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Peace talks restart in Geneva over Syria: Will they do any good?

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap]ix years ago, USA successfully instigated a civil war in Syria by using its opposition in order to remove President Assad from power and now with Russia supporting the Assad regime, escalation has reached the zenith. They now seek de-escalation of crisis in Syria without any sincere intention even as there is no possibility for Assad to step down or removed in any way.

In fact, USA did not want to remove or kill Assad as it had done with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It only wanted to destabilize entire Arab world one by one. While President Saddam Hussein was a threat to US imperialism and its efforts to control Arab oil, Libyan leader President M. Qaddafi challenged US power, Syrian leader Assad was never such a threat to US power and control mechanism. That is the prime reason why Pentagon-CIA duo has left Assad alive. After all, he is only helping with the execution of US agenda of destabilization of Mideast.

That is the reason why all the peace efforts by UN have failed.

The United Nations has now convened a new round of indirect Syrian peace talks in Geneva, despite President Bashar al-Assad dismissing them as irrelevant. De Mistura met the government’s chief representative, Bashar al-Jaafari, at UN headquarters on Tuesday morning as the sixth round of talks got under way.

The UN envoy said he would see Nasr al-Hariri and Mohammad Sabra of the main umbrella group representing political and armed opposition factions, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC). De Mistura told reporters the intention was to be “more businesslike, both in our meetings and in the way we hope we can get some progress”. The rooms would be small, the meetings would be more interactive and frequent, and discussions would be focused on particular subjects in an effort to achieve “more movement”, he said.

De Mistura told played down last week’s dismissive comments by Syria’s president, who said the Geneva talks were “merely a meeting for the media” and praised the parallel process taking place in Kazakhstan’s capital that has been organised by the government’s allies Russia and Iran, along with key opposition backer Turkey.

As the civilian death toll has mounted over the past six years, President Bashar Assad has rejected all allegations of atrocities as “devoid of logic” because “the Syrian Army is made up of Syrian people.” When confronted with overwhelming evidence of systematic violations of the laws of war, he has stuck to this line, insisting: “We don’t kill civilians, because we don’t have the moral incentive, we don’t have the interest to kill civilians.” Why don’t the Pentagon forces bomb the Assad palace and end the bloodshed? Apparently, without permission of Moscow, Washington simply cannot even think of doing that. Also, the great internationalization of Syria’s conflict and the fact that its rebels seek to topple the government work in Assad’s favor.

Syria is a strong state with well-organized military fighting territory-holding rebels who have significant popular support. The scale of civilian death and the pattern of violations constitute human horrors of rights: custodial torture and extrajudicial killings of suspected regime opponents, attacks on civilian targets including hospitals and aid conveys, and the use of prohibited weapons. And in both cases international audiences raised the alarm about mass atrocities.

Assad has said “nothing substantial” will come out of the talks. But UN envoy Staffan de Mistura insists that the government’s 18-strong delegation is in Switzerland “to work”. Five previous rounds of negotiations have made little progress towards a political solution to the six-year civil war, which has left more than 300,000 people dead.

The Astana process resulted in the three powers signing a memorandum on 4 May establishing four “de-escalation” zones in the north-western province of Idlib, north of the central city of Homs, the Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus, and in the southern provinces of Deraa and Quneitra. “We are working in tandem, in a way,” de Mistura said. “Everybody’s been telling us and we agree that any type of reduction of violence, in this case de-escalation, cannot be sustained unless there is a political horizon in one direction or the other. That is exactly what we are pushing for,” he added.

The government and opposition have agreed to discuss four “baskets” – a political transition, new constitution, elections and combating terrorism.

Meanwhile, officials from the Syrian government denied accusations that a prison crematorium was being used to hide mass killings of political prisoners. The Syrian foreign ministry said the accusations – made by the US state department – were “a new Hollywood story” and “totally baseless”. An anonymous source quoted in the statement accused the US government of making the allegations up to justify US aggression in Syria.

Residents of a Damascus suburb are working to bring a sense of normality back to their lives after six years of war. When the rebel groups seized Eastern Ghouta in 2012, the Assad government responded by cutting basic services like power and water and also laying a military siege to the area, making life of people miserable. .UN has not made any speedy arrangements to mitigate the sufferings of such stranded populations.

Over time, residents have worked to provide the kind of basic functions that many urban communities take for granted. But their efforts are often hampered by the brutal and prolonged conflict that touches every aspect of life. “Our reality is being intentionally isolated from the rest of the world,” Abou Ramez, one of the pioneers of civil projects there told the BBC.

An elected “municipal council” for all opposition-held areas in the Damascus countryside was also formed, as well as an umbrella organisation representing over a hundred medical, relief, educational and other civil institutions..

Local councils were initially formed to provide relief work and basic municipal services, such as water and waste management. “We used cow manure to generate energy for generators to irrigate land,” Ramez says. Power is also generated from waste products, and heating oil extracted by melting plastic. Over time the councils’ role expanded to providing education and counseling centres. Projects are funded by external donors. Ramez, says that councils try to remain neutral towards militant groups, but they also recognize the opposition “interim government”, formed in 2013 and based in Turkey.

Today, Syria tops the list of deadliest countries for journalists, in large part due to regime attacks on the domestic press. Humanitarian aid delivery has been restricted since the conflict began. In Syria, these measures cut off nearly all sources of independent information.

In 2016, Assad disputed the existence of the Aleppo siege, arguing that if it were true, “people would have been dead by now.” (One estimate suggests that more than 30,000 people died in Aleppo between 2012 and 2016.) The regime has disputed the authenticity of photo and video evidence of chemical weapons attacks, barrel bombs, torture, and extrajudicial killings. Assad’s farcical suggestion last month that the dead children in the videos from Idlib were mere acting children. Syria disputed the attribution of all war crimes it can’t deny, and portrayed its opponent as the only blameworthy actor. Early in the conflict, Assad told international media that “Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government.” In 2013, he rejected responsibility for the sarin gas attack in Ghouta, insisting “We’re not there.” Finally, the Syrian government has accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields, and excused its targeting of hospitals and schools on the grounds that “terrorists” are using them as bases and weapons storage.

Obfuscation and denial can be enough to exploit this inertia and prevent intervention, especially when big powers like USA and Russia shield them. Syrian reality shows that even an international pariah can get away with mass murder.

The Syrian government does not recognize the councils and characterizes organised activity within rebel areas as the work of armed militia or “terrorist” groups. “It is exactly this kind of civil body that constitutes the biggest threat for the regime,” says Majd al-Dik, whose team works on opening support centres for children. It has also worked to put Eastern Ghouta’s large agricultural areas to use, by supporting local farmers to provide food for residents.

However, Syrian forces seized the farmland just one week before the harvest in 2016. “Turning people from service providers into dependents – this is the goal behind targeting civilians,” al-Dik told the BBC. Over 42 councils have been formed in the area since 2013, and members have been elected through democratic means since 2015.

Recurring internal fighting between rebel groups has also added to the obstacles facing civil work in Eastern Ghouta. When infighting first broke out in 2016, residents, activists and notable civil society figures staged demonstrations and sit-ins against the violence. Civil society figures also mediated between the disputing sides.

And in late April 2017 – exactly a year later – clashes broke out once again and several civilians were injured as they protested. Al-Dik says that movement around the area is severely restricted due to rebel snipers and checkpoints.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army and its allies have been advancing in the nearby strategic suburb of Qaboun, further tightening the siege and increasing the possibility of bombardment on the area.

Around two million people lived in Eastern Ghouta before the war began in 2011. Today there are just around 400,000. As well as the threat of violence, residents also face the fear of forced evacuation as the conflict turns in the government’s favour.

