justice system that is both efficient and fair. The United States should instead concentrate on the long-term task of helping Mexico strengthen law enforcement by sharing expertise to create a new generation of professional police, prosecutors, and judges.

Feb. 25, 2019

The Venezuelan Crisis and Salvador Allende's Glasses

The situation in Venezuela is deeply worrisome, and the countries of the hemisphere have an important responsibility to the Venezuelan people. It is also in the national interest of the United States for Venezuela to prosper as a nation, while seeking to pursue policies supported by its people through a stable and fair democratic process. There is a serious lack of meaningful and productive dialogue between the Venezuelan government and its own people at a time when the country’s economy is in crisis. The United States can and should lead, but it should follow the lead of the Venezuelan opposition, and avoid reverting to the Cold War-era unilateral action that until recently defined much of our foreign policy toward the region. Such an approach will not usher Venezuela back to its place as one of the most economically and politically consequential countries in Latin America. At least that is what Allende’s glasses seem to say.

Feb. 19, 2019

The Evolution of the Most Lethal Criminal Organization in Brazil—the PCC

After more than a decade of denying its existence, Brazilian authorities have finally recognized the PCC—referring to Primeiro Comando da Capital, or First Capital Command—as a criminal organization that is a significant threat to public security, whose capacity to threaten democracy and the state can no longer be ignored. Formed in prison, PCC emerged and grew in the dark, ignored by the authorities. Its top leaders are already behind bars yet PCC is the leading criminal organization in Brazil and indeed in South America, benefiting both from the silence of the authorities and from the lack of an approach that acknowledges PCC as a transnational criminal organization that commits crimes from north to south across the length of South America.

Feb. 19, 2019

The U.S. Military in Support of Strategic Objectives in Latin America and the Caribbean

This article examines the role that the U.S. military plays, and can play, in advancing U.S. strategic objectives in Latin America, with a focus on security cooperation and administration of security assistance efforts, as part of coordinated whole-of-government approach. It argues for greater U.S. military attention to the development and application of strategic concepts built around strengthening governance, as the approach that is both appropriate to sensitivities and limitations regarding the employment of U.S. armed forces in Latin America, and as an effective bulwark against the cycle of criminality, corruption, and populism that opens the door for significant strategic threats against the United States. These include authoritarian anti–U.S. governments that serve as enablers for widespread criminality, terrorist threat networks, and collaboration with hostile extra-hemispheric state actors such as Russia and the People's Republic of China.