[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he two major non-Arab countries Iran and Turkey have the significant and most populated geographical locations in the region. From a historical perspective, it is clear that both of them have long shared similarities and differences regarding religion, national identity, populations, energy factor and etc.
Both of them have a strong sense of national identity and also were the homeland of different historical civilizations. The one of the major difference is that since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, “velayat e-faqih” as a prominent doctrine has been implemented in the government system of Iran. On the other hand, Iran is a predominantly Shia majority and Turkey is major Sunni-based country. Another major difference between them is based on energy factor. Today, the crucial aspect of Turkey and Iran relations is energy factor. Since the beginning of the relations in energy in the 1990s, the glaring differences between them in the energy sector have influenced their relations and resulted in the close cooperation between them. Apparently, the relations in the field of energy commenced in 1996 with the signing of the agreement on natural gas amid the Welfare Party Leader of Turkey Necmettin Erbakan’ visit to Tehran. The natural gas agreement envisaged the export of 4 bcm of natural gas in 2002 and of 10 bcm in 2007 from Iran to Turkey within the period of 25 years. However, this volume was never reached to the capacity of 10 bcm due to different kinds of reasons, especially the coercive diplomacy of the U.S, the economic sanctions lessened the export of natural gas to Turkey at the expected volume and only 6 bcm of natural gas was delivered to Turkey during the sanction period. To date, Iranian gas has been really important for Turkey in terms of economic development, its domestic needs, and energy demands. Because of the fact that Iran has sufficiently proven crude oil and gas resources in the Gulf region, in contrary, Turkey holds limited number of oil and gas reservoirs and these resources are not able to provide the both economic and domestic demands of Turkey adequately and thus, heavily depends on foreign supplies.* Therefore, Iranian gas is really meaningful for industry and for residential heating in Eastern Anatolia.
Apart from the oil and gas sectors, the electricity trade between them is really important. Iran and Turkey have agreed to develop their electricity generation sufficiently. For instance, in 2014, Iran exported 2,252 GWH electricity to Turkey that constituted 1,1% of that year’s total electricity source. Energy as a solid rock of economic relations between Turkey and Iran exhibits itself as the main provider of economic growth. The relations between Turkey and Iran can be characterized in some reasons:
1.The role of Turkey as a transit route between North and South, East and West. The main role of Turkey would be really important for the rational and secure transportation of Iran’s natural oil and gas resources to Europe via Turkey;*
2.The growing massive dependence of Europe on natural gas resources force the European countries to seek for new alternative energy supplies and countries and strives to decrease its natural gas dependency on Russia . In this case, the West has pivotal interests regarding Southern Gas Corridor which links the one side of Asia with Europe. Here, Iran is eager to export its energy resources to Europe at affordable prices and wants to acquire the Westward transportation of its natural gas. This is one of the main reasons why Iran holds close relations with Turkey;
3.Turkey is the main consumer of Iran’s oil and natural gas resources, although there have been some challenges regarding security, sanctions, and disagreement over high prices;
4.Despite having massive resources Iran is not a major player in the global gas market, it only exports gas to Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and therefore, it is not ready to lose its reliable consumer like Turkey in international energy market;
5.The main aim of Iran is to gain broad access to flexible LNG export capability. However, Iran does not have terminals, technical expertise and required funds due to the sanctions. In fact, Turkey as an economic savior offers commercial and investment opportunities to Iran in order to build terminals and possess newly generated technologies to export LNG;
6.The one of the major reasons is the growing Turkish investments in the country. Turkey has long invested in Iran’s energy products in order to boost mutual trade between them in the energy sector.
Consequently, the emergence of cooperation between Turkey and Iran stems from the energy factor. The resources-rich Iran has an adequate capability to export its natural gas and oil products not only to Turkey but also the European market. Turkey as a stable consumer of its energy products try to diversify its energy supplies and source countries, at the same time, it is importantly in need to maintain its both domestic and foreign economic growth. As a result, it can be said that the continuing of a balanced relationship between Tehran and Ankara can be beneficial for the maintenance of the West’s energy security by diversifying its energy supplies and source countries.
