Though with a knife-edge majority, Great Britain has relinquished its economic and political relationship with the EU. Obviously account shall be taken of the many people who voted in favour of Bremain, since they will not disappear all of a sudden, but also the strategic, military and geopolitical effects of this new UK position shall be assessed.
A position which today seems to be mainly economic and commercial, but which will soon herald wider choices than the mere give-and-take between Great Britain and the European Union.
For sure the British people have never liked the European Union.
In 1975 Margaret Thatcher put strong pressures for the United Kingdom to adhere to the European Union, but the idea of the Iron Lady was to become member with a view to controlling a powerful entity, such as the EU, thus avoiding the creation of an axis between France and Germany to isolate Great Britain – as, indeed, later happened. Also from the commercial viewpoint.
Prime Minister Thatcher decided to adhere to the EU as some businessmen do with potentially dangerous companies of which they buy a significant shareholding so as to better manage them from inside.
It is worth recalling that there was still the Cold War that Great Britain was fighting with great care and intelligence wisdom.
At the time, both Prime Minister Thatcher and the other EU statesmen viewed the European bloc as an economic agreement preventing the USSR from extending its economic, if not military, influence over what the French philosopher, Raymond Aron, called “the great Central European plain.”
The plain that the Warsaw Pact planned to quickly conquer so as to reach the Atlantic and seal the UK into its North Sea.
Without Great Britain, there would be no European nuclear arsenal and the French one would fall immediately into Russian hands.
Furthermore, in her book of 2003, Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World, Margaret Thatcher did not dismiss the possibility of Brexit as “unthinkable”, but thought that the issue had to be analyzed very carefully.
It had to be assessed in terms of strategic and commercial routes and in terms of UK influence over the EU decision- making process, as well as for assessing the balance between the euro and the pound sterling.
These are the decisive factors of the EU-UK matrix, not others.
Currently the European framework is obviously much more complex than in the 1970s.
It is not true, however, that the Union rescued Europe from the fratricidal wars which scarred it as from Napoleon I onwards. The European Civil War, as the German historian and philosopher Ernst Nolte called it.
Conversely peace in Europe was preserved by the military balance between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
The “economic basis of the war” between Germany and France, from Alsace-Lorraine to the Ruhr region, was an old strategic concept which had already been solved with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951.
Nevertheless, as from 1980 onwards, it was precisely Margaret Thatcher who put pressures on the EU to “get her money back,” by considering the agreements between the EU and the UK unnecessarily too burdensome for her country.
In her speech delivered in Bruges in 1988, the Conservative Prime Minister spoke clearly against “a European super-State exercising a new dominance from Brussels”.
This is the core of the issue: the British people have never wished to turn the economic “contract” among the European Member States into a specifically political contract. They wanted and still want to have a free hand in the global financial framework. Finally they intend to avoid the geopolitical effects of the economic and trade ties established in Brussels.
Great Britain is a State, a great nation, which needs overall global autonomy which, on the contrary, the EU manages according to covertly Franco-German interests that are potentially opposite to the UK ones.
It is not the British leaders’ perception, it is the truth and, however, in politics, perception counts as reality, if not even more.
As is in A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare.
With this choice, Great Britain, which still has the “imperial dominance spirit of Lawrence of Arabia” – as the former Italian President Francesco Cossiga who, however, was a close friend of Margaret Thatcher, called it – is trying to play some cards which, despite the “mists of tomorrow”, are potentially valid.
Firstly, the relationship with the United States, also at economic level, comes back to the fore.
When in 1976 the United States celebrated the bicentennial of their independence (from Great Britain, by the way), a British sailor arrived in the New York port holding a banner with the inscription: “Come back home, guys, we have forgiven you.”
Hence Great Britain still considers itself an empire – currently a British empire of finance and technology, but anyway still an empire.
With a view to becoming again “what it is” – along the lines of Friedrich Nietzsche’s journey of becoming a free spirit – Great Britain just needs to revive and revitalize its special relationship with the United States.
As early as 1958, a Mutual Defense Agreement was signed between the United States and Great Britain regarding the two nuclear arsenals while in 2010, thanks to a subsequent bilateral treaty with the United States, Great Britain had the opportunity of overcoming many of the controls and limits imposed by the Americans on its advanced defense technologies – limits imposed also on NATO members.
Great Britain is the second largest economy of the English-speaking world and the sixth largest world economy. It is the largest US trading partner and a member of the UN Security Council. It hosts the highest number of US military bases abroad and, above all, it is the global financial hub which periodically rescues US banks from their insolvency crises.
Hence it is clear that Brexit can be seen as a major US strategic success and outlines the end of the “third pole” between East and West which sometimes the EU has dreamt of being.
The dollar zone has never liked the euro. Quite the reverse, it has fought it harshly.
For the United States, the European single currency was and still is a strong competitor, as well as a threat to their role as hegemonic global financial power – an insane “Napoleon’s dream”.
Moreover, the idea of bringing the euro to an often forced parity with the US dollar has undermined EU exports, by compelling them to be carried out with a currency having a too “high” value which has restricted the end-markets.
