[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]f the two Koreas reunified, as planned in 2000 with the joint declaration of June 15, we would have an unreasonable merging of two radically different political principles. South Korea has chosen to be a periphery of the American empire, which uses the US economy on the basis of its internal cycles and mature technologies that it exports by taking advantage of the low cost of manpower and of some raw materials.
North Korea played the Cold War card, supported only partially by China and Russia, which used North Korea as a block for the West and paid for said North Korea’s commitment with political stability and some economic aid.
The Cold War, however, is really over and this holds true both for North and for South Korea.
We need to think of new worlds and new “super-concept rules”, just to quote Wittgenstein.
Traditionally, unification is conceived as a Confederation, as supported by South Korea, or as a Federation with wide autonomy for both areas, as always supported by North Korea.
The two inter-Korean meetings held in 2000 and in 2007 – with the first one that even made the South Korean President be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his Sunshine Policy – recorded excellent economic results (including the free trade area of Kaesong and the tourist area of Mount Gumgang), but no effective political results.
Indeed, in November 2010, the North Korean Minister for Reunification officially dismissed the Sunshine Policy as a failure.
This always happens when politicians are only interested in conveying a good “image”.
However, let us better analyzing the reunification policies which are currently being proposed, also by authoritative US think tanks.
The excessive psychologism – the flaw Husserl saw in the European philosophy of his time – still characterizes the North American analysis of strategic phenomena in Asia and the Middle East
Hence, both in North and in South Korea, the phenomenology of elites is often quite simplified and devoid of the necessary nuances.
The “states of mind” or the subjective tendencies of the real members of the two countries’ ruling classes are not so relevant as they may appear at first sight.
“Les faits ont la tête dure” (Common sense is not so common) – just to quote Voltaire – and elites do not live on psychology, but enjoy verifiable and significant privileges that someone has to pay anyway.
Meanwhile, the Constitution establishing the North Korean Workers’ Party repeats still today that conquering South Korea militarily is the primary strategic (and economic) goal of the North Korean regime – not to mention the fact that North Korea’s ruling class is selected with military and national criteria, while South Korea’s ruling class is more technocratic and less prone to accept the line of military confrontation.
The difference is not marginal. Pending an inter-Korean conflict, South Korea’s elites would escape to the United States – thinking of being at home – while the North Korean ones would fight their war until final victory.
Furthermore, in this Asian context, our American friends quote the example of “de-Baathification” in Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s fall.
Never was an example more dangerous for the theses it intends to uphold.
The abolition of Baath, namely the Party-State, and the selective and loyalist mechanism of the ruling class in Syria and Iraq was, on the contrary, a real strategic folly which voided Iraq and certainly made it viable – just to use the typical terminology of US strategic analysis – not to the bipartite “democracy” which is so fashionable in the Anglo-Saxon world, but rather to the Iranian regime and later to the Sunni sword jihad of Daesh.
This means also viable to the division of the areas of influence in a country like Iraq, having a Shiite majority and a Sunni area which, through the jihad, has now become mass of geopolitical manoeuvre for the Gulf powers.
Every manipulation of the historical heritage of peoples and Nations is bound to lead to their fragmentation into new areas of influence, which have often not even been foreseen by the crazy “social engineers” who believe – as happened to the first US Governor of Baghdad – they can use the same laws in force in Boston to regulate road traffic in the Iraqi capital city.
Turkey, too, has got its hands on Iraq – obviously with a view to settling the Kurdish issue.
Furthermore it seems to flout any “line” worked out within NATO, of which Turkey is a member.
From the Balkans’ wars – waged to avoid the globalization of Russian oil and gas towards Europe and the Mediterranean region – to the massive use of the Afghan jihad to destabilize and disrupt the post-Yugoslav political system, to the stable destabilization – if I may use this oxymoron – of the Maghreb region with the silly “Arab Springs” to be completed with the end of Syria and its ethnic and religious splitting up, it seems that the current US global strategy is designed to disrupting every geopolitical region.
