As I have explained before, geopolitics can have a wide array of meanings and concepts. However, what about when we seek to apply geopolitics in the real world?
How can we depart from academic theory and perception, that geopolitics is nothing but a discursive practice, promoted and advocated by an elite vis-à-vis popular culture? My answer revolves within two concepts: risk and conflict. In my view—and the fundamental argument of this brief article—is that when it comes to geopolitical research, it must be both investigated and contextualized, in a more in-depth qualitative view instead of your good ol’ country risks reports and probability-type of analysis—on which to be fairly honest, they are nothing but a cluster of quantified opinions based on superficial ‘risk’ scores, which they don’t say much to an investor concerning the specific risks his industry or commercial operations can succumb in a country of interest. (And I do not mean this in an obnoxious know-it-all way, but rather, in the most simple, common-sense way, since any business group/investor would likely ask you: What do these credit scores tell me about my specific industry-related risks? Hence, the purpose of my argument.)
So, why should we think of geopolitical research, in terms of more qualitative-oriented methods, if we were to thoroughly research a geopolitical ‘risk’ or ‘conflict’? For starters, geopolitics deals with systems as a whole—be they political, economic, ecological, industrial, and so on. For instance, say we were to analyze the geopolitical situation of the Central American North Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras). We would have to first select the most vulnerable and particular system that characterizes this geographic space. To what international system does the Central American North Triangle affect the most? And in terms of what? Who ‘affects’ and what are the ‘effects’? For starters, and replying to the first question, the Central American North Triangle’s criminal organization system would be the most critical system that would be inextricably linked to the American security system. It would be in terms of drug smuggling, money laundering, cartels, gangs and hitmen (e.g. hitmen jumping back and forth from the U.S.-Mexico border), corrupt government and business elites, criminal parallel government structures (e.g. ministries, military, police task forces), to name some notable examples, that participate within this system, while operating and creating their own sub-systems.
Generally speaking, in Central America, it is the organized crime system that influences the behavior and decision-making of the American embassies in Guatemala City, San Salvador and Tegucigalpa. And to reply to my self-imposed questions, the most particular ‘effect’ on the American security system would be thousands of illegal immigrants that flee this particular system, consequently, affecting the American security and borders system as a whole. As a result, what are the independent and dependent variables of this particular geopolitical system? The causal-chain? See where I’m heading? In order to analyze a complete geopolitical system not only you require time and patience, but a thorough contextualization and understanding of geographical, historical and sociocultural dynamics of the ‘place’. The probabilistic nature of political risk (e.g. country risk) can only be reduced to that of macroeconomic analysis. But, what if, imagine, you know an X investor that wants to invest in the textile industry, in the Escuintla Department (province) of Guatemala? How would you be able to determine the geopolitical—and particular—risks affecting that investment?
Applied geopolitics, overall, boils down into two concepts: ‘affect’ and ‘effect’. As I have mentioned on my personal blog, an X variable has to be ‘ affected ‘ by a ‘Y’ event in order to cause a massive systematic or local ‘effect’ (e.g. the creation of ISIS via the Syrian war and its massive effect on the Middle East regional geopolitics, or the 2008 economic meltdown, which, unfortunately, Europe is still suffering the consequences). Thereby by understanding the concepts of both ‘affect’ and ‘effect’, we can jump into the next concept: macro versus micro risks.
Continuing with our example of an X investor looking forward to invest in a newly constructed textile factory, in the Escuintla Department, Guatemala (and yet wanting to know the possible geopolitical risks of his investment), we must start with the most important first step: see the map. By looking at the map, I know that Escuintla Department is a hot, humid flatland located between two ecoregions: the highlands and the pacific lowlands; I know that it doesn’t have any substantial navigable river system, therefore, most of the communities are tied to the main highway system between Guatemala city and the Port of San Jose; I know that because of the ocean currents, it rains heavily in the south, however, in the north, (adjoining the Pacaya and Agua volcanoes, between the Palin canyon, and because of the prevailing winds from the north), the weather evolves into a more moderate, less humid, highland weather; I know that because of this mixture between tropical and humid and temperate and highland, Escuintla has a suitable climate for raising cattle and harvesting cash crops, such as sugar cane, bananas, coffee, cardamom, lemon tea, in the southern part of Escuintla, and to its north, nearing and entering the Guatemalan highlands, it is suitable for maize, beans and vegetables; I know that because of the main transportation corridor, it is a heavily industrialized zone; I know that because of the majority of mestizo population, there isn’t a lack of cultural and language homogeneity with that of the Guatemalan economic core; but I also know that it is an imperative transit zone between the sea and the highlands and farther into the hinterland, which makes it prone to drug trafficking; and I also know that it is an imperative transportation corridor between El Salvador and Mexico, where many of the human contraband structures operate. Escuintla is a geopoliticized space. But also is part of an important geographical sub-field of the major organized crime geopolitical system of the North Triangle.
