In the phase immediately after the end of the 23rd Winter Olympics in PyeongChang – a site located in South Korea -North Korea’s new global strategy is much more innovative than we can imagine.
In fact only the naivest analysts, who are almost always Westerners, were surprised at Kim Jong-Un’s “opening” for the Winter Games organized in South Korea, which is allied with the United States.
Indeed, the framework of North Korea’s new international relations is rapidly changing, after the presence of Kim Jong-Un’s sister, namely Kim Yo-Jong, at the opening ceremony of the Winter Games and the large North Korean delegation including as many as 550 athletes, cheerleaders, etc.
North Korea has a significant presence in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea – and this will increase in the future – in addition to the well-known good relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan.
In the future, North Korea will operate in Latin America and Southeast Asia, independently of China but without hampering China’s interests or, in the near future, Russia’s.
The first aspect to analyse in the new distribution of strategic potentials around North Korea is the traditional one represented by Japan.
In the latest documents released by North Korea, the first consideration is addressed to the Japanese Prime Minister,Shinzo Abe, and his Foreign Minister, Kono, who warned the various countries against North Korea when they visited Europe and North America, as well as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, against the dangerous “war designs” of the North Korean regime.
Firstly, there is historical and ethnic tension between the two countries.
It is worth recalling that,after the cease-fire between North and South Korea signed on July 27, 1953 (in fact, it was not a real armistice according to current international standards), there were almost one million Koreans who remained in the Japanese archipelago.
It is also worth recalling that the Korean general negotiated also on behalf of the Chinese, who had participated in the conflict against US and Southern forces in large numbers.
Many of these Koreans living in Japan returned to South Korea, but all the “Zainiki Koreans” suffered marginalization, the loss of Japanese citizenship and harsh exclusion from the labour market.
However, the Koreans who remained in the Land of the Rising Sun and recognized themselves in the new North Korea, created an association, namely the Chongryon, while another association was established, namely the Mindan, that defended the Koreans close to South Korea.
Today, there is ongoing tension between right-wing groups and the Chongryon association, which has long been serving as North Korea’s de facto diplomatic mission to Japan.
Furthermore, also recently, North Korea has repeatedly accused the Japanese government of plotting to eliminate some of Chongryon‘s leaders.
Indeed, this is the core of the issue: the bilateral issue between North Korea and Japan is also an ethno-national issue – a factor that must never be forgotten in North Korea’s current foreign policy.
The protection of the Korean tradition and ethnicity is a prerequisite for the North Korean regime.
Finally, in recent years, the North Korean nuclear issue has come to the fore – a phase in which, from 2007 onwards, Japan has declared itself to be unwilling to supply oil to North Korea because of the age-old issue of “abductions” of Japanese citizens of Korean ethnicity.
And that supply was connected to the Six Party Talks.
Furthermore, in 2009, the already difficult bilateral relations between Japan and North Korea further exacerbated, especially after North Korea’s launch of a space satellite – an action that caused the further extension of Japan’s very harsh economic sanctions against North Korea, as well as the closure to all North Korean exports.
Hence – as number one enemy of North Korea and possible primary US support for a military reaction against its nuclear bases – Japan is seen by North Korea as the number two strategic and military enemy, after the United States, for North Korea’s political and economic survival.
On the other hand, without the United States, the Japanese “Self-Defence Forces” would be useless against a North Korean attack.
For the current strategic juncture against Japan, North Korea wants to emphasize- above all – the current completeness and comprehensiveness of its nuclear weapons and the clear desire to “threaten the US allies”.
Hence, if Japan hits North Korea, the military reaction will be very tough and with a “salvo of nuclear missiles”.
Japan has also a new bilateral military treaty with the United States, just what Prime Minister Abe tried to further strengthen during his visit to Washington in November 2017.
Hence, between the Land of the Rising Sun and the two Koreas, there is again the same strategic, ethnic and cultural conflict that characterized the Japanese invasion of Korea to build the “Co-prosperity Sphere” from 1910 onwards.
In history and geopolitics nothing is created and nothing is destroyed.
Japan has also proposed a new trilateral military alliance with South Korea and the United States. It also wants to buy the US anti-missile system known as THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence) and strengthen its Self-Defence Force.
However, currently the network of InterContinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) leaves Canada and even the European Union without credible defences.
Currently there is no possible rational strategy against North Korean nuclear weapons: hence, – if we accept the policy line of the future necessary military clash – as President Trump hinted – the whole North Korean peninsula will be destabilized and, in all likelihood, China and the Russian Federation may decide to support North Korea.
In spite of everything. Rather than bordering on a country full with US military bases – a South Korea extended also to the current North Korea -Russia would act according to the model of its current operations in Syria.
China would do the same, despite the fact that there has always been bad blood between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-Un.
Conversely, if Japan deployed its hypothetical future ICBMs – autonomous from the United States – there would be substantial equivalence of set-ups, which would be taken very seriously in North Korea.
In particular, North Korea does not want the nuclear and conventional coupling between the United States, Japan and South Korea.
Alternatively, North Korea can only accept a policy of economic, political and military normalization between the United States, which should officially recognize the North Korean regime, and the other two Asian countries, which should accept the North Korean status quo and rebuild a “normal” political and economic network around Democratic Korea.
Currently, however, the United States thinks that North Korea’s global strategy, even after the Winter Games, is to immediately subjugate South Korea, as well as fully expel the US forces at first from the Korean region and later from Japan, and finally directly threaten the US territory.
In fact some analysts, mainly in Canada and the United States, even think of being able to reactivate the conventional war between the two Koreas, so as to eliminate the North Korean nuclear potential.
Would South Korea agree on it? And would Japan accept it? I seriously doubt.
It is not clear what the logical and strategic connection between the conventional war from South to North Korea and the removal of North Korean missiles is, but this is the current level of US strategic thinking.
Do the experts of US think tanks possibly believe that North Korea would easily be defeated in a conventional conflict, or that, if nuclear weapons were used by South Korea, it would not be able to inflict unbearable damage on the United States and South Korea?
What if the United States and the axis between South Korea and Japan would finally lose the war? It is a possibility not to be ruled out.
Or if North Korea decided to create such a missile escalation as to destroy – in different phases – the Japanese self-defence forces and the North American bases in the Pacific?
It is not the case. North Korea exerts its pressure with nuclear weapons to be recognized internationally and avoid American pressure in its vicinity.
This is the strategic factor from which to start.
Moreover, North Korea uses its nuclear network to rebuild its economy, which, however, is growing and now combines the private sector with the State one.
Hence it is no mere coincidence that Jo Yong Sam, the Director General of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, has recently underlined that there will be no possible contact between the North Korean and the US delegations to the Winter Olympics.
North Korea wants to reassure South Korea, not others.
Another aspect to note is that North Korea wants negotiations – essentially on an equal footing – between its government and the US one and the warning about the Olympics has exactly this meaning.
North Korea will never be satisfied with back-room dealings, intermediaries or rhapsodic contacts.
It wants the full, official and multilateral opening of negotiations.
In fact, it is worth reiterating that the friendship between the two Koreas, shown during the 23rd Olympics, has nothing to do with the future possible negotiations between North Korea and the United States.
Furthermore, the 2018 North American Nuclear Posture Review speaks of the North Korean “provocative quest” for nuclear weapons and missile systems, while the United States also thinks that in “a few months” North Korea will achieve an effective nuclear strike capacity on the US territory.
Again according to this year’s North American Nuclear Posture Review, North Korea shows “extremely dangerous rhetoric and activities” – hence the US political and military leadership wants a “full, complete, verifiable and irreversible” elimination of the North Korean nuclear program, which is regarded by the United States as the number one threat to international peace.
How can it be eliminated?
I believe that the United States erroneously thinks that the North Korean doctrine is that of the first use of nuclear weapons to support conventional operations.
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review also believes that North Korea can begin to carry out autonomous major provocations, including precision attacks and missile launches against Japan.
This is not the case. In fact this has never happened, apart from the launches of ICBMs artfully fired into the sea before hitting targets in Japan or in Guam.
If anything, North Korea’s nuclear weapons will be used in possible joint actions on Japan and, above all, on the US territory – but if and only if there is an invasion from the South with the US support.