Not to mention the many temptations generated by the euro on world commodity markets: it is true that – among many other assessments and considerations – the United States attacked Saddam Hussein for his still secret choice of trading most of his oil and petroleum products in euros.
It is also true that, in the phases characterized by great international tensions, Iran traded part of its oil and petroleum products in euros, especially on the “stock exchanges” in Kish and in the other islands of the Persian Gulf.
The Brexit effects, however, increase the volatility of the pound sterling against the dollar, with a spread of approximately 15% compared to the pre-referendum values.
Financial analysts’ imbalances which, by now, are mainly trolls, namely IT automatisms.
Certainly Great Britain will not be granted a preferential treatment by the United States in the framework of the TTIP negotiations.
US President Obama has explicitly warned that the UK would be at the “back of the queue” in any trade deal with his country if it chose to leave the EU and would have the same treatment and the same barriers to entry as countries like China, Brazil or India.
Nevertheless Barack Obama is about to leave the US Presidency and, if Donald Trump were to be the next President, he will have every interest in dividing the European competitors and favoring them against the aggressive practices of countries like China and, in the future, India.
Also Hillary Clinton cannot avoid using this leverage offered by Great Britain for the TTIP negotiations.
The British TTIP is a bet on the future which, however, the UK could win by relying on its great financial strength.
Bilateral trade between the United States and the UK is very significant: America is the first destination of UK exports and the United States are the third generator of imports for the UK, after Germany and China.
North America and Great Britain are the largest mutual foreign investors.
A situation which cannot change all of a sudden, in spite of the US discontent and dissatisfaction with Brexit.
Furthermore the British government stated that TTIP could provide to the British economy a surplus of approximately 10 billion pounds a year.
There is the need to recover much of the Brexit cost and rebuild a strategic and military relationship with the United States which the UK sees as the only bulwark against two EU and NATO structural dangers: the EU decision-making weakness in the Middle East and the explicit German polemic against the Atlantic Alliance’s anti-Russian posture, which has been mounting in recent months.
Two dangers that the UK wants to avert: the recovery of German geopolitical autonomy tending to Eurasia and the EU structural weakness faced with Middle East tensions.
In Great Britain’s mind, Germany is always the country of the old definition by Lord Ismay, who was NATO Secretary General from 1952 to 1957: “The Atlantic Alliance’s purpose is to keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down”.
Great Britain does not want the strategic and economic exchange between France and Germany, in which Germans buy French government bonds massively and, in return, are entitled to the “enhanced and extended protection” of the French military nuclear power.
Great Britain does not even want a euro which, as “a German mark in disguise”, penetrates the major British export expansion areas.
Moreover, considering the EU strategic inanity, Great Britain fears for its corridors to and fro its Asian Commonwealth.
With its operations in Crimea and Ukraine, the Russian Federation blocks and distorts the direct line between Great Britain and India, besides changing the balance of power in Central Asia, where the UK has still strong interests.
Since 2001 to date, Great Britain has deployed its military units in Afghanistan, in the framework of the US Enduring Freedom operation, not only for mere “Atlantic loyalty” as other countries (including Italy) have done, but to still afford the regional strategic viability and role which are essential for it to keep Northern India, the central Asian countries and the routes from Southern China.
Those who think globally, as the decision makers of what was once a great Empire, do not stop doing so all of a sudden.
Unfortunately the EU’s mistakes are known to everybody: an artificially overvalued currency – maybe to compete with the dollar; an insane disconnection between EU foreign and economic policy; the idea of simultaneously controlling 29 countries which are all competing one another, with different tax systems and public spending mechanisms, not to mention the autonomous and conflicting public debt securities markets.
The EU could certainly reform itself by establishing, within the ECB, a single market of government bonds, possibly managed (and not tiered and capped) with the issuance of “European debt securities”.
That Germany does not want, and with good reason.
Moreover the Union could also make the various Member States develop an export plan, with a view to analytically protecting one commodity or the other, without dangerous generalizations (even for us).
From chocolate to wine, up to the hilarious theory of the ”Polish plumber” – popularized by Philippe de Villiers as a symbol of cheap labor coming from Central Europe as a result of the Directive on Services in the Internal Market during the EU Constitution referendum in France in 2005 – in the field of exports, so far Italy has lost and has hence paid for its mistakes related to its “scarce incisiveness” in Europe.
It is worth recalling that the Polish plumber. was supposed to come and work in the EU at the same rates he charged in Krakow. However, the cost of living in this Polish town is very different from the cost of living in the center of Munich.
Abstract free-trade and liberal theories, typical of a bad macroeconomics handbook, mixed with archaic protectionism – this is exactly what the EU has often been.
Hence, following the ideas of General de Gaulle, another great “Eurosceptic”, the issue lies in returning to a Europe of Nations and States where only what is already in common is decided jointly – and it could not be otherwise…
This means European protection from asymmetric shocks, selective penetration of new foreign markets and domestic liberalization of goods and services.
The idea of making the EU be the comptroller of the Member States’ public budgets, with abstract and binding rules, paves the way for a number of exceptions which inhibit the rule, or for a covert economic struggle between EU rich and poor countries.
