The Burn Bag Newsletter: March 16th

Pricing Carbon, Training Troops, Countering China, and Arms (vaccinated and nuclear) in Europe. (1102×248)

Welcome to The Burn Bag Newsletter. This week, our writers cover the fossil fuel industry’s questionable embrace of carbon pricing, ISIS affiliates in Mozambique, multilateralism across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and warheads and vaccines in Europe.

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But first, make sure to check out this week’s episode of The Burn Bag Podcast on leadership analysis with Dr. Ken Dekleva.

Listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

In this week’s episode, co-hosts A’ndre and Ryan speak to Dr. Kenneth Dekleva about his work in  leadership analysis and what exactly that is. Dr. Dekleva discusses how leadership profiles are created, and how different agencies like the CIA and the State Department have used them in the past to advance U.S. foreign policy goals. Throughout the episode, they dig into three unique leadership profiles — China’s Xi Jinping, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin — and seek to answer the question: what makes a dictator “good” at being a dictator?

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Exhaust and Mirrors: Optimism and Skepticism Around Industry Backing for Carbon Price

Timothy Arvan

In The Bag: The American Petroleum Institute has signaled support for carbon pricing, a shift with major implications for the future of U.S. climate policy. 

Why It’s Burning: The business community’s growing embrace of market-based environmental policy could mobilize broad, non-traditional coalitions in support of ambitious climate action. We’ll soon discover whether industry’s backing is sincere.

Lobbying and campaign contributions by the fossil fuel industry outpace the renewable energy sector in the U.S. by a ratio of 13-to-1, a statistic which goes far to explain the ingrained skepticism and hostility climate policies have long faced in Congress. 

The entity most responsible for this dynamic is, perhaps, the American Petroleum Institute (API), the largest trade association representing U.S. fossil fuel interests. Taking in over $100 million per year from nearly 600 oil and gas companies, the API is among the most formidable political opponents of environmental action, and has invested heavily to dispute the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. In the early years of the Obama Administration, the group’s influential TV ads depicting the decimation of fracking jobs helped sink the Waxman-Markey Act, the last major attempt at federal carbon pricing legislation. More recently, in the months preceding the 2020 presidential election, the API spent $3.1 million to oppose the sweeping climate plan proposed by Joe Biden, then the Democratic nominee. 

This is why the API’s new draft position paper, first reported last week, in favor of “economy-wide carbon pricing as the primary government climate policy instrument to reduce CO2 emissions,” took many by surprise. In a statement invoking industry leadership toward “a new U.S. contribution to the global Paris Agreement” and echoing language of climate groups advocating a “low carbon future,” the API has sought to frame its announcement in terms of corporate social responsibility. However, while the move has been almost universally portrayed as a “seismic shift,” there is disagreement among analysts and legislators as to the API’s underlying motives. 

For instance, while carbon pricing has been hailed by economists across the political spectrum as the most efficient means to reduce emissions, the API may feel its chances of adoption in Congress remain remote, particularly amid opposition from progressives. This could allow industry to capture public support by cutting back on brazen climate denial and appearing to endorse emissions reduction, while actually “risking little.” Alternatively, the API may view carbon pricing as relatively favorable compared to other command-and-control regulations that could become part of a large Democratic climate package. A carbon tax, for instance, would not halt fossil fuel extraction, and would increase investments in carbon capture and sequestration technologies that industry see as crucial for keeping fossil fuels in the nation’s energy matrix. 