Competition between Turkey and Iran
In XXI century, energy factor has caused to gain both a partner and a rivalry among states. In terms of a partnership, the nation-states try to show “win-win” position in order to meet their domestic demands and develop economic growth with mutual trade agreements. In contrary, in the position of rivalry, the states strive to acquire access to much more energy resources, and source- rich countries by imposing grand energy projects and sets of rules, at the same time, want to prevent the influence of rival states over energy-rich regions. It can be shown in the example of the relationship between Turkey and Iran. Currently, there are pivotal reasons why Iran does not have in mind to digest the geopolitical and economic positions of Turkey in energy-rich regions.
On the other hand, the rivalry in some cases, tensions can be observed in the ongoing process of Syrian Civil War. The severe civil war which caused loads of humanitarian crisis and calamity led to the misperceptions and different positions between major regional power including the U.S, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Since the beginning of the conflict, Russia and Iran has been the main supporter of Bashar-Al-Assad regime. In the contrary, Turkey is opposed to the Assad regime in the country. These different positions have caused the clash of interests between the two regional powers regarding Syrian Civil War.
Moreover, after the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran seeks alternative methods to export its natural gas products to European market via Turkey. However, Iran well understands that Turkey as a transit country is really significant for the multi-sided transportation of energy products, especially its natural gas resources. The anti-western position of Iran compels it to strengthen relations with Russia. Both of them are opposed to the Western-backed economic projects in the Caspian region.
To a large extent, after the completion of impressive projects in the South Caucasus, it is difficult to Iran to see Turkey will turn to be a grand power in the Southern Gas Corridor. In this case, Iran is afraid of being marginalized from the political and economic processes taking place in the Caspian region. The implementation of necessary energy-efficient projects in this region will lead to the dominant position of Turkey. Therefore, If Iran’s natural gas is transported to Europe via Turkey, this will give it a powerful bargaining chip against Iran. In fact, Iran never wants to give empowerment to Turkey against itself. Another reason is that Iran wants to keep the regional balance of power in energy. Therefore, the emergence of Turkey as an authoritative power will deprive Iran of the economic and political perks in the region. The transit role of Turkey in Southern Gas Corridor will lead to the realization of Turkish Stream. Because of the fact that the construction of Turkish Stream along with Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) and the Iraq-Turkey gas pipeline, will give Turkey the powerful authorization over major pipelines in the future. As a result, Turkey as an energy hub will be able to control the flow of energy supplies from Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iraq. Today, Iran wants to provide its flexible LNG export. Therefore, in order to attain the goal, Iran tends to boost cooperation with China. In fact, China possesses novel energy infrastructure and technologies that will be able to help Iran to build LNG terminals.
However, it is undeniable fact that the emergence of terrorist organizations, (Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL, PKK), extremist movements, sectarian tensions, and the Kurdish problem put the major pipelines in jeopardy along with the Middle East region and Turkey. These arduous situations can be the favor of Iran because the construction of all major projects and an emergence of Turkey as energy commander will take a long time. The animosity and tensions in the Middle East region give the chance for the extremist and terrorist groups to take the major pipelines under their control as a source of revenue. (See annex No.5)
All in all, in any cases, the collaboration is much more beneficial than the competition. Collaboration stands on the “win-win” proposition and is inclined to the mutual perceptions of the parties. However, the competition mainly focuses on the success of only one party and does not give a chance to another one. Therefore, the relationship between Turkey and Iran should have to be characterized from the prism of the collaboration rather than competition, because both of them have a huge potential in order to participate in and get “win-win” position in the energy game.
The deep analysis of research revealed the following consequences:
1. As a result of the analysis, it was perceived that energy security forms a unity within the circle of national security and foreign policy. In today’s globalized world, the growing demands for energy, interests of nation states regarding alternative energy resources, in particular, the export of energy products at affordable prices to the international energy market create a competitive environment among states. Thus, it is undeniable fact that energy closely relates with the national power of states. The broad access to well-off energy resources, the secure transportation and rational utilization of them mainly depend on the relations between or within states. Therefore, energy as a guarantor of national security is important for states’ survival and well-being. However, it is clear that the acts of states sometimes evoke some problems and obstacles in global level, for example, the over- exploitation of energy resources causes the huge environmental problems, and today the climate change issue as a result of irrational overutilization of energy products should force all states to take active and accommodative actions in order to solve this problem at international level.