This is by simply looking at the map. Now, what are the possible risk triggers, exposures, events and conflicts that could occur within this specific space, and the actors that could affect the potential investment? Well, this is where you are going to have to leave the office and go into the field—where then you will have to combine a set of both qualitative and quantitative tools in order to determine the micro-risks.
When it comes to the science of researching geopolitical micro-risk, by simply sitting in an office desk and by trying to ascribe numbers and values and probabilities, to determine the ‘probability’ of the risk of investing, is to a certain degree, groundless and—no offense—a waste of time; put simply, the investor will not know what are the potential micro-risks affecting his operating environment and, most importantly, how to manage them—and this is where conflict management comes. If an X conflict with a Y community over Z resource were to occur, how resilient and prepared would the textile factory staff be? At what scale and level are the risks and uncertainties and effects of investing in that space? This is when, in turn, your sociocultural and historical understanding comes to place.
Lastly, don’t get me wrong: there are certain types of quantitative elements that are a must when it comes to geopolitical risk; however, these tools should only serve you as part of a preliminary research and for generalization purposes—i.e. country risks and economic indicators of the country and region, and your own probability model. Yet, it is a profound qualitative-driven research (focus groups, HUMINT, interviews, short-term ethnography, participant observation, and much more) that will help your geopolitical analysis stand out before any other.
Omani national security and the kind of political and military cooperation with the United States
Historical documentary evidence suggests that the United States has always had a strategic partner in the region. Oman is undoubtedly the closest Iranian southern neighbor to the Persian Gulf, with its common cultural and religious roots with the land of Iran. But it should be noted that the effects of convergence between the United States and Oman have an impact on Iran’s national security. Also, after the US Secretary of State Visits Oman and his visit to Sultan Qaboos and the Pompeo positions in Amman, the question is: How much is Oman to do with US sanctions against Iran?
Oman has a geographical isolation in the Arabian Peninsula. The country has only a frontier from its western region, and the three UAE, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are neighbors. On the other hand, the majority of the Abbasid religion of this country has led to its religious isolation in the Islamic world, and Wahhabism has entered into conflict with the followers of this religion several times since its inception, and still considers the abbots from the divergent difference of the Islamic world, And excuses.
Oman is relatively weak in the economic field, dependent on oil and the outside world. However, the Omani dealings with the United States are not high, and most of it is in the military arms sector. The demographic structure of this country, in particular the population of about 5% Shiite, who has a lot of strength and wealth, with the Baluchis, who have traveled to Oman many years before Iran, actually created a situation and the Omani government will not be in a relationship with Iran. If this issue is analyzed along with the influence of Wahhabism on the Omani population, it will be more important if it is to be analyzed.
It should be borne in mind that the Sunnis in Amman claim that they are the majority of the citizens of this country. Oman considers the Gulf Cooperation Council to be important in the framework of this cooperation, in addition to external problems, to prevent Arab aggression, the Omani are well aware of the history of Saudi Arabia’s deployment to its neighboring countries, and therefore the balance Power will not be pleasing to Saudi Arabia. Oman, which seeks to reduce dependence on oil and economic diversification in its 2020 and 2040 prospects, avoids any kind of conflict and conflict in the region, because the arrival of capital, tourists and goods, and services and manpower require security in this country. And stability in the region. They are working to strengthen Qatar in the Gulf Cooperation Council and are working with the United States to provide their own resources in the region, and because strengthening Qatar and removing Saudi and Qatari hostilities are in the interest of the country and necessary to curb Saudi Arabia. Greetings from the United States.