In recent months, thousands of people in rebel-held towns have left their homes as part of deals between the government and armed groups. “To evacuate the area is to destroy the civil body that has been established,” Majd al-Dik says. “It’s a catastrophe”.

The Syrian government maintains that evacuations are not being forced on civilians. Looking ahead to post-war Syria, Majd al-Dik says: “People ask about alternatives. But no-one talks about the local councils or civil institutions. Who is providing services in such areas now in the worst possible conditions?” Ramez says that many in Eastern Ghouta will never leave their homes. “Over 200,000 of our residents are capable of carrying weapons. Their united choice is to die and be martyred on this land rather than move to other areas only to be annihilated later on.”

Peace talks between Israel and Palestine have never been successful because Israel doesn’t want to give up the occupation posts and return the lands stolen from Palestinians. As talks have become bogus tools to gain legitimacy for illegal occupation and genocides.

In Syria, none is sincere about peace or stability, including the President Assad who just wants to be the permanent president without facing any elections. Maybe he thinks he has no death..

UN must step in to end hostilities in Syria and genocides and bring back normalcy. Peace task are necessary but without sincerity nothing is going to work. Both USA and Russia are fighting their old cold war in Syria.

The Assad regime’s close relationship with Russia means that it is well-protected. For six years, victims’ advocates, international human rights activists, and horrified onlookers have been asking themselves how high the death toll in Syria has to get before someone will step in. But international action on mass atrocities is the exception rather than the rule. Like Bush and Obama, Assad also should be tried for crimes against humanity.

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Middle East

Israel admits involvement in the killing of an Iranian army officer

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Image credit: MEHR News Agency

Col. Sayad Khodayee, 50, was fatally shot outside his home in Tehran on Sunday when two gunmen on motorcycles approached his car and fired five bullets into it, according to state media. Iran has blamed Israel for the killing, which bore the hallmarks of other Israeli targeted killings of Iranians in a shadow war that has been playing out for years on land, sea, air, and cyberspace.

Although a spokeswoman for the Israeli prime minister declined to comment on the killing. But according to an intelligence official briefed on the communications, Israel has informed American officials that it was behind the killing.

At the funeral in Tehran for a colonel in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, thousands of mourners packed the streets around the cemetery chanting “Death to Israel” and calling for revenge for his killing.

“We will make the enemy regret this and none of the enemy’s evil actions will go unanswered,” Gen. Hossein Salami, the commander in chief of the Revolutionary Guards, said in a speech on Monday. A member of Iran’s National Security Council, Majid Mirahmadi, said the killing was “definitely the work of Israel,” and warned that harsh revenge would follow, according to Iranian media.

The United States has designated the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group unilaterally — a decision that has been a sticking point in the negotiations with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has demanded that the designation be removed as a condition for restoring the deal, but the United States has refused, leaving the negotiations frozen. The Nuclear deal was terminated by President Trump, but President Joe Bidden wanted to resume the deal and is in communication with Iran for restoration. Definitely, Iran had bitter experiences and concerns about the sincerity of Washington. It wanted safeguards and certain guarantees. Iran is willing to such a nuclear deal, which protects the interest of both sides, any unilateral deal may not be accepted by Tehran.

Israel is openly opposed to the nuclear deal. In fact, President Trump, after meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, took the unpopular decision of terminating the deal unilaterally. Some Iranian analysts close to the government said the attack was aimed at derailing the nuclear talks at a delicate point and undermining any possibility that Iran and the United States might reach a consensus over the issue of the Guards.

However, the Israelis told the Americans the killing was meant as a warning to Iran to halt the operations of a covert group within the Quds Force known as Unit 840, according to the intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified information. Whereas, Iran has portrayed the colonel as a martyred hero who joined the Revolutionary Guards as a teenager, volunteered as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war, and went on to play a prominent role in the Quds force fighting the Islamic State terrorist group in Syria. The people of Iran are proud of his contributions.

What so ever is the justification presented by Israel, is a clear violation of international laws and practices. It has violated the UN charter and all norms of the civilized world. It might bear consequences, and Iran’s warning to retaliate is legitimate as a victim has not been provided justice yet. The aggressor needs to be taught a bitter lesson to avoid any future misadventure.

It has created new tension in the region and many speculations are roaming in the middle-east. Iran is a sovereign state and has the legitimate right to protect its safety, security, and vital interests. Iran has the capability to react, but, the visionary leadership in Tehran, might be waiting for an appropriate time, and opportunity. Iran does not want to escalate further and trying to minimize the existing tension, while committed to safeguarding its sovereignty and interests.

As matter of fact, Israel is the root cause of all problems in the Middle East and since its inception is over-engaged creating problems one after another. It is a defaulter of the UN and denied the implementation of several resolutions passed by the UNSC. It strongly urged that the UN and the International community must keep eye on Israeli activities and atrocities that are spoiling the peace and security of the whole region.

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Playing games in NATO, Turkey eyes its role in a new world order

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erdogan

NATO’s spat over Turkish opposition to Swedish and Finnish membership is about more than expanding the North Atlantic military alliance. It’s as much about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s immediate political goals as Turkey’s positioning itself in a new 21st-century world order.

On its surface, the spat is about Turkish efforts to hinder support for Kurdish ethnic, cultural, and national aspirations in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and a crackdown on alleged supporters of a preacher who lives in exile in the United States. Turkey accuses the preacher, Fethullah Gulen, of instigating a failed military coup in 2016.

The spat may also be a play by NATO’s second-largest standing military to regain access to US arms sales, particularly upgrades for Turkey’s aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets as well as more advanced newer models of the F-16 and the top-of-the-line F-35.

Finally, playing the Kurdish card benefits Mr. Erdogan domestically, potentially at a time that the Turkish economy is in the doldrums with a 70 per cent inflation rate.

“Erdogan always benefits politically when he takes on the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK) and groups linked to it, like the YPG in Syria… In fact, attacking the PKK and the YPG is a two-for-one. Erdogan is seen to take on genuine terrorists and separatists, and at the same time, he gets to take a swipe at the United States, which taps into the vast reservoir of anti-Americanism in Turkey,” said Middle East scholar Steven A. Cook.

While important issues in and of themselves, they are also likely to influence where Turkey will rank as the world moves towards a bi-polar or multi-polar power structure.

The battle over perceived Scandinavian, and mainly, Swedish support for Kurdish aspirations involves the degree to which the United States and Europe will continue to kick the can down on the road of what constitutes yet another Middle Eastern powder keg.

Mr. Erdogan announced this week that Turkey would soon launch a new military incursion against US-backed Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria. Mr. Erdogan said the operation would extend the Turkish armed forces’ areas of control in Syria to a 30-kilometer swath of land along the two countries’ shared border.

“The main target of these operations will be areas which are centers of attacks to our country and safe zones,” the Turkish president said.

Turkey asserts that the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian militia that helped defeat the Islamic State, is an extension of the PKK. The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey, home to some 16 million Kurds. Turkey, the United States, and the European Union have designated the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

Mr. Erdogan charges that Sweden and Finland give the PKK sanctuary and is demanding that the two countries extradite the group’s operatives. Turkey has not officially released the names of 33 people it wants to see extradited, but some were reported in Turkish media close to the government.

Swedish media reported that a physician allegedly on the list had died seven years ago and was not known to have had links to the PKK. Another person named was not resident in Sweden, while at least one other is a Swedish national.

Swedish and Finnish officials were in Ankara this week to discuss Turkey’s objections. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson insisted as the officials headed for the Turkish capital that “we do not send money or weapons to terrorist organizations.”

Conveniently, pro-government media reported the day the officials arrived that Turkish forces found Swedish anti-tank weapons in a cave in northern Iraq used by the PKK. Turkey recently launched Operation Claw Lock against PKK positions in the region.

Mr. Erdogan’s military plans complicate Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO. The two Nordic states slapped an arms embargo on Ankara after its initial incursion into Syria in 2019. The Turkish leader has demanded the lifting of the embargo as part of any deal on Swedish and Finnish NATO membership.

A renewed incursion that would cement Turkey’s three-year-old military presence in Syria could also throw a monkey wrench into improving relations with the United States due to Turkish support for Ukraine and efforts to mediate an end to the crisis sparked by the Russian invasion.

Turkey slowed its initial incursion into Syria after then US President Donald J. Trump threatened to “destroy and obliterate” Turkey’s economy.

The State Department warned this week that a renewed incursion would “undermine regional stability.”

Revived US arms sales would go a long way to cement improved relations and downplay the significance of Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile system, even if Turkey’s opposition to Scandinavian membership will have a lingering effect on trust. The United States expelled Turkey from its F-35 program in response to the acquisition.

This week, Mr. Erdogan appeared to widen the dispute in NATO after Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis lobbied the US Congress against military sales to Turkey. “Mitsotakis no longer exists for me. I will never agree to meet him,” Mr. Erdogan said. He said that Mr. Mitostakis’ lobbying violated an agreement between the two men “not to involve third countries in our bilateral issues.”

The US arms sales would also impact Turkish Russian relations, even if Turkey, in contrast to most NATO members, will continue seeking to balance its relationships and avoid an open rift with Moscow or Washington.

“Russia’s geopolitical revisionism is set to drive Turkey and the West relatively closer together in matters geopolitical and strategic, provided that Turkey’s current blockage of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership bid is resolved in the not too distant future,” said Turkey scholar Galip Dalay.

Turkey’s NATO gamble is a game of high-stakes poker, given that Russia is as much a partner of Turkey as it is a threat.

NATO is Turkey’s ultimate shield against Russian civilizationalist expansionism. Russian support in 2008 for irredentist regions of Georgia and annexation of Crimea in 2014 created a buffer between Turkey and Ukraine and complicated arrangements between Turkey and Russia in the Black Sea.

Nevertheless, Mr. Erdogan risks fueling a debate about Turkey’s membership in NATO, much like Prime Minister Victor Orban’s opposition to a European embargo of Russian energy has raised questions about Hungary’s place in the EU.

“Does Erdogan’s Turkey Belong in NATO?” asked former US vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman and Mark D. Wallace, a former senator, in an oped in The Wall Street Journal. Unlike Finland and Sweden, the two men noted that Turkey would not meet NATO’s democracy requirements if it were applying for membership today.

“Turkey is a member of NATO, but under Mr. Erdogan, it no longer subscribes to the values that underpin this great alliance. Article 13 of the NATO charter provides a mechanism for members to withdraw. Perhaps it is time to amend Article 13 to establish a procedure for the expulsion of a member nation,” Messrs. Lieberman and Wallace wrote.

The two men implicitly argued that turning the tables on Turkey would force the complicated NATO member back into line.

Adding to that, prominent Turkish journalist and analyst Cengiz Candar cautioned that “giving into Ankara’s demands amounts to letting an autocrat design the security architecture of Europe and shape the future of the Western system.”

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Middle East

The May 27 Coup: An Attempt to Analyze Politics in Gramscian Terms

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On 27 May in 1960, Turkey witnessed its first full-fledged military coup. The coup was of a non-hierarchical nature in the sense that it was not carried out by generals but by other military officers belonging to lower status such as colonels. What paved the way for the coup can be seen as multi-dimensional. What I will try to do in this piece is not to put forward the reasons why that military intervention occurred or the impact it had upon society and politics in Turkey. My main concern is to analyze Turkish politics in Gramscian terms between the years 1960–1961.