2. The research showed that like other major states, both Turkey and Iran have their own goals and geostrategic interests in the energy spectrum. According to Turkey, the pivotal goal stands on the diversification of energy supplies in conjunction with source countries. At the same time, it strives to gain an authoritative power over major grand energy projects in the energy-based regions; the Caspian Basin and the Gulf region. For today, the South Caucasus gives a huge chance to Turkey to be a future energy hub in the region. The implementation of future grand energy projects is able to open a successful way with which Turkey as a key transit country will be able to import energy products at affordable prices. However, in the Gulf region, basically the Middle East, the emergence of extremist movements, the Kurdish problems, the risk of İSİS and PKK, ongoing severe Syrian crisis and other problems challenge the situation in the region that engender barriers in the face of Turkey.
3. It is obvious that similar to Turkey, Iran has also geo-energetic and political interests in the energy game in the following countries. Amid the period of sanctions, the West put many restrictions on Iran. Therefore, Iran was not able to export its products to the international energy market. Upon the lifting economic sanction, Iran strives to gain more access to foreign markets in order export its energy products adequately. At the same time, Iran offers reasonable prices for its products in order to gain access to European markets. Although Iran holds affluent energy deposits, it has a limited number of consumers importing its products and Iran would have never wanted to be isolated from the economic and political processes taking place in the Caspian Basin and the Gulf region. On behalf of a regional partnership, it tries to strengthen the energy-based cooperation with other countries including China, India, Brazil, and mainly, Russia.
4. The development of the relationship between Turkey and Iran chiefly related with energy. Today, Iran has adequate energy assets in order to export them to international energy markets. Turkey is a stable and reliable consumer of Iran’s energy products because of its scarce oil and gas deposits. Iran well realizes that Turkey would be a reliable provider for the transportation of its energy products to the European market. Therefore, Iran strives to be one of the main parts of Southern Gas Corridor in the South Caucasus region, in which Turkey as a pivotal trade bridge provides the secure shipment of Iran’s gas products directly to Europe. Iran’s such an approach toward Turkey gives both of them to benefit from the economic processes in the region that create “win-win” position between them. However, the situation in the Gulf region is not as the same as the Caspian region. The movements of radical Islamists, hostility, fear of proxy war regarding Syrian Civil War, force both Turkey and Iran to take another stance regarding the problems in the region.
5. The research emphasized that the relationship between Turkey and Iran can be characterized from the prism of both collaboration and competition. Both of them have varied goals and interests in the energy game and strive to keep their influences in the following regions. Turkey as a stable consumer of Iran’s products is a reliable partner, but when it comes to competitive relations, Iran sees Turkey as an important rival in the region. Since last decades, these have been many difficulties in the relations between them regarding the disagreement over prices, sanctions, and the various stances on Syrian Civil War. At the same time, today Iran can not digest the growing role of Turkey in the following regions. The main reason is that the future application of energy pipelines will give Turkey empowerment and bargaining chip against Iran. Therefore, Iran on the one side does not want to see as a winner in the energy game, on the other side, it does not have in mind to lose its trade partner in the energy field. However, it is difficult for Iran to take radical actions against Turkey and tries to set up accommodative approach toward Turkey. Hence, both of them realize that going into mutual bargaining is much more beneficial rather than competition.
The Turkish Gambit
The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon. One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria. Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps. The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.
Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian. After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families. About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.
How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question. Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently? For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.
There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter. Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes.
Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability. If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point. Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal: access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.
Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon. It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke. It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood. The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.
A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power. The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson. So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006. Now they are feared by Israeli troops.
To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump. Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past. It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving. If you go in, you will have to police the area. Don’t ask us to help you.” Is that subject to misinterpretation? It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office.
For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions. Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included. Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire. On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May. Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith. The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can. Where are they headed? Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.
Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences.
Author’s Note: This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.
It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.
Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.
Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.
Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.
It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.
Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around
Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.
Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.
But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.
The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.
The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.
It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.
The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.
It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.
Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK
Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.
Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.
The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.
If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.
The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.
The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.
The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”
The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.
Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”
Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.
The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.
A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.
The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.
In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.
Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.
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