But the question is whether Oman can adopt an independent policy at the level of engagement with global powers such as the United States?
In August 2010, Oman and Iran signed a security agreement; of course, it cannot be said that the relations between Tehran and Muscat are generally without problems and is a full-fledged relationship; for example, the Oman navy does not participate in Iranian military maneuvers while Which is in the military maneuvers of the Gulf states, the United States, India and Pakistan. Oman has given America’s military partner its ports and bases. It has shown its willingness to participate in the US missile defense shield, which is aimed at creating security against Iran’s threat to the countries of the region.
From the point of view of Oman, the military conflict between the United States and Iran has a huge geopolitical and economic risk. To reduce this danger, the Omani government has acted as a bridge between Tehran and the West; that is why the Oman kingdom, unlike Saudi Arabia and some countries of the Cooperation Council, Which wants Iran to lose its position in the region, does not want Iran to be attacked by the military and tries to increase the capacity of Iran in the region by means of a synergy.
The geographic proximity of Iran and Oman in the Strait of Hormuz, Oman’s geographical remoteness from the Arab world, and the geopolitical and geopolitical importance of the Strait of Hormuz, Iran and Oman, have required good relations. Accordingly, and despite the fact that Oman has always had close ties with the United States, this has not had any effect on Iran’s friendly relations with the country. In fact, the different Muscat approach to the Tehran Cooperation Council has had a dramatic impact and has effectively reduced the influence of Riyadh on the smaller member states of the Council for the purpose of convergence, and undermined West’s efforts to isolate Tehran.
It should now be seen that in spite of important approaching variables such as geographic continuity, geopolitical situation in the region, oil, the need for stability in the region, and … the main causes of the security scene in the region.
In the past, in the context of security-related security with national power, there was a belief that with increasing military power security would increase, and with the number of military forces and equipment representing the power and security of each country, but now beliefs have changed and should be noted. National security is not a unilateral process that can only be increased by increasing its military power, but has a broad and comprehensive concept.
It is possible to maintain the national security of each political unit by increasing national power and balancing its constituent elements, and increasing one of these factors, if not accompanied by an increase in other factors, could threaten national security. In this regard, today, national security has taken a cross-border dimension; in other words, it is not just inside the border. Of course, security is not military power, so sometimes increased military strength reduces security and insecurity.
The Omanian kingdom has a different look at the position of the Gulf Cooperation Council on the issue of convergence; on the one hand, it contributes to economic issues within the framework of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, but on the other hand, in foreign policy and disputes between the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council Persian countries has not entered and has been trying to play a role in the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council by assuming the role of the Hammer of Equilibrium. However, now it seems that, despite the differences between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is not very willing to remain in the Gulf Cooperation Council. This approach may lead to a gap in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and will split countries into two different blocks. In this regard, Muscat tries to maintain its impartiality in the internal conflicts of this council as well as the differences between Iran and Arab countries, while playing a positive role.
Now the kingdom of Oman is not willing to pay for the rest of the world; therefore, in view of Muscat, Egypt’s entry into the Gulf Cooperation Union is very dangerous. On the other hand, the Omani kingdom does not differ much with other countries, but it is not pleasing to Saudi policies (which are trying to dictate their policies to other Gulf States). The country has repeatedly objected to Saudi apparent interference in foreign policy of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and if the situation continues, it is foreseeable that the Gulf Cooperation Council will collapse in the future, and even Qatar, along with the Oman kingdom, will cooperate with the Co-operation Council Gulf exits and form an alliance with Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. In contrast, Bahrain, UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are on the other.
In the future, Muscat tries to maintain its impartiality and, in its relations with the United States, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, and …, continues its policies and tries to play a positive role in resolving regional crises, as The meetings of Iran and the Western countries over the past years with Oman’s administration show that the king wants to mediate Iran’s relations with the West.
Tension in the Gulf: Not just maritime powder kegs
A recent interview in which Baloch National Movement chairman Khalil Baloch legitimized recent militant attacks on Iranian, Chinese and Pakistani targets is remarkable less for what he said and more for the fact that his remarks were published by a Saudi newspaper.
Speaking to Riyadh Daily, the English language sister of one of Saudi Arabia’s foremost newspapers, Al Riyadh, Mr. Baloch’s legitimization in the kingdom’s tightly controlled media constituted one more suggestion that Saudi Arabia may be tacitly supporting militants in Balochistan, a troubled Pakistani province that borders on Iran and is a crown jewel of China’s infrastructure and energy-driven Belt and Road initiative.
Riyadh Daily interviewed Mr. Baloch against the backdrop of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran that many fear could escalate into military conflict, past indications of Saudi support for religious militants in Balochistan, and suggestions that countries like the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are united in their opposition to Iran but differ on what outcome they want maximum pressure on the Islamic republic to produce.
The interview followed publication in 2017 by a Riyadh-based think tank with ties to Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of a call by a Baloch nationalist for support for an insurgency in the Baloch-populated Iranian province that borders Pakistan and is home to the crucial Indian-backed port of Chabahar on the Arabian Sea.
It also juxtaposes with Pakistani anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian militants who operate madrassahs along the Iranian-Pakistani border reporting stepped up Saudi funding. The monies are believed to come in part from Saudi nationals of Baloch descent, but the militants suggest the funding has at least tacit government approval.
Balochistan has witnessed multiple attacks on its Hazara Shiite minority as well as in May on a highly secured luxury hotel frequented by Chinese nationals in the Chinese-backed Baloch port city of Gwadar and a convoy of Chinese engineers as well as the Chinese consulate in Karachi. Militants killed 14 people in April in an assault on an Iranian revolutionary guards convoy and exploded in December a car bomb in Chabahar.
Saudi Arabia is also suspected of supporting the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a controversial Iranian exile group that seeks the fall of the Iranian regime and enjoys support of senior Western politicians and former officials as well as US national security advisor John Bolton prior to his appointment and ex-Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal.
For now, tacit Saudi support for Baloch militants is likely to be more about putting potential building blocks in place rather than the result of a firm decision to wage a low-intensity proxy war.
“The recent escalation in militant attacks is a direct reaction to Pakistan army’s growing atrocities in Balochistan and China’s relentless plunder of Baloch resources,” Mr. Baloch said.
Asserting that the Pakistani part of Balochistan has been occupied by Pakistan since 1948, Mr. Baloch insisted that the “Baloch nation is resisting against this forced accession. This insurgency is the continuation of that.”
The alleged Saudi support coupled with plans for a US$10 billion Saudi investment in a refinery in Gwadar and a Baloch mine has sparked discussion in Beijing about the viability of China’s US$45 billion plus stake in the region’s security and stability.
Iranian officials see a pattern of foreign support for insurgents not only in Balochistan but also among Iran’s Kurdish, Arab and Azeri minorities. Their suspicions are fuelled by statements by Mr. Bolton prior to his appointment calling for support of insurgencies and Prince Mohammed’s vow that any battle between the Middle East’s two major rivals would be fought in Iran rather than Saudi Arabia.
Complicating the situation along Iran’s borders is the fact that like in the waters of the Gulf where naval assets are eyeing one another, it doesn’t take much for the situation to escalate out of control. That is particularly the case with Iran having shifted tactics from strategic patience to responding to perceived escalation with an escalation of its own.
Iran moreover has been preparing for a potential covert war waged by Saudi Arabia and possibly US-backed ethnic insurgent groups as well as the possibility of a direct military confrontation with the United States by building a network of underground military facilities along its borders with Pakistan and Iraq, according to Seyed Mohammad Marandi, an Iranian academic who frequently argues the Tehran government’s position in international media.
Iran recently released a video showcasing an underground bunker that houses its missile arsenal.
In a further heightening of tension, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards attacked on Friday Iranian armed opposition groups in the Kurdistan region of Iraq with drones and missiles. Iranian artillery separately shelled villages in a region populated not only by armed anti-Iranian and anti-Turkish Kurdish groups but also smugglers.
The strikes followed the killing of three Iranian revolutionary guards. A spokesman for the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) denied responsibility for their deaths.
The risk of escalation is enhanced by the fact that while the United States, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel agree on the principle of maximum pressure, they do not necessarily see eye to eye on what the end goal is.
