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Rafale: A national tragedy or just plain stupidity?

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In other countries, it would have been a badge of shame for the Government, Bureaucracy, Defense Industry and the citizenry as a whole. In India, it has become an ugly no-holds-barred slugfest like none other. Endless discussions, numerous debates and multitudes of expert opinions have pervaded the national discourse on just one topic these days. Apparently, the topic on which everyone in India and apparently a few abroad, have become an expert is Dassault Rafale. Every moment, new facts, truths, half-truths, and blunt lies are being tossed about in the Print, Television & Social Media and apparently, some so-called experts have started a smear campaign to malign the name of the Prime Minister, labeling him as a chor (thief) and much more. What is the whole issue about? Pick any hundred shouting at the very top of their voices and ask them about the issue. Not one would be able to go beyond the generality and much-used catchphrases like Scam, Ambani-Adani, Modi, France. Most, if not all, detractors of the defense deal have a half-baked understanding of the fighter aircraft in general and would be unable to differentiate between an interceptor and an air-superiority fighter in any literature. Conversely, the supporters of the deal, in their standard fashion, have built walls of ignorance so high that it puts even Mount Everest to shame. While most (though not all) of the questions of the detractors are logical and valid, tagging every detractor as an Urban Naxal while ignoring his line of questioning won’t work. It’s time for the supporters and detractors of the deal to gain a meaningful insight into the entire deal and then form an opinion on the issue.

The entire fiasco has its roots way back in 2001 when the Indian Air force had projected a requirement for 126 (seven squadrons of 18 aircrafts each) aircraft. The strength of the IAF was starting to fall. It has last acquired an aircraft (Mirage-2000) in the 1980s and the acquisition of the Sukhois (-30MKI) was starting to gain steam. The initial requirements were for a 20-ton class fighter aircraft with medium role capability which would fill the multi-role niche between the heavy-hitter Sukhoi Su-30MKI (an air superiority fighter) and the MiG-21/Tejas (a smaller multi-role interdictor). Apparently impressed by the Mirage 2000s bomb lugging capability at high altitudes during the Kargil War, the IAF was keen to acquire the Mirages and had quietly made up its mind to acquire the same until the French Aerospace industry and Rafale, in particular, threw a spanner in their works. However, the French aerospace industry was winding down Mirage 2000 production due to lack of orders and preparing for the manufacture of the Rafale aircraft. Apparently, the French Air Force needed it Rafales faster (point to be noted- the Rafale is the next iteration of the Mirage-2000 fighter and the current mainstay fighter of the French Air Force). The Mirage production line was shutting down and the French could only keep it open if India gave a firm order. But we are Indians, have we ever committed to anything without first bargaining and comparing the hell out of it?

Hence, Requests for Information (RFI) were issued in 2004. In the formative years of the tendering, aircraft in the running were: Mirage 2000-5 Mk.2 (Dassault, France), F-16C/D (Lockheed Martin, USA), MiG-29OVT (Mikoyan, Russia), and JAS 39 Gripen (Saab, Sweden). Preliminary estimates pegged the costs in the neighborhood of INR 55,000 crore (US$8.6 billion), making it India’s single largest defense deal. However, the 20-ton MTOW (maximum take-off weight) limit requirement was later removed and this limit was revised to 24-tons. Given the protracted nature of the tendering and the past governmental acquisition timelines, Dassault replaced the Mirage 2000-5 with the Rafale and the MiG Company placed MiG-35 in instead of the prototype MiG-29OVT. The Eurofighter consortium entered the Typhoon into the competition. Not wanting to be outdone, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet also joined the tendering. Given the vagueness of the clauses, all aircraft, single engine or double and both light and heavy became a part of the fray.

As per one defense analyst, this deal meant that The Indian Air force was comparing every four-wheel vehicle from a Maruti 800 and a tractor when it just needed a jeep.

The Indian government had initially planned to buy the first 18 aircraft directly from the manufacturer. The remaining fighters will be built under license with a transfer of technology (ToT) by HAL. After an intensive and detailed technical evaluation by the IAF, in 2011, the competition has reduced the bidders to two fighters — Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale. On 31 January 2012, it was announced that Dassault Rafale won the competition due to its lower life-cycle cost. The deal has been reported to cost US$28–30 billion in 2014. However, the French refused to provide any guarantees for the 108 aircraft that would be manufactured by HAL. The deal went back to the chopping block and the fleet strength of the IAF continued to deplete at alarming rates. A report commissioned under the erstwhile UPA slammed the HAL’s practices and there were some serious differences between HAL and Dassault on the various fronts.