The Democrat Party which was overthrown in 1960 can be viewed as a party which was supported by the masses who are critical of the single-party era. The strict state interpretation of secularism was undermined to some degree during the DP rule and this was welcomed by the masses in Turkey. Moreover, the economic backwardness of the rural areas was undermined to some extent, this development can also be seen as an important source of relief for the masses during that period. However, as Acton states “power corrupts”, the DP in the course of time had adopted some autocratic policies that discomforted the state establishment, most notably the military elites. Moreover, the state establishment thought that the DP had undermined the Kemalist principles especially in terms of challenging the secular character of Turkey.

Apart from political reasons, the structure of the military played a key role in the emergence of the 1960 coup d’état. As known, in 1952, Turkey became a part of the NATO, and this membership made the military personnel become more aware of the economic and technological backwardness of the army. Briefly, it can be said that those years were times of change: the military staff had become much more aware of the armies of other NATO members and as noted above, this paved the way for making them realize how backward they were both in technological and financial terms. On the other hand, there was a significant transformation of the Turkish society as domestic migration to cities was witnessed. Also the victory of the DP rule and then its tendencies towards a more authoritarian line played a central role in destabilizing the country.

What I attempt to do in this piece is to employ three of Gramsci’s terms / conceptualizations in analyzing Turkish politics before and after the 1960’s coup d’état. These concepts are hegemony, organic intellectuals and historical bloc. The term hegemony can simply be defined as the following: A society cannot be ruled through sole coercion and oppression; non-material instruments are needed, such as consent and persuasion, as well. Organic intellectuals can be defined as the intellectuals who are different from conventional intellectuals. Organic intellectuals have a significant role in society, they play a key role in the reproduction of the dominant ideology (hegemonic discourses) and they try to integrate the masses into the dominant ideology.

Historical bloc refers to a particular period of time with a particular type of power configuration shaped both by economic and political factors. The establishment of a historical bloc can be regarded as the end of the ideological dominance of a certain group while being the start of the dominance / ideological hegemony of another group.

First of all, the term ‘hegemony’ can be a good starting point in analyzing Turkish politics just before the military intervention. As noted, societies cannot be ruled by coercion only; there is also a strong need for consent. As known, the policies of the DP after the mid-1950s had begun to have an authoritarian character.

The DP rule chose not to negotiate with the opposing forces in the parliament, by contrast, the DP leaders chose to establish special investigative committees (tahkikat komisyonu) in order to cope with the opposing forces. These committees can be regarded as an instrument of coercion. In addition, freedom of speech had been under threat as the DP rule adopted strict censorship policies. These developments weakened the relative power of consent that was evident in the first years of the DP rule. In other words, it can be stated that, the hegemony of the political elites (the DP) had begun to be questioned right before the coup.

Secondly, the term ‘historical bloc’ can be employed in order to understand what had happened after the coup.As known, the military intervention put an end to the DP rule and party leaders while some other important political figures were sent to trial. Some of them were hanged later on. After the coup, transitional governments were established. These governments can be formulized as follows: Army + Republican People’s Party (RPP) = Political Power. It can be said that, the end of the DP rule can be seen as the end of a certain historical bloc. The historical bloc of the DP rule and its social/electoral basis had collapsed and another historical bloc, that of the RPP and the military came into-being.

Thirdly, a look at the new constitution drafting process will help us while evaluating the role of the ‘organic intellectuals’ in analyzing Turkish politics of that time period. After the coup, the military officers had asked some law professors to make a brand new constitution for Turkey. The nature of the 1961 constitution is not under investigation here, so only the role of the professors will be analyzed. The law professors were of Kemalist ideology and were determined to make a constitution in line with the ideology of the military. It is obvious that the professors played some sort of an organic intellectual role in making the new regime’s ideology dominant in the society. By drafting a new constitution, they aimed at justifying the coup as well as producing the ideology of the new regime. In addition, it can be stated that, the new constitution was seen as a tool for building up the new hegemony after the coup. The new laws paved the way for the diversification of the political arena letting new political actors emerge.

To put it in a nutshell it can be said that the events preceding and following the 1960 coup can be a good case study for applying Gramscian terms/conceptualizations in analyzing Turkish politics.

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