Nevertheless if all countries become “liquid” and viable, every political contagion will tend to spread and worsen.
Just think of Macedonia’s current situation and the not-so-secret plan to achieve a Great Islamized Albania, capable of standing up to the Slavic and, hence, pro-Russian Serbia.
Reverting to the US line in this Korean region, the idea is that of a reunification creating a favourable interest for the North Korean ruling classes.
How? The North Korean system based on songbun, namely the traditional caste system, is further divided into 51 subgroups.
Obviously, as everywhere, the main criterion is loyalty to the regime – hence I do not see how the North Korean elite can accept a soft reunification, in which North Korea will inevitably lose a share of power to preserve hegemony – although with fewer elitist “privileges” – in a possible peaceful reunification with South Korea.
According to the most reliable calculations, approximately 4.4 million North Koreans can be part of the local “ruling class”, but – as those who are acquainted with Pareto’s and Veblen’s theories know all too well – all elite classes are intrinsically factionist and must have strong symbolic and material incentives to back the regime that supports them.
Psychology and the democratic myth are not enough.
Suffice to recall the phenomenon of Ostalgie, namely the nostalgia felt by many German citizens and voters for aspects of life in East Germany after reunification – Nost-Algie for permanent and regular jobs, for the lack of unemployment, for the authoritarian but effective Welfare of the old Sociality Unity Party of Germany (SED).
Money, however, never pays for the symbol – hence intangible incentives must always be greater than the tangible ones.
There is also talk about a selective amnesty for North Korea’s defectors.
How could South Korea support this new share of frustrated ruling classes coming from Pyongyang and finally what would be the strategic aim of this operation?
We may assume that the aim would be voiding the North Korean regime from inside – but are we really sure that the South Korean ruling class can safely double its size, possibly incorporating the North Korean songbun classes that are already accustomed to unlawful transactions?
Furthermore, reunification would bring no concrete benefit to South Koreans.
Quite the reverse. It would be necessary to support a population – about 50% of North Korean inhabitants – who is well below the typical economic standards of South Korea’s working class.
According to our estimates, for the five years following reunification, this would create a public debt at least 24% higher than expected – which is already approximately 40% – in a situation of weak growth, due to the crisis and saturation of the US market and the contraction of the domestic market.
Being a client State never pays.
In other words, this kind of reunification would certainly lead to the default of the South Korean government.
Furthermore, currently South Korea is bearing the brunt of political uncertainty, after the impeachment of President Park Geun Hye – not to mention the already described decrease of domestic consumption, resulting from an excessive cyclical link to the US economy and the decline of exports to China.
With a 2.6% planned growth throughout 2017, South Korea certainly has not the potential to absorb or make credible its debt generated by the costs of reunification, regardless of its being an elitist or mass reunification.
Even demography does not help, as the South Korean population is expected to start falling structurally next year.
Certainly we must consider the North Korean manpower, but the labour force has a cost of training, obviously adding to the cost of the means of production which should guarantee jobs precisely to the North Korean workers.
It is worth recalling that it took over twenty years to achieve homogeneous social and economic conditions between West Germany and the old German Democratic Republic (DDR) – a goal that has not been reached yet despite the Euro manipulation and the huge German investment.
Moreover, at the time of Vereinigung, Germany was the third world economy and certainly not the respectable, but much smaller South Korea’s economy.
And what about China? Obviously it is not interested in the Korean reunification.
In fact, if this were to happen, it would be the repetition – in the Third Millennium – of the unification of Northern and Southern Italy and, in this case, the economic and political “line” would be dictated by South Korean and not by North Korea.
As can be easily imagined, China does not like this.
China has every interest in freezing any geopolitical issue in Asia, by operating with peripheral States – as in the Roman legend of the Horatii and Curiatii – by dividing and later linking them with bilateral agreements.
In Asia, China wants to avoid everything may lead to the creation of a new strategic bloc capable of dictating certain conditions to its geoeconomic and military system.
Considering that South Korea is always a US client State, China would regard reunification as an undesirable increase of the North American potential in the safety buffer zone of its Eastern and Southern coasts.
In many ways, however, not even the United States would benefit from the Korean reunification.
While there is no longer such a reason to keep large troops in South Korea, the correlation of US interests is inevitably expected to change, thus leaving the Korean Peninsula uncovered while the United States is supposed to redeploy its Armed Forces in the Pacific, around the South China Sea and in the Japanese safety buffer zone.
Currently neither China nor Japan appreciate this new scenario of the American military power in Asia.
If the United States maintained a large amount of troops in the new reunified Korea, everybody would regard this as only having the aim of opposing China.
Not even Japan would benefit from a German-style reunification between the two Koreas.
Both South Korea and, potentially, even North Korea, are now global competitors of Japan – not to mention the strategic bloc represented for the country by an imperial “co-prosperity area” that a reunited Korea would undermine.
There is no Japanese geopolitics not targeted to the whole Southeast Asia – it is not possible otherwise.
And this holds true both for the Empire – the Dai Nihon about which Haushofer spoke in the 20th century – and for the Japan regionalized by the United States.
Unlike Italy, Japan was defeated in World War II, but it is still able to think big and really understand geopolitical issues without demonizing its past and worshiping its old enemy.
Hence, what can be done? It is simple.
Reopen the Six Party Talks circle, as well as fund specific projects in North Korea and help its people with humanitarian aid, but above all, with a peaceful reindustrialization policy going towards Russia, China, the EU and, possibly, also the United States.
The Asian Bank for European Infrastructure and the European financial institutions should take immediate action – and Italy is present in the Bank of Asia. In a new type of nuclear negotiations, we should also rethink the civilian potential of North Korea’s nuclear system for it to sell energy to its neighbours.
Obviously the resumption of the Six Party Talks should be based on a reconstruction of North Korean free trade areas and on an effective relationship with Russia and China, which should become the new guarantors of the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear and economic balance.
Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question
The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.
Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.
Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.
However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.
Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.
During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.
Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.
Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.
If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.
From our partner RIAC
Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?
Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.
One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.
In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.
To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.
The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.
Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.
Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.
From our partner RIAC
Kishida and Japan-Indonesia Security Relations: The Prospects
In October, Japan had inaugurated Fumio Kishida as the new prime minister after winning the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election earlier. Surely this new statesmanship will consequently influence Tokyo’s trajectory in international and regional affairs, including Southeast Asia.
Not only that Japan has much intensive strategic cooperation with Southeast Asians for decades, but the region’s importance has also been increasing under Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). Southeast Asia, as a linchpin connecting the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, is key to Japan’s geostrategic interest and vision.
Since the LDP presidential election debate, many have identified Kishida’s policy trajectory, including in the defense and security aspect. Being bold, Kishida reflected its hawkish stance on China, North Korea, and its commitment to strengthening its alliance with Washington. Furthermore, Kishida also aimed to advance the geostrategic and security initiatives with like-minded countries, especially under FOIP.
One of the like-minded countries for Japan is Indonesia, which is key Japan’s key partner in Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific.
This article maps the prospect of Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia under the new prime minister. It argues that Prime Minister Kishida will continue to grow Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia to adjust to the changing security environment in Indo-Pacific.
Japan – Indonesia Common Ground
In its basic principle, Japan and Indonesia shared the same values in democracy, rules-based order, and freedom of navigation in developing strategic cooperation, especially in the maritime security aspect.
In the geostrategic context, Japan and Indonesia also have significant similarities. Both countries are maritime countries and seeking to maximize their maritime power, as well as having formally synchronized geostrategic vision. While Japan has FOIP, Indonesia has Global Maritime Fulcrum (Poros Maritim Dunia) and leading initiator for ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).
In capitalizing on this shared vision, since Shinzo Abe and Joko “Jokowi” Widodo era, Japan and Indonesia have initiated much new security cooperation ranging from a high-level framework such as 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting in 2015 and 2021 to capacity building assistances and joint exercises. Furthermore, defense equipment transfers and joint technology development were also kicked off under Abe-Jokowi.
Kishida’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Profile
Compared to his predecessor, Suga Yoshihide, Prime Minister Kishida is more familiar with foreign affairs.
Personally, Kishida comes from a political family and spent several years living in the United States, reflecting his exposure to the international and political environment from an early age. This is significantly different from Suga, who grew up in a strawberry farmer family in a rural area in Akita Prefecture.
Politically, served as foreign minister under Shinzo Abe, Fumio Kishida is the longest-serving foreign minister in Japan’s history. This reflects his extensive understanding of current world affairs, compared to Suga who spent most of his prime political career in the domestic area such as being chief cabinet secretary and minister for internal affairs & communication.
Specifically, in defense and security posture, Prime Minister Kishida is willing to go beyond the status quo and not blocking any key options in order “to protect citizens”. During his policy speeches, he stated that he is not ruling out the option to build attacking capabilities due to the severe security environment surrounding Japan. Also, Kishida will not limit the defense budget under 1% of Japan’s gross domestic product if necessary.
Future Security Cooperation Trajectory with Indonesia
In short, policy continuity will play a huge role. One of the reasons why Kishida was able to win over more popular Kono was due to his moderate liberalness, demonstrating stability over change. This was more preferred by faction leaders in LDP.
In defense and foreign affairs, the continuity is boldly shown as despite appointing entirely new ministers in his cabinet, the only two ministers retained by Kishida are Foreign Minister Motegi and Defense Minister Kishi. By this, it sent the narrative to the international community that there will not be significant turbulence caused by the changing leadership on Japan’s side.
As a background context on Indonesia, Fumio Kishida was the foreign minister from the Japanese side behind the 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting with Indonesia in 2015. Indonesia is the only country Japan has such a high-level security framework within Southeast Asia. This framework has led Japan and Indonesia to have a second edition of the 2+2 meeting in 2021, resulting in many practical cooperation deals in defense and security.
The other setting supporting Kishida’s policy continuity, especially in the context with Indonesia is that his foreign minister’s counterpart, Retno Marsudi, was still in charge from the last time Kishida left the foreign minister post in 2017, until today. Initiating the 2+2 framework together, it will be easier for Kishida to resume his relationship with both President Jokowi and Foreign Minister Retno in advancing its strategic cooperation with Indonesia, especially in the defense and security area.
The prospect of continuity is also reflected in Kishida’s commitment to continue the geostrategy relay of both his predecessors, Shinzo Abe and Suga Yoshihide, in achieving the FOIP vision.
Not only that Indonesia is having a similar vision of maritime prosperity and values with Japan, but Indonesia is also concerned with South China Sea dynamics as it started to threaten Indonesia’s remote islands, especially Natuna Islands. As this is a crucial cooperation opportunity, Kishida needs to continue assisting Indonesia to improve the security and prosperity of its remote islands. Thus, as Kishida also admitted that Indonesia is a major country in ASEAN, having favorable relations with Indonesia is important for Japan’s geostrategy.
To capitalize on the potentials with Indonesia, Kishida needs to support Indonesia’s strategic independence as well as to make the best of his position as one of the United States’ allies in Asia.
Despite his tougher stance on China and Taiwan issues, Kishida cannot fully project Japan’s rivalry with China to Indonesia. In addition to its strategic independence, Indonesia has and needs strong strategic relations with China to support many of the vital development projects surrounding Indonesia. This cannot be touched.
Also, Japan needs to bridge Indonesia, as well as other like-minded Southeast Asian countries, with the Quad and AUKUS proponents. Indonesia is formally stated that it is concerned about the ownership of nuclear-powered weapons by its neighboring countries. On the other side, Japan supported AUKUS and is a close ally of the U.S. Kishida’s ability to grab this opportunity will solidify Japan’s credibility and position among Southeast Asians.
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