While US President Donald J. Trump appears to want to force Iran back to the negotiating table, Israel and Mr. Bolton are believed to advocate gunning for regime change ignoring the risk that the effort could produce a government that is even less palatable to them.
That outcome would suit Saudi Arabia that does not want to see a regime emerge that would be embraced by Western nations and allowed to return to the international fold unfettered by sanctions.
A palatable government would turn Iran into a Middle Eastern powerhouse with a competitive edge vis a vis Saudi Arabia and complicate the kingdom’s ambition to become a major natural gas player and sustain its regional leadership role.
Writing in the Pakistan Security Report 2018, journalist Muhammad Akbar Notezai warned: “The more Pakistan slips into the Saudi orbit, the more its relations with Iran will worsen… If their borders remain troubled, anyone can fish in the troubled water.”
Boko Haram and Frustration- Aggression Theory: A Potential Explanation
In the context of Boko Haram, it is vital to identify how Boko Haram resorted to extreme violent behavior. One theory that provides an understanding of such violent behavior is Frustration-Aggression Theory. This “holds that a group’s relative disadvantage in relation to others, which may be manifested in income inequality or hierarchical class, results in frustration which breeds grievance and aggression” (Iyekepolo, 2213). In the case of Boko Haram, this theory can arguably describe how frustration over Western education led to an increase in its aggressive behavior.
To understand Frustration-Aggression Theory further there must be comprehension on the term “frustration.” Frustration, as described by Berkowitz, is “an unpleasant, aversive stimulus which evokes negative affect by automatically eliciting cognitions that are associated with aggressive tendencies.” This view of frustration can provide insight into group motivations to justify acts of aggression. Recognizing these two important aspects of Frustration-Aggression Theory provides not only a background into Boko Haram,but a broad look into future potential attacks.
Application of Frustration-Aggression Theory
This research applies key aspects of frustration and aggression. First, the act of frustration defined as “blocking someone from gaining an expected gratification” (Dill and Anderson, 360). Second, aggression which is defined as “any behavior which is intended to injure the individual to whom it is directed” (Dill and Anderson, 360). These key aspects of Frustration-Aggression Theory provide in-depth knowledge into the decision-making process utilized by Boko Haram.
Boko Haram continues to feed off the economic conditions and frustrations of the Nigerian people. “The situation of poverty in Nigeria and Somalia, where Boko Haram [and Al Shabab] started, is worsened by the day-to-day paradox of mass poverty in the face of rich human and mineral resources.” (Ani and Ojakorotu, 12) This economic decline only fuels Boko Haram’s legitimacy and power. Not only does this fuel its status among African nations, it also increases the frustration of the Nigerian people against not only Boko Haram but the Nigerian government overall.
The level of poverty pervading the region also proved to be a factor in mobilizing the Boko Haram insurgency, as Mohammed Yusuf, the sect’s leader spoke regularly about it; arguing for devout Muslims to ‘migrate from the morally bankrupt society to a secluded place and establish an ideal Islamic society devoid of political corruption and moral deprivation (Iyekekepolo, 2215).
The economic conditions in which the many of the Nigerian people are still living became the foundational grounds for Boko Haram’s rise. The hardship the Nigerian government and its people have faced bred political corruption and moral deprivation. (Iyekekpolo, 2215)This continuous frustration from current economic conditions has also created more insight into Boko Haram’s increased aggression. Solomon Ayegba states this corruption is at the expense of the Nigerian people, which has resulted in the Boko Haram insurgency. (2015)
Boko Haram continued to gain legitimacy throughout Nigeria and neighboring states, which only increased the frustrations of citizens across West Africa. “The poor development status of Nigeria no doubt breeds an atmosphere of frustrated expectations and foster widespread indignation on the part of those that are trapped in the vortex circle of abject poverty.” (Mbasua, Musa and Fada, 96) Those imprisoned by Boko Haram’s terror are left more vulnerable to continued social and economic chaos. As the chaos continues to manifest, it leaves Nigeria not only socially and economically vulnerable but opens the gateway for political vulnerability.
Boko Haram was able to politically corrupt the Nigerian government by gaining a position of power. “A known senior member of Boko Haram, Late BojuFoi, was actually appointed a commissioner by former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff.” (Vaaseh, 407) The people of Nigeria now had more to fear than the current economic and social conditions. Political figures were now making promises to Boko Haram to provide support to “facilitate the actualization of their ideology.” (Vaaseh, 409)
The increased frustration of Boko Haram only led to more acts of violence. However, the target of Boko Haram’s aggression now turned more toward Nigerian security forces. Vaaseh explains “the inability of the politicians to keep to their promise of monthly salaries to the members angered them and the insurgents reacted severely by attacking security agents.” Boko Haram has used these political conditions to spread its ideology but has also capitalized off the lack of education throughout Nigeria proper. “In contemporary Nigeria, most, if not all, of the existing militant organizations are made up of a large percentage of uneducated and unemployed people who express frustration by the existing unbalanced structure of governance in the Nigerian federation.” (Vaaseh, 406)In an attempt to deal with these frustrations, Nigeria decided to form an organization called the Odua People’s Congress (OPC). However, the efforts to mitigate these frustrations ended in violent actions to pursue the organization’s objectives. Perhaps this is mere coincidence, but it more likely provides insight into the validity of Frustration-Aggression Theory and political/social violence within Nigeria.
There are many different manifestations of terrorism that emerge due to religious and ideological beliefs. In this form of extreme behavior, Boko Haram has been able to convince some of Nigerian society that the government is to blame for the overall social instability. “A number of them also blame the Nigerian Federal Government for poverty in the Northeast, thereby popularizing the idea that Boko Haram represents a symbol of the North’s struggle against political and economic marginalization.” (Ani and Ojakorotu, 20) This frustration has not only bred inequality amongst regional Nigerians but also deep psychological frustrations.
As the people continue to experience the economic and political frustrations of Boko Haram, they also experience their own psychological frustrations. Boko Haram has created a society in which people live in fear. “The populace had been deprived of their means of livelihood and this has become frustrating, resulting in aggression.” (Iyekekpolo, 2215) The people do not have the political and economic stability to combat Boko Haram. A vicious spiraling down cycle continues.
Boko Haram continues to launch attacks to intimidate the government and its citizens. The people of Nigeria attempt to live a normal life. However, the second and third order effects of Boko Haram’s terror impact daily living. “On 16 June 2011, the police headquarters in the capital Abuja was bombed, leading to a city-wide curfew.” (Elden, 416) This curfew was established to protect the Nigerian people and allow Nigerian forces to combat Boko Haram’s attacks. So, while Nigeria continues to strive for peace, education, and hope, the methods used can sometimes also become social chains that bind and constrain them.
Evaluation of Frustration-Aggression Theory
Frustration-Aggression Theory has been applied to explain the behaviors of foreign policymakers and those experiencing the violent attacks of Boko Haram. First, applying the Frustration-Aggression Theory framework, it can be hypothesized that foreign policymakers will be less likely to resort to violence towards Boko Haram. Therefore, not able to rely on external positive interference, Nigerians may also resort to alternative means to stop the spread of Islamic extremism due to their justified frustration with Boko Haram’s behavior and no formal governmental success in hindering it.
There are limitations to Frustration-Aggression Theory to consider, such as not all frustration breeds aggression. This study is also limited to evaluating extreme cases of frustration (i.e. corruption, terrorism). This theory is only used to evaluate Boko Haram and those influenced by the insurgency. Further application of this theory would research how Boko Haram perceives Western education as a threat to religious beliefs. Examination would include how Boko Haram exploits religious beliefs to gain sympathy to recruit members. Frustration-Aggression Theory could utilize the underlying frustration of religious intolerance and perceived colonization by the West to breed aggression.
Frustration-Aggression Theory provides knowledge and insight into the decision-making process of Boko Haram but also political members and citizens of Nigeria. Furthermore, it is imperative to recognize how Boko Haram knew such violent tactics would work. Understanding the efficacy of terrorism tactics can arguably shed light on producing new insights and new counter-measures that might lessen extremism on the ground and provide everyday Nigerians more of a fighting chance to create a stable and secure life amidst the chaos.
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