In that case, North Korea’s nuclear missile operations will certainly be a deterrent, but also fully operational and targeted directly against the US bases in Guam and Japan.
While Japan will be put in a position – with ICBM counterforce actions – not to respond or to scarcely react.
Decoupling between the United States, South Korea and Japan, as well as decoupling between the North Korean peninsula and nearby areas.
Nor is it possible to think of an effective US red nose strategy against North Korea’s nuclear positions.
In other words, and only for the United States, the issue would lie in hitting only some North Korean ICBM and nuclear positions to point to a possible escalation if the situation worsens or, possibly – although this is not clear yet -to generate a “slowdown” of the nuclear and missile programs in North Korea.
A slowdown that has no strategic significance for North Korea.
This is another serious geopolitical mistake: North Korea is in no hurry to use its conventional ABC arsenal, while the US red nose strategy could trigger North Korea’s reaction against the US regional allies, which would be effectively deterred from intervening in a future clash on the Korean peninsula.
Hence, according to the statements of the 2018 North American Nuclear Posture Review, the strategy of imposing “unsustainable costs” on the North Korean regime can have a dual effect, thus creating such waves of strong distaste for the United States in Japan and South Korea as to inhibit the US future reactions.
For North Korea this strategic policy line only means that President Trump wants a limited nuclear war with it.
But can it only be limited and not damage South Korea?
If, as is said, the US nuclear weapons are high-precision ones, they will probably limit the North Korean response. On the contrary, if the confrontation – also at a purely conventional level -involves South Korea, it will experience such an internal opposition and a political and military crisis as to endanger its very existence.
Does the United States want this?
Obviously North Korea also claims that its nuclear system has been designed to protect the country for “over a hundred years”, but are we sure that the US intelligence services really know where to hit or analytically know the geography of hidden and underground sites? I seriously doubt it.
Perhaps, the United States can further strengthen economic sanctions – the harshest ones so far – against North Korea, as was indeed announced by President Trump on January 24 last.
The sanctions do not cause much damage to North Korea.
In principle, it manages to avoid its effects by using ships of friendly or third countries, from Africa, the Caribbean, and Hong Kong, for its trade.
Ships that often change their names.
However, as President Trumps says, if sanctions have no effect, we will “move on to a second phase”.
It could be the already seen, but disastrous red nose effect -a childish resource that could only aggravate the situation.
Or the United States could think of a conventional operation from the South, by putting in the middle – as possible blackmail for the North – just the territory of South Korea. An ally, or am I wrong?
Hence, a clear improvement of reactions between the two Koreas is necessary for North Koreans, against the possibility of an exacerbation of the real or foreseen US operations against North Korea.
This is the sense of Kim Jong Un’s behaviour before and during the 23rd Winter Olympics.
However, there would be a further clear and simple solution: to resume the negotiations of the Six Party Talks, perhaps with a new composition of Western countries, and open negotiations between the United States and North Korea for mutual diplomatic recognition, as well as start a negotiation also for reducing conventional forces in both Koreas and wait (since it will come) for a statement in this regard by Kim Jong Un.
In fact, any nuclear war scenario would be self-destructive and ineffective.
Time to play the Taiwan card
At a time when the dragon is breathing fire, India must explore alternative tactics, perhaps establishment of formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan can be a landmark step
The standoff on the Ladakh border between the Indian Army and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) continues amid failing talks and casus belli measures being unleashed by the Chinese regime. While the union government and the armed forces make it clear that they will do whatever it takes to protect India’s sovereignty and integrity, precious little has been done on the foreign policy front. While India and its democratic allies which comprise the Quad security grouping declare their intent to form the ‘Asian NATO’, the Quad continues to suffer from indecisiveness which was pretty much evident when the Quad did not even issue a joint statement to condemn China at the foreign ministers meeting held last year, only America publicly called out China.
In such a situation, it is imperative that India explore alternate diplomatic and militaristic routes to tame the dragon.
Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan after recognizing should be vigorously pursuing by South Block. Indo-Taiwan ties date back to the early 1950s when Chiang Kai Shek, the ex Chinese president and former head of state fled to the island of Formosa following the victory of Mao Zedong in the long drawn out Chinese civil war called on Nehru to establish and further ties with Formosa, however Nehru believing that Chiang was nothing but a “peanut” decided to ignore his call, choosing instead to concentrate on building ties with People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Seven decades on, plethora of changes has taken place on the foreign affairs front, while both China and India have developed considerably both militarily and economically the dragon has surpassed elephant to become an economic powerhouse in its own might. It has now embraced aggressiveness to enforce its 5th century vision of the ‘Middle Kingdom’. In such a situation providing legitimacy to the existence of Taiwan is a necessary first step.
Paradigm shift in policy
Establishing formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan will bring about a paradigm shift vis-à-vis India’s foreign policy. It will enforce the idea that liberal democracy is the last word in the battle of ideologies as Francis Fukuyama had visualized in his landmark book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ and that there is no alternative to human rights and liberties, not even the Chinese model of ‘authoritarian development’. It will be the boldest step that any global leader has taken, not even the mighty US which has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan has taken this step.
Recognizing Taiwan will entail a lot of benefits for the mandarins of India’s foreign policy regime- firstly, Taiwan is a robust democracy with a booming economy, it will prove to be an alternative to China albeit in a relatively less proportion, secondly, India can bolster the legitimacy as the leader of the democratic world at a time when the democratic institutions in the US-often regarded as the cradle of democracy has been undermined.
Thirdly, India can get the support of another powerful ally in its attempt to carve out a new supply chain alliance which India-Japan-Australia formalized recently. Fourthly, recognizing Taiwan will make it clear to China that India means some serious business and if the need arises then India will not back down from sending dedicated naval and air assets in the disputed South China Sea region to enforce freedom of navigation principle in the resource rich region. Lastly, the Quad security grouping will be institutionalized which in the near future can even be extended to include new members, it will be the first time that India will be a part of any dedicated military and economic alliance which will deter the aggression of the Chinese war machine in the strategic Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific Region.
However the recognition may invite severe ramifications for India. China will be infuriated and can choose to ratchet up tensions with India. India must be extremely careful while dealing with China as China is our second largest bilateral trade partner and a key export partner of India with regard to raw materials and goods. According to a FICCI report, India imports more than 40% of several important goods like the API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients), television, chemicals, chips, textiles and many more.
The dragon will as a possible retaliatory measure can activate its propaganda machinery to wage psychological warfare with India. It can also activate its terror financing networks which for years remained a chronic internal security for India in the northeast of the country. China will also collaborate with its ‘iron brother’ Pakistan to try and deter India by intensifying terrorism in the Kashmir valley and elsewhere. Further, China can use its potent disinformation empire to try and peddle fake news about the credibility of India’s indigenous vaccines at a time when the light at the end of the tunnel of a pandemic stricken world has appeared.
Keeping all the dangers in mind, the Modi government must keep national interests in mind. Despite all the risks, it must work with all the like- minded countries to take own the mighty dragon responsible for unleashing a deadly virus which has wrecked havoc on humanity. For the sake of the free world, India must take the hard step which will reinforce India’s position in cementing its place as the leader of the free world.
Pro-Communism warping Hong Kong
The latest turmoil in the Covid-ridden strata of mainland China is not servile to any pandemic, however, the issue has been one of the most queer and rare kinds, enough to be classified as one of the endemic issues in the global affairs. The tension at helm is the chaos following the announcement of a “New Security Law” by the Chinese regime which is being eyed as one of the monumental events of this decade; slicing off a sliver of attention from the deadly Corona virus that continues to exponentiate around the world in its second wave and sporadic variants.
The law that set out by the Chinese lawmakers back on 22nd May 2020, threatens the liberties of subversion and sedition enjoyed by the citizens of Hong Kong under a constitution. Simplistically named “Basic Law”, it aims to tame the country scaffolded by the “One country, Two systems” framework since the power handover by the former colony to China back in 1997. This act came around amidst strained economic relations between the two superpowers of the world; China and USA, each passing the baton in the blame game of who sustains the blood-crown of the catastrophe impending on the world courtesy of the lethal virus that engulfs every periphery in each continent on the globe. The matters seem complex at sight and a glimpse to the historical timeline of how riddled the relations were could hint at how strained they could reach.
