In this edition of Wilson Center NOW, Sadek Wahba, a Senior Fellow with NYU’s Development Research Institute and Chairman and Managing Partner of I Squared Capital, joins us to discuss his new paper, “Integrating Infrastructure in U.S. Domestic & Foreign Policy: Lessons from China.” The paper examines the many reasons why U.S. and Chinese infrastructure policies have diverged over the past decades. Also joining the discussion is Duncan Wood, the Wilson Center’s VP for Strategy and New Initiatives. Sadek Wahba is a member of the Wilson Center’s Global Advisory Council.
Nearly one year ago on September 15, 2020, the United States, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain signed the historic Abraham Accords. With this accomplishment, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain charted a new course in the history of Arab-Israeli relations by recognizing the State of Israel and normalizing diplomatic relations. Later that year, two other Arab nations, Sudan and Morocco, followed suit and joined the Abraham Accords, raising the number of Arab States with formal diplomatic ties to Israel from two to six. Today, with the new coalition government in Israel led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, there are new political realities at play.
This discussion brought together some of the Ambassadors from the Abraham Accords signatory countries for their perspective, one year later. This important diplomatic initiative is key to maintaining and strengthening peace and stability in the region while collaborating on areas of mutual interest. We also broadcast a special video message of Ambassador Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. and United Nations.
In this edition of Wilson Center NOW we are joined by the Polar Institute’s Michaela Stith, Evan Bloom, and Ambassador David Balton. They recap the just-concluded Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Reykjavík. They also discuss what lies ahead for the organization and the region with the passing of the Council’s two-year chairmanship from Iceland to Russia. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Council.
Facing one of the most challenging moments in Colombia’s history, Colombian President Iván Duque engaged in a wide-ranging conversation in an event co-hosted by the Wilson Center and the Inter-American Dialogue. In recent weeks, Colombia has witnessed massive street protests along with acts of vandalism, looting, police violence, and road blockages. The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the Colombian economy, leading to increases in unrest, poverty, and unemployment.
President Duque discussed factors that are driving the current turmoil and the government’s efforts to calm tensions, including through a national dialogue.
In recent years, the rise of China has transformed the international system, and the downturn in U.S.-China relations increases tensions across a range of issues, from Taiwan to the South China Sea to human rights. Addressing these issues and crafting tailored policy responses will require nuanced and informed analysis of China from the U.S. academic community. With the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Wilson Center aims to bridge the gap between academia and policy by bringing together a cohort of rising scholars focused on China to undertake crucial, year-long research projects on China in our Wilson China Fellowship. The results of our first cohort’s work are featured in this publication: The 2020-21 Wilson China Fellowship: Essays on the Rise of China and Its Implications.
The military has taken power in Myanmar. What does this mean for democracy in the country and for minorities? Prashanth Parameswaran and Lucas Myers from the Wilson Center’s Asia Program help us ground truth.
In this edition of Wilson Center NOW we are joined by Wilson Center Diversity & Inclusion Council Co-chair Shahrazad Hired, Wilson Global Fellow Michael Forster, and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at AmeriHealth Caritas Karen Dale. They discuss how the Black Lives Matter movement has redefined and renewed focus on diversity and inclusion initiatives in both the public and private sector.
Since the Islamic State collapsed, what is the U.S.-led Global Coalition doing specifically now to deal with ISIS underground?
The coalition is engaged in a combination of training, equipping and advising local forces in counter-insurgency and the counter-terror environment; stabilization funding; and various political and governance programs. It is also involved in military actions, including both airborne and special forces operations against particularly dangerous targets. This includes targeting in Syrian areas beyond SDF territory in the northeast.
What role is the United States playing in coalition operations? How many airstrikes did the coalition conduct monthly in 2020—compared with 2015 in the first full year of the air campaign? What percentage of the airstrikes have been carried out by the United States?
The United States provides the military leadership and much of the staff of Combined Joint Task Force for Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR). It also informally runs the political coalition to defeat ISIS through American management of the Coalition political secretariat. It provides almost all the troops on the ground in Syria and a smaller but significant share of the coalition troops in Iraq, which were in flux at the end of 2020. U.S. airstrikes are relatively rare compared to the almost 10,000 annually at the height of campaign. The coalition conducted well over 30,000 between 2014 and 2020. The majority of airstrikes have been by the United States; the U.S. percentage is even higher now.
The coalition has more than 75 countries and local military partners. What are the other countries doing? What countries are playing the most significant roles or have the largest numbers of troops and warplanes committed to the campaign besides the United States?
Iraq and the local Syrian partners—the SDF and the Syrian Democratic Council—play the key roles in ground operations, stabilization, and hosting coalition forces. The next largest commitments are by France, Britain, and Germany, who have provided significant ground forces. Britain and France have also provided considerable airpower and special forces for training and direct action military operations. A broad range of other European countries—from the Benelux countries, Scandinavia and Italy—are also very active on the ground and in the diplomatic superstructure of the coalition.
What is the future of the coalition?
As long as there is a significant ISIS presence in Iraq and Syria, the United States and especially its European allies, who have been subjected to waves of ISIS-planned or -inspired terrorist attacks, will not consider standing down Operation Inherent Resolve or abandoning the political superstructure, which includes task forces that deal with foreign fighters, reconstruction, terrorist financing and social messaging. In 2019, President Trump proposed that NATO take over many of the functions of the CJTF-OIR. NATO agreed to expand its presence in the NATO Mission Iraq, or NMI, perhaps by as much as 100 percent in personnel, above the few hundred that were deployed in Iraq in 2020. NATO also agreed to take on additional training as well as headquarters planning and intelligence support functions.
But many coalition partners—beginning with Britain, France and Germany and including others that are also NATO members—have pushed back on NATO taking over the bulk of CJTF-OIR missions for at least four reasons: First, the coalition has had proven success, especially compared to similar international efforts in Libya, West Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq. Second, the CJTF has capabilities that NATO is highly unlikely to authorize or that will face political problems when it comes to command-and-control operations, notably in Syria and the direct coalition strikes on ISIS targets. Third, the coalition is more flexible than NATO when it comes to making decisions. With no fixed rules in the past, the United States and key partners routinely determined what had relative consensus, then consulted with members, but ultimately made the final decision. If NATO took over, its operations would need unanimous consent, with several potential challenges, from Germany’s strong pacifist tendencies to Turkey’s national interests on Kurdish issues in both Iraq and Syria. Fourth, the coalition military presence in Syria is dependent on the SDF being capable of hosting coalition forces (in the face of opposition from the Syrian government, Turkey, Russia and Iran) and Iraq being willing to continue hosting coalition forces (in the face of opposition from Iran and Iranian-backed Iraqi militias).