We have already experienced it in Greece and this could also happen in Italy and Spain.
Furthermore, the EU has insisted on implementing a common “foreign, security and defense policy”, with the obligation to “make the Member States’ civilian and military capacities available to the EU”.
Shall this be done in agreement with NATO? Where is the chain of command of this 29-Member State army? Who develops its plans and sets its goals?
All this is for stabilization, humanitarian and conflict prevention missions, disarmament or military assistance and advice.
And what is the role played by the United Nations, despite all its limits?
In short, as from a certain phase onwards, which we could identify with the 2001 crisis, the European Union has believed to be what it was not and had not been conceived and meant to be.
After all, even the old anti-Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, was not entirely wrong when, from his new English homeland, equated the European Union with his old USSR.
Hence if the EU is able to reform itself not only at organizational, but also at domestic financial level, it will be in a position to keep on selling its merchandise: protection against asymmetric shocks, a strong currency widespread in the world, as well as a free internal market.
Conversely, if it continues to pursue its Napoleon’s dream of “uniting Europe”, it will have to face “one, a hundred, a thousand Brexit” – just to paraphrase Che Guevara’s words.
Furthermore, the issue does not lie in asking – as the Italian politicians do – for “greater budget flexibility” in exchange for abstract reforms which may be suitable for the Finnish people, but not for the Flemish population.
The problem is completely different: to have the possibility of drafting autonomous budgets so as to subsequently check their effects over a period of two years, without prior diktats.
Briefly, a more modest EU will survive very well – even after Brexit.
Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect
This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.
What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?
An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.
In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.
Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?
Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.
Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.
Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?
In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.
According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”
It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.
Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.
Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.
The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.
To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.
Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.
The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.
This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”
Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.
Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?
Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.
Bureaucrats’ Crusade: The European Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans
The European Commission set a target date of 2025 for some of the Balkan countries to join. However, Brussels sees only Serbia and Montenegro as actual candidates. The door formally remains open to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, but these countries have been put into a grey zone with no time frames and road maps. They have been put on hold with no tangible prospects for membership, left without any explanation of what makes them less valid candidates than Serbia and Montenegro, with these two being as poor, illiberal and undemocratic as the remaining four.
With a dose of instant cynicism, one might conclude that Serbia and Montenegro have been rewarded for their military aggressions on Bosnia and Kosovo, and Serbia’s permanent pressures on Macedonia, whereas the latter ones have been punished for being the former’s victims. However, a more careful look at the population structure of the four non-rewarded countries reveals that these, unlike Serbia and Montenegro, have a relative excess of Muslim population. So far, there have been dilemmas whether the European Union is to be regarded as an exclusive Christian club, bearing in mind the prolonged discriminatory treatment of Turkey as an unwanted candidate. After the European Commission’s new strategy for the Balkans, there can be no such dilemmas: the countries perceived by Brussels bureaucrats as Muslim ones – regardless of the actual percentage of their Muslim population – are not to be treated as European.
The resurrection of this logic, now embodied in the actual strategy, takes Europe back to its pre-Westphalian roots, to the faraway times of the Crusades or the times of the Siege of Vienna. It also signals the ultimate triumph of the most reactionary populist ideologies in the contemporary Europe, based on exclusion of all who are perceived as „others“. It signals the ultimate triumph of the European ineradicable xenophobia. Or – to put it in terms more familiar to the likely author of the strategy, the European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn – the triumph of Ausländerfeindlichkeit.
Now, what options are left to the practically excluded Balkan countries, after so many efforts to present themselves as valid candidates for EU membership? There is a point in claims that some of their oligarchies, particularly the tripartite one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, have never actually wanted to join the EU, because their arbitrary rule would be significantly undermined by the EU’s rule of law. It is logical, then, that the tripartite oligarchy welcomes the strategy that keeps the country away from the EU membership, while at the same time deceiving the population that the strategy is a certain path to the EU. Yet, what about these people, separated into three ethnic quarantines, who believe that joining the EU would simply solve all their political and economic problems, and who refuse to accept the idea that the EU might be an exclusive club, not open to them? What are the remaining options for them?
They cannot launch a comprehensive revolution and completely replace the tripartite oligarchy by their democratic representatives. Still, they can press it to adopt and conduct a multi-optional foreign policy, oriented towards several geopolitical centers: one of them may remain Brussels, but Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Ankara, Tehran, and others, should also be taken into account. For, a no-alternative policy, as the one which only repeats its devotion to the EU integrations without any other geopolitical options, is no policy at all. In this sense, the presented EU strategy has clearly demonstrated the futility of such a no-alternative approach: regardless of how many times you repeat your devotion to the EU values, principles and integrations, the EU bureaucrats can simply tell you that you will never play in the same team with them. However, such an arbitrary but definite rejection logically pushes the country to look for geopolitical alternatives. And it is high time for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s people and intellectual and political elites to understand that Brussels is not the only option on the table, and that there are other geopolitical centers whose interests might be identified as convergent with the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Still, all of them should first demonstrate the ability to identify the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which means that they should first recognize it as a sovereign state with its own interests, rather than someone else’s proxy.
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