The colony, known as ‘Hong Kong’ today, had been the battle ground, figuratively, to the major competitors of the 20th century: The Great Britain and China. The British dominated the colony for more than 150 years, tracing back to the late 19th century; leasing the territory for the span to morph it into the modernised metropolis marking it as the hub we know today. In 1997, an agreement was reached via an accord, ‘The Sino-British Joint Declaration‘ between the two sides. The treaty allowed Hong Kong a semi-autonomous status, that is, relaying self-sufficiency in all the national domains except in defence and foreign affairs. The allotted autonomy arches under the sovereignty of China until year 2047, henceforward melding into the mainland China as harkened by the Chinese hegemony over decades.
Despite of the granted protection of Hong Kong’s own legislation, borders and freedom of speech, the liberties have been trampled on by the Chinese government over the last couple of decades. A similar law abolishing the right to sedition was initiated in 2003 yet mass protests calling out up and about 50,000 citizens impeded the efforts that went futile and drastically ended up being shunned for good. The Communist party under the wings of Chinese president Xi Jinping have expounded further in tightening their talons on the city since 2012 as efforts were made to corrode the educational system of the country via meddling with the curriculum, biasing the foundation to hail Chinese communism. These acts were proactive reactions to the advances of the United States forging relations with the city. China even tried to manipulate the elections in 2014, tampering with the selection their Chief Executive leading to a 3-month long protest known as the ‘Umbrella movement’ and ultimate downfall of Hong Kong’s autonomous political system.
The security law falls in tandem to the events of 2019; the legislation allowing the convicts from Hong Kong to be extradited in China causing a rave of fear of a massive tactical crackdown of the Anti-communist activists of Hong Kong, sighting it just as ruse to underwhelm the right of sedition of the people of Hong Kong. The Law passed by the parliament notions to only one thing; The ultimate end to Hong Kong. The lawmakers in China, hailing from the National People’s Congress (NPC), sight this move as extricating a threat to the national security and stability of the country while many of the pro-activists in Hong Kong deem the law as betrayal, accusing China of walking back on its promise of high-degree autonomy and freedom of speech, marking it as the final straw, the last struggle before the country could override the laws in the city and indirectly, transition from the entity holding the right to veto the laws to now gripping the law altogether.
Despite of the speculated protests to spark like the history dictates, many of the sage minds predict either a relatively dormant demonstrations or none at all, having a tint of finality in the statement shote the protests are “high stake in risk and repression”. The recent arrest of the leading activists of Hong Kong standing up to voice their disdain to the separatist efforts of China further solidify the notion. Despite of a global condemnation to the new law, the efforts of China resume to subdue any opposition in Honk Kong no matter how sparse. Foreseeing no way out for Hong Kong this time; the Covid-19 paralysis the United States in its own crisis and the legislature inclining towards the Chinese pressure, a complete erasure of Hong Kong is sighted and could not be restrained- for better or for worse.
The Belligerent Chinese Diplomacy and Its Failure
The Chinese media has recently reported of Xi Jinping writing a letter to George Schultz the former chairman of Starbucks, the US coffee giant. In the letter, he has requested Schultz to play a positive role in advancing the US-China relations. While head of a major state writing letter to big corporate heads is not a common but not an unusual development either, this letter from Jinping should be seen in a relevant context. It indicates a certain amount of desperation and difficulty of China in its dealings with the US.
It suggests that after months of aggressive posturing and verbal duels against Trump, the State Department and Pentagon, China is now cosying up to the new Joe Biden administration. Further, it also means the recent Chinese aggressive posturing, wolf diplomacy has failed to bring in the desired results and that the Xi Jinping-led CCP is under more pressure now to soft-pedal the recent acrimonious ties between the two.
The year 2020 had been a very disappointing and calamitous year for the world. And Corona pandemic could well be cited as the most important reason. While the world as a whole has struggled to fight this unknown enemy individually as well as collectively, one country that has been in the limelight, for all the wrong reasons, been China.
Foreign policy and diplomacy is all about protecting and promoting the perceived national interests of a country. While achieving its objectives, the country tries to create and maintain a favourable image in the international community. The Chinese diplomatic endeavour since the ascension of Xi Jinping has been starkly opposite. From the most likely origin of Corona virus, to rebuking leaders, diplomats and media of other countries, China has been trying to create a new diplomatic norm, a new normal where none of the countries would dare criticising China, through political discourse, media or any other way while silently acceding to its territorial expansionary designs.
There have been unusually vitriolic reactions by Chinese diplomats against seemingly innocuous comments or actions by governments, politicians, diplomats or media in various countries. A very rational request by the Australian government to initiate investigations by the international community into the genesis of Corona virus, made China so furious that apart from making crude undiplomatic comments, it even created a virtual political, diplomatic and trade war against the country. Critical comment by certain politicians in Brazil and Japan, led Chinese diplomats to publicly issue personalised attacks against them.
The Chinese ambassador to Sweden has went on to lambast the country’s media in most rustic manner. No wonder, in the last two years, he has been summoned to the Swedish foreign ministry an unprecedented 40 times and there have been demands from native politicians for his expulsion. In India, a country that is being seen as the closest political and military rival by China but is scared of admitting it publicly, the diplomats have kept on reminding the government and media not to play the so-called Tibet card or must adhere to One-China policy by not getting close to Taiwan, have repeatedly been ignored by the government as well as the media.
No wonder, a recent Pew Research study has revealed that globally China has lost a huge amount of goodwill. A significantly very high majority of natives in nine of the advanced economies like the US, UK, Germany, Australia, South Korea, Sweden, Netherlands think negatively of China. Australia (81%), UK (74%), Sweden (85%), Netherlands (73%) show a very high increase in the negative perception against China, very recently and that has affected their politico-commercial relations too.
With the US, the Trump administration acting aggressively in the backdrop of the November Presidential elections, the Chinese actions of challenging the lone superpower has not helped the country anyway. On the contrary, US has become more supportive of Taiwan, politically as well as militarily, making it even more difficult or virtually impossible to China to even think of occupying the territory forcibly in near future. India that had maintained a cautious approach towards Taiwan till recently, have started enhancing political and commercial relations with the country.
In Asia, its aggressive military designs against India’s northern borders has had a very rude awakening for China. Used to a timid Indian approach since 1950s under Nehru, it never expected the aggressive Indian response that even put its own military positions in Moldo and other strategic positions vulnerable. To further undermine political and military calculations, its adversaries in South China seas like Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines today are in advance negotiations with India to secure sophisticated missiles and armaments.
A very significant strategic development in the form of QUAD has taken the preliminary shape and that whenever gets in a concrete form, could well portend an ominous future for China, politically and militarily. The belligerent Chinese behaviour, especially since the onset of Corona virus has brought India, Australia, the US and Japan very close. With talks of Vietnam, Philippines and others in south-east Asia joining it later, the future of a QUAD could well be a security nightmare for China.
In the economic realm, India has reacted sharply too. Being a huge market for Chinese cheap goods and scores of apps till recently, India has not only banished hundreds of apps but has also been working on a mechanism to regulate, control and even stop imports in a number of segments from China. A big share of enormous infrastructural contracts in telecommunications, roads, ports, airports and railways in India too, have become difficult for Chinese companies. And taking a leaf out of India, the US and other countries too, are making it difficult for Chinese organisations to secure big contracts in their respective countries.
Over the next few years, China is going to lose a huge chunk of its popular and big market in India while territorially too, it has failed to make any significant gains. Strategically what China wished to see was countries like Japan, India, Australia, Vietnam, US all having disputes with it dealing individually rather than getting together and forming a coordinated and collective political, economic and strategic response against it. And the very opposite has happened. There have been greater and collective political, military and economic coordination amongst all these countries today and most of the strategies are aimed against one country, China.
All these developments including Xi’s letter to Schultz, indicate one point very certainly that Chinese belligerence has backfired hugely. It needs to reorient its diplomacy and political behaviour significantly and if it fails to do so, its position in the emerging post-Covid geopolitical order could be anything but that of an emerging superpower.
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