Today Conservative leader Theresa May becomes the second woman politician in British history tasked with leading Britain into talks to leave the EU after her only rival in the race to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron pulled out unexpectedly. Margaret Thatcher had led her country for three terms, from 1979 to 1990. The Conservative Party leadership race of Andrea Leadsom faced criticism for suggesting Theresa was more qualified to be prime minister because she had children. Maybe she is the candidate of the Queen as David Cameron stepped down after six years over Brexit.
Al Jazeera’s report from London said May was the choice of many in the ruling party. “Of the five people that contested the Conservative Party leadership, many people regarded Theresa May as perhaps the more establishment figure. She has been the home secretary, the interior minister, for the past six years and because of that she has had intimate knowledge of the workings of the government and has had to liaise very closely with her European counterparts on matters of security and immigration. May has much less of a track record in relation to the economics of European Union, and certainly the issue of Britain divorcing itself from the EU is going to be an issue that she is going to have to come to speed with very quickly.
Born in Eastbourne, Sussex, May studied geography at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. From 1977 to 1983, May worked at the Bank of England and from 1985 to 1997 at the Association for Payment Clearing Services, also serving as a councilor for the London Borough of Merton’s Durnsford Ward. After unsuccessful attempts to get elected to the House of Commons in 1992 and 1994, she was elected MP for Maidenhead in the 1997 general election. She went on to be appointed Chairman of the Conservative Party and be sworn of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council in 2002.
Ironically, May was a “Remainer” ahead of the June 23 referendum on EU membership, supporting Britain staying inside the EU. She will now be in charge of Brexit, tasked with uniting a fractured ruling Conservative Party, as well as a divided nation, and steering Britain in fresh waters outside of a declining European Union that has become a byword for economic turmoil. This is a moment for strong, bold leadership from a new prime minister with a reputation for toughness and resolve.
Theresa Mary May (née Brasier; born 1 October 1956), , a 59-year-old clergyman’s daughter and British politician who has been the Home Secretary since 2010, faces major challenges when she takes the reins at 10 Downing Street of London. The new PM will oversee Britain’s exit from the European Union, a two-year process which begins as soon as the new government triggers Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. As Prime Minister, Theresa May will lead a Britain that is once again a truly sovereign nation, free to shape its own destiny and chart a new path as a global force.
Freed of the shackles of the EU, Britain is in a strong position to project power and influence on the world stage, alongside the USA. . As a Member of Parliament for nearly 20 years, May brings a great deal of political experience in a wide range of positions to her new position. She will head the world’s fifth largest economy, with one of the most powerful militaries in the world, and a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council.
For the first time in over 40 years, Britain will be free to negotiate its own free trade deals. Building a free trade area with the United States will be a top priority.
The US-UK Special Relationship will likely be strengthened rather than weakened by Brexit, and offers far greater opportunities for collaboration between London and Washington.
She would follow the example of the Iron Lady before her, who led her nation with great courage, conviction and fortitude, based upon robust conservative principles, and a willingness to always listen to the beating heart of the British people.
“I am honored and humbled to have been chosen by the Conservative Party to become its leader and, therefore, prime minister,” said May in London after she was formally confirmed as the winner of the Conservative leadership contest on Monday afternoon. “During this campaign, my case has been based on three things. First, the need for strong, proven leadership to steer us through what will be difficult and uncertain economic and political times; the need to negotiate the best deal for Britain in leaving the EU; and to forge a new role for ourselves in the world.”
May has portrayed herself as the leader who can unite the country following a bitterly divisive campaign, and a tough negotiator who can stand up to Brussels in what promise to be tortuous talks over Britain’s exit from the European Union. Leadsom’s withdrawal means all the top Brexit campaigners – Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Leadsom and outgoing UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage – have now stepped back from leadership roles. “Brexiteers threw rocks through the window, now they’re all running away from the house,” author Salman Rushdie said on Twitter.
Meanwhile, David Cameron has chaired his final cabinet meeting, with some “wonderful tributes” paid to the outgoing PM. Theresa May is preparing to take over from Cameron, who will hand in his resignation to the Queen on Wednesday. Mrs. May had been expecting a nine-week race for the Tory leadership, but rival Andrea Leadsom withdrew on Monday. “After that I expect to go to Buckingham Palace and offer my resignation,” he told reporters outside his office in Downing Street. “So we will have a new prime minister in that building behind me by Wednesday evening.” Sitting around the table at his final cabinet meeting were ministers who had taken opposing sides in the referendum. But this was a time for poignant tributes and thanks. And as the team of cabinet ministers later filed out of Number 10, wondering if they would be back and in what job, one member stayed behind – Theresa May, for half an hour.
Mrs. May, who has pledged to make Brexit a success, will appoint her own ministerial team when she takes office. She says she is “honored and humbled” to be taking over as Conservative Party leader Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said there were some “wonderful tributes” to Cameron led by Mrs. May and Chancellor George Osborne. “There was a feeling across the cabinet of great pride at what David Cameron has achieved over the last six years, sadness that it has ended, in a way, perhaps much quicker than people thought, “But also huge gratitude to him for what’s he achieved for the country and the way he’s changed the Conservative Party,” he said.
Britain has faced the worst political turmoil in generations following June 23’s shock vote to leave the European Union, which prompted Cameron to step down. His party has endured a bitter leadership race, while the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is also facing a challenge to his job.
While May supported Britain staying in the EU, she cut a low profile during the referendum and has insisted she will honour the vote. “Brexit means Brexit and we are going to make a success of it,” May said on Monday. “We need to unite our country … we need a strong new positive vision for the future of our country, a vision of a country that works not for the privileged few, but that works for every one of us because we’re going to give people more control over their lives. And that’s how, together, we will build a better Britain.”
May wants to begin formal talks to leave the EU by the end of the year at the earliest, despite pressure from Brussels to speed up. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who heads the Eurogroup of his 19 eurozone counterparts, restated calls for the transfer of power to take place as soon as possible.
The pound, which hit a 31-year low in the wake of the Brexit vote, briefly rose after Leadsom, a pro-Brexit figure with no senior ministerial experience, withdrew from contention to be prime minister. As senior MP Angela Eagle formally launched her leadership challenge against Corbyn, Labour suggested a general election would need to be held soon after May takes office. “It is crucial, given the instability caused by the Brexit vote, that the country has a democratically elected prime minister,” said election coordinator Jon Trickett. “I am now putting the whole of the party on a general election footing.”
Quietly, calmly, power is passing from one prime minister to the next. At the back of Downing Street, cardboard boxes were carried to a bright blue removal van, the Cameron family’s possessions heading for a new home. There hasn’t been much time to pack. Theresa May’s accelerated ascent to the premiership has hastened David Cameron’s departure – his hopes of leading a five-year majority conservative government ended after one. When Mrs. May emerged into the sunshine, she walked one way, hesitated, then went the other – looking for her car. At the steps of Number 10 she gave an awkward wave for the cameras – a ritual she will have many chances to practice. As she left to plan her new cabinet, David Cameron made his last official visit as prime minister to a free school in West London. A moment to reflect on what he had achieved and what might have been!
Mrs. May is to appoint a new ministerial team when she takes over the reins today. The swift transition comes after the expected nine-week leadership campaign was truncated to just a couple of days by leading Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the contest. Mrs. Leadsom’s surprise announcement meant Mrs. May, who had been the front runner, was the only remaining candidate in the race.
After being formally declared the winner of the contest, Mrs. May praised Cameron for his stewardship of the party and the country and paid tribute to Mrs. Leadsom for her “dignity” in withdrawing her leadership bid. But senior Labour MP Jon Trickett has joined the Lib Dems and Green Party in calling for a snap general election. Trickett, Labour’s general election coordinator and an ally of leader Jeremy Corbyn, said it was “crucial” to have a “democratically elected prime minister” and said he was putting the party on “general election footing”. Mrs May has rejected such demands.
The EU negotiation, controlling immigration and managing the economy were “huge issues” that would challenge Mrs. May’s desire for a “steady as she goes” approach. Former chancellor Ken Clarke – who supported Mrs. May in the final ballot – said the new leader and prime minister needed to “balance the party” in her cabinet appointments. “She’s got a real problem of bringing the warring wings of the party together. She’ll combine her own strong personal opinions about who she wants to work with, with a desire to bring the party together,” he said. But he cautioned that the party’s small parliamentary majority would not make the task “easy”. “To actually get the real head-bangers together on both sides and to see four years of government through will require some political skill… but she’s pragmatic, she’ll want to get on and do things,” he said.
Mrs. May said she had based her leadership bid on the need for “strong, proven leadership”, the ability to unite both party and country and a “positive vision” for Britain’s future. And in a message perhaps designed to reassure Brexit-supporting colleagues, Mrs. May, a Remain campaigner, said: “Brexit means Brexit – and we’re going to make a success of it.”
Cameron, who has been prime minister since 2010, said Mrs. May would have his “full support”, describing her as “strong”, “competent” and “more than able to provide the leadership” the country needs.
David Cameron says he will take Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday and then head to Buckingham Palace and officially tender his resignation to the Queen and recommend she sends for Theresa May as his replacement. Mrs. May will then go to Buckingham Palace to see the Queen and receive her invitation to form a government. Theresa May should then be in place as UK prime minister by Wednesday evening – it is not yet clear when the Cameron family will move out of No 10.
