The Atlantic Council is a nonpartisan think tank that promotes constructive leadership and engagement in international affairs based on the central role of the Atlantic Community in meeting global challenges. Founded in 1961, the Council provides an essential forum for navigating the dramatic shifts in economic and political influence that are shaping the twenty-first century by educating and galvanizing its uniquely influential network of international political, business, and intellectual leaders. The Council’s ten regional centers and functional programs shape today’s policy choices and foster transatlantic strategies to advance international security and global economic prosperity. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
The Atlantic Council was founded in 1961, with the mission to encourage the continuation of cooperation between North America and Europe that began in the immediate post-war years. In its early years its work consisted largely of publishing policy papers and polling Europeans and Americans about their attitudes towards transatlantic and international cooperation. In these early years its primary focus was on economic issues—mainly encouraging free trade between the two continents, and to a lesser extent to the rest of the world—but it also did some work on political and environmental issues.
Although the Atlantic Council did publish policy papers and monographs, Melvin Small of Wayne State University wrote that, especially in its early years, the Council's real strength lie in its connections to influential policy makers. The Council early on found a niche as "center for informal get-togethers" of leaders from both sides of the Atlantic, with members working to develop "networks of continuing communication".
From its inception, the Atlantic Council has worked on issues in regions other than North America and Europe, with Asia figuring prominently in the Council's work. The Atlantic Council was among the first organizations advocating for an increased Japanese presence in the international community, and in recent years has expanded its focus with the opening of its South Asia Center and Program on Asia. Its Asian programs have expanded in recent years due to the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the new challenge of coordinating with India and China on climate change efforts.
In February 2009, James L. Jones, then-chairman of the Atlantic Council, stepped down in order to serve as President Obama's new National Security Advisor and was succeeded by Senator Chuck Hagel. In addition, Council members Susan Rice left to serve as the administration's ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke became the Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, General Eric K. Shinseki became the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Anne-Marie Slaughter became Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. Senator Chuck Hagel stepped down in 2013 to serve as US Secretary of Defense. Gen. Brent Scowcroft now serves as interim chairman of the organization's Board of Directors while a search for his successor is under way. In January 2014, it was announced that the post would assumed by former Governor of UtahJon Huntsman, Jr..
The Atlantic Council has earned praise from across the international community, with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen calling the Council a "pre-eminent think tank" with a "longstanding reputation", and former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) noting that the Council is "held in high esteem within the Atlantic community".
The Atlantic Council has, since its inception, been a nonpartisan institution, with members "from the moderate internationalist wings of both parties." Despite its connections, the Council is by charter independent of the US government and NATO, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
The Atlantic Council has traditionally been a meeting place for heads of state, military leaders, and international leaders from both sides of the Atlantic. Recently, the Council hosted NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's first major US speech, in which he discussed issues such as Afghanistan, Russia, and the broader transatlantic relationship. Prominent members of the US Congress have also appeared, including Senators Richard Lugar and John Kerry. The Council often hosts events with sitting heads of state and government, including Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, and Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga.
The Council has hosted many military leaders from both sides of the Atlantic as well. The Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security has since January 2007 held periodic events known as the Commanders Series where it invites military leaders from the United States and Europe to speak about conflicts of interest to the Atlantic community. As part of the Commanders Series, American military leaders such as General George Casey and Admiral Timothy Keating and European leaders like French Chief of Defense General Jean-Louis Georgelin and Dutch Major General Ton van Loon have spoken on issues as diverse as Iraq, Afghanistan, and security threats in Asia and Africa.
Its flagship annual events are Distinguished Leadership Awards in Washington, DC; the Global Citizen Awards in New York City; the Freedom Awards in Wroclaw, Poland; and the Atlantic Council Energy & Economic Summit in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Program on Transatlantic Relations promotes dialogue on the major issues that will affect the evolution of the transatlantic relationship. At the heart of the program is the conviction that a healthy transatlantic relationship is an essential prerequisite for a stronger international system. The Council seeks to strengthen the transatlantic relationship by addressing specific areas of policy differences by identifying areas of potential cooperation and by building the personal networks and mutual understanding that form the basis for an effective partnership.
The Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security examines U.S. relationships with allies and adversaries in an effort to build consensus around policies that contribute to a more stable, secure and well-governed world.
The Global Business and Economics Program works to build upon and strengthen the already deep economic integration between Europe and the United States as well as promote Transatlantic leadership in the global economy. Bringing together top business leaders, government policy makers, and economic experts, the program explores transatlantic and global issues of importance to the U.S. and European business community.
Under the leadership of Shuja Nawaz, the South Asia Center is the Atlantic Council’s focal point for work on Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan as well as on relations between these countries and China, Central Asia, Iran, the Arab world, Europe and the U.S. As part of the Council's Asia program, the Center seeks to foster partnerships with key institutions in the region to establish itself as a forum for dialogue between decision makers in South Asia, the U.S. and NATO. These deliberations cover internal and external security, governance, trade, economic development, education and other issues.
The Energy and Environment program explores the economic and political aspects of energy security and supply, as well as international environmental issues. It promotes open access and clean air and offers policy recommendations to meet developing countries’ needs through the increased flow of capital, technology and know-how in the energy and water supply sectors.
The Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center fosters dialogue among regional leaders, as well with counterparts from key neighbors and global leaders. Combining in-depth understanding of Eurasia’s history with expertise on politics, economics and energy, the Center provides distinctive research and advice to governments and businesses worldwide. It seeks to promote an agenda of regional cooperation and integration based on shared values and common interest in a free, prosperous and peaceful future.
Launched at the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, the Young Atlanticist Network brings together a community of emerging leaders who share a vision of closer Euro-Atlantic cooperation based on common values. Through online tools and regular events, the Young Atlanticist Network serves as a forum for open dialogue between young Atlanticists so they can exchange their views on a range of international issues. As a meeting place, the Network serves as a stage for global leaders to address the next generation and to share the perspective on current issues.
The Africa Center was established in September 2009 with a mission to help transform US and European policy approaches to Africa by emphasizing the building of strong geopolitical partnerships with African states and strengthening economic growth and prosperity on the continent.
The Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East seeks to produce original analysis of the forces transforming the region, as well as policy recommendations for the United States and Europe about how to promote closer and more productive relations with the region.
The Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center promotes a stronger partnership between Latin America, the United States, and Europe based on a shared foundation in transatlantic values and common strategic interests, and engages its robust network of political, business, and NGO entrepreneurs to develop ideas for policy and business leaders seeking innovative solutions to regional and global challenges. .
The Atlantic Council produces many publications and issue briefs about important global challenges ranging from NATO's global role to energy security. A full list of the Atlantic Council's publications and issue briefs can be found on the Atlantic Council website.