For now, momentum for carbon pricing has grown in Washington. On March 10th, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced America’s Clean Future Fund Act, which aims to “spur job creation by investing in a clean energy economy” and would institute a gradually-increasing carbon tax starting in 2023. It remains to be seen whether API’s endorsement of carbon pricing in principle will translate to carbon pricing in practice


The Regional Readout


U.S. Targets Mozambique as ISIS Affiliates Continue to Spread Across Africa

Ryan Rosenthal

With ISIS effectively decimated in Iraq and Syria, suspected affiliate groups remain active throughout Africa. Earlier this week, U.S. Special Forces began training Mozambican troops fighting Islamist insurgents across the country’s northeast in a conflict that has already killed 2,000 civilians and displaced some 600,000 others. While the U.S. government believes these militants are linked to ISIS, some analysts argue that this may be a local conflict “cloaked” in the ISIS flag. Last week, the U.S. Department of State designated ISIS affiliates in in Congo and Mozambique as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, an important step towards taking action to hamper the operability of these groups, including by limiting their access to sources of international funding.

To learn more, check out:

The Islamic State in Mozambique, Tore Hamming, Lawfare

Outlasting the Caliphate: The Evolution of the Islamic State Threat in Africa, Jason Warner, Ryan O’Farrell, Héni Nsaibia, Ryan Cummings, Combating Terrorism Center

Al-Qaida, ISIS affiliates team up in West Africa, says US Special Operations Command Africa leader, Carly Petesch, MilitaryTimes & The Associated Press


The Quad: Informal Indo-Pacific Partnership Resurrected to Counter China

A’ndre Gonawela

This past Friday, President Biden met with the heads of state of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or ‘the Quad,’ an informal partnership between the United States, India, Australia, and Japan on the basis of their shared security interests in the Indo-Pacific region.

Initially formed in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the Quad faded from view for reasons of domestic political concern and pressure from China. In 2017, however, likely as a result of China’s increasingly assertive behavior in the Indo-Pacific – not to mention developments in the geopolitical goals pursued by the four participating states – the Quad was resurrected.

Prior to Friday’s meeting, all dialogue within the Quad had been held at the ministerial level or below. The significance of the summit between the four heads of state underscores both President Biden’s aspiration for a global “coalition of democracies,” as well as his commitment to multilateralism, not just in dealing with China, but also in addressing cross-cutting transnational threats and crises. As such, the joint statement released by all four leaders at the meeting’s conclusion aligns with the spirit of these goals, including through commitments to procure 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines for Asia and to cooperate on rare-earth metals supply chains.

To learn more, check out:

What you need to know about the ‘Quad,’ in charts, Tanvi Madan, Brookings Institution

Meeting of leaders signals the ‘Quad’ grouping will become central part of the U.S. strategy in Asia, Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Joanna Slater, The Washington Post

Quad Leaders’ Joint Statement: ‘The Spirit of the Quad’, The White House


Amid AstraZeneca Uncertainty, U.K. Releases Post-Brexit Foreign Policy

April Song

Today, the British government released Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s sweeping review of post-Brexit foreign policy, “Global Britain in a competitive age,” which sets out priorities until 2030. In it is a declaration that the cap on the U.K.’s stockpile of nuclear weapons has been raised to 260 Trident warheads from 180. This 40% increase represents the government’s efforts to cement its status as a nuclear power and U.S. defense ally. The move is a significant departure from disarmament norms.

At the same time, European regulators are still studying concerns about the possibility of rare side effects from AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, including clots and abnormal bleeding. While it will continue to conduct its review of the vaccine until Thursday, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) remains “firmly convinced” that the health benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. Nevertheless, most EU countries and Thailand have suspended use of the vaccine; Poland, the Czech Republic, and several smaller countries are still using it. As it stands, AstraZeneca doses represent 17% of the EU’s overall vaccine purchase orders; no EU countries are on track to meet the region’s stated goal of 70% vaccination by September.

UK raising cap on nuclear warheads, John Bowden, The Hill

Johnson accused of going soft on China in UK foreign policy reset, George Parker and Helen Warrell, Financial Times

UK move to lift nuclear cap is ‘insurance policy,’ says minister, William Adkins, Politico

The top European drug regulator vouches for AstraZeneca, despite suspensions, Marc Santora, The New York Times

The world is a big place and we can’t cover it all. What did we miss? Let us know what you’re interested in reading more about at or in the comments below.

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