Several European media outlets say that with Theresa May’s arrival in Downing Street, British politics may finally be about to enter a calmer period after the turmoil triggered by Brexit referendum. France’s Le Figaro declares that “Theresa May will be the prime minister of Brexit. Deeply divided by the referendum on Europe, the Conservative Party reunites – at least it seems so – behind her and this objective, in a life-saving reflex.” A commentary in the left-wing French paper L’Humanite says Tory heads have been “spinning” ever since the victory of the Brexit camp, but the party can now pick itself up and carry on. The Brussels correspondent Deutsche Welle believes that while Mrs May inherits an unenviable legacy from her predecessor, she is an experienced enough politician to be able to ride out the storm. Barbara Wesel says: “At least Britain and the rest of Europe now get a professional politician, not a fanatic. That is in itself good reason for being a little grateful.” Frankfurter Zeitung’s politics editor, Peter Sturm, takes a similar line, saying the choice of Theresa May provides some clarity for Britain and the European Union. He also cautiously welcomes the fact that she has not so far adopted any “extreme positions”. However, Spiegel Online declares that Mrs. May “is considered to be cool but also to thrive on conflict. She may need this, as Brussels will now lie on the pressure.”
Some European commentators make comparisons between Theresa May and other strong female leaders such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Thomas Kielinger, writing in the German daily Die Welt, says Mrs May shares with both women an aversion to “small talk and media chatter”. The Italian daily Corriere della Sera describes Mrs. May as “a bit of Merkel, a bit of Thatcher” and notes that she “is reputed to be an uncompromising politician”. Riccardo Scarpa, writing for Italy’s Il Tempo, notes that with her declaration “Brexit is Brexit”, Theresa May set out her stall “with the enthusiasm and determination of a woman who has already been dubbed the new Thatcher”. A commentator calls her the Second ‘Iron Lady’- the choice of the London queen.
From Davos to Munich
An overview of the views and attitudes of European officials during the Davos and Munich Conference and their comparison with each other suggests that the security, economic, and political concerns of European countries have not only not diminished but are increasing.
During the World Economic Summit in Davos, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France both gave a significant warning about the return of nationalism and populism to Europe. This warning has been sent in a time when Far-Right movements in Europe have been able to gain unbelievable power and even seek to conquer a majority of parliaments and form governments.
In her speech, Angela Merkel emphasized that the twentieth century’s mistake shouldn’t be repeated. By this, the German Chancellor meant the tendency of European countries to nationalism. Although the German Chancellor warning was serious and necessary, the warning seems to be a little late. Perhaps it would have been better if the warning was forwarded after the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, and subsequently, more practical and deterrent measures were designed. However, Merkel and other European leaders ignored the representation of over a hundred right-wing extremist in the European Parliament in 2014 and merely saw it as a kind of social excitement.
This social excitement has now become a “political demand” in the West. The dissatisfaction of European citizens with their governments has caused them to explicitly demand the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe. The recent victories of right wing extremists in Austria, Germany and…, isn’t merely the result of the nationalist movement success in introducing its principles and manifestos. But it is also a result of the failure of the “European moderation” policy to resolve social, security and economic problems in the Eurozone and the European Union. In such a situation, European citizens find that the solutions offered by the moderate left parties didn’t work in removing the existing crises in Europe. Obviously, in this situation “crossing the traditional parties” would become a general demand in the West. Under such circumstances, Merkel’s and other European leaders’ warnings about the return to the twentieth century and the time before the formation of the United Europe simply means the inability of the Eurozone authorities in preventing the Right-extremism in the West.
These concerns remain at the Munich Security Conference. As Reuters reported, The defense ministers of Germany and France pledged to redouble their military and foreign policy cooperation efforts on Friday, inviting other European countries to participate if they felt ready to do so.
In a speech to the Munich Security Conference, German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said Europe’s countries would not be able to respond nimbly enough to global challenges if they were stymied by the need to decide joint foreign policy approaches unanimously.
“Europe has to up its pace in the face of global challenges from terrorism, poverty and climate change,” she said. “Those who want to must be able to advance without being blocked by individual countries.”
Her French counterpart Florence Parly said any such deepened cooperation would be complementary to the NATO alliance, which itself was based on the principle that members contributed differently depending on their capacities.
“The reality has always been that some countries are by choice more integrated and more able to act than others,” she said.
The push comes as Germany’s political class reluctantly concedes it must play a larger security role to match its economic pre-eminence in Europe, amid concerns that the European Union is unable to respond effectively to security concerns beyond its eastern and southern borders.
But in their deal for another four years of a “grand coalition” government, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats have agreed to boost spending on the armed forces after years of post-Cold War decline.
The deal, which must still be ratified by the Social Democrat membership, comes as Germany reluctantly takes on the role of the continent’s pre-eminent political power-broker, a role generations of post-war politicians have shied away from.
Days after U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis reiterated President Donald Trump’s demand that European countries spend more on their militaries, Von der Leyen pledged to spend more on its military and the United Nations, but called in return for other countries not to turn away from mulitlateralism.
The pledges come as the EU seeks a new basis on which to cooperate with Britain, traditionally one of the continent’s leading security players, after its vote to leave the EU.
Earlier on Friday, the leaders of the three countries’ security services said close security cooperation in areas like terrorism, illegal migration, proliferation and cyber attacks, must continue after Britain’s departure.
“Cooperation between European intelligence agencies combined with the values of liberal democracy is indispensable, especially against a background of diverse foreign and security challenges,” they said.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
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.
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