In light of this, on April 10, 2015, Prime Minister Modi declared: ‘Keeping in mind the critical operational necessity of fighter aircraft in India, I have discussed with the president (of France) the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters in ‘fly-away condition’ at the earliest through an inter-governmental agreement.’ However, the Congress party alleges that the Modi government, in buying 36 Rafales for €7.8 billion ($9.2 billion or Rs 58,000 crore/Rs 50 billion), paid more than what Dassault had quoted in the MMRCA tender but a full breakdown of figures is essential as the total cost of a fighter contract includes — besides the cost of the aircraft — costs related to technology transfer, spare parts, weapons and missiles, added-on equipment and maintenance costs. Moreover, the same aircraft Rafale has also be bought by the Governments of Egypt and Qatar.

A closer look at the costs shows that the contracted price averages out to €91.7 million (Rs 686 crore/Rs 6.86 billion) per Rafale which includes the purchase of 28 single-seat fighters, for €91.07 million (Rs 681 crore/Rs 6.81 billion) each; and eight twin-seat fighters, each priced at €94 million (Rs 703 crore/Rs 7.03 billion). That puts the cost of each of the 36 fighters at €91.7 million (Rs 686 crore) — totaling up to €3.3 billion.

Besides this, the IAF will pay €1.7 billion for ‘India-specific enhancements’, €700 million for weaponry such as Meteor and SCALP missiles, €1.8 billion for spare parts and engines, and €350 million for ‘performance-based logistics’, to ensure that at least 75 percent of the Rafale fleet remains operationally available (our Sukhoi serviceability is an abysmal 50%). We are paying extra for the India specific enhancements that were earlier not the part of the generic aircraft selected via the MMRCA process. Also, while such a direct comparison is not right, prima facie the IAF is paying more or less the same as the EAF and the QAF. The Egyptian air force has paid €5.2 billion for 24 fighters and is reportedly considering buying 12 more, a ‘fully loaded cost’ of €217 million per Rafale. Similarly, the Qatar air force has paid out €6.3 billion for a similar number of aircraft, with a ‘fully loaded cost’ of €262 million per fighter.

The opposition Congress is arguing that by reducing the buy from 126 aircraft for which a sum of (520-700 crores per aircraft, varying in every speech) to just 36 aircraft (700-1600 crores), the present dispensation is causing a scam of epic propositions. There are also serious concerns about the offer being made to Reliance instead of HAL to partner with the deal. While concerns about the apparent lack of Reliance’s experience in making aircraft is genuine, this is no excuse to mock and needlessly criticize a perfectly valid deal. One Congress legislator had even claimed that he would make a better plane than Reliance and mockingly flew a paper plane in the august presence of elected public representatives. Wish making fighter jets was only that simple. However, they seem to forget that Reliance is not going to manufacture any aircraft. It is just a part of an Indian Consortium which will be benefitted by offsets as part of the deal. Why Reliance? Yes, this is a question that needs to be asked and should be answered. The choice was primarily dictated by Dassault’s need to gain a foothold in Indian Markets and tap the rich moolah in the pockets of Indian Industrialists. Given the tie-up between Tata ASL and Lockheed Martin & Pilatus, Honeywell and HAL, Adani and Elbit Systems of Israel and Mahindra taking a heavy plunge in the aviation industry with its acquisition of Gipps Aerospace, Dassault was wary of being caught napping and needed a partner that would be accommodative for them and assertive for others. Reliance Group fit the bill perfectly and while many have been accusing the govt. for crony capitalism, the Dassault-Reliance tie-up is one of survival.

Many have also lamented that private industries are being promoted at the cost of public institutions. Well, only HAL can be blamed for this mess. Not only has HAL chronically underperformed over the years and hamstrung the IAF’s expansion plans (read Sukhoi SU-30MKI) by its ineptitude, it is also overcharging the Indian Tax-payer for basic jets like the domestic Tejas. Recent estimates show that the much-hyped Tejas (named by our former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his regime) is still facing teething troubles even after 2 decades in testing & production and the costs have ballooned exponentially over the years. It is being reported that each Tejas will cost between 460-480 crores per platform which is significantly higher than other fighters for its niche (read JF-17, FC-1) and certainly not making sense in any way. It’s an irony that people accusing the present dispensation of allowing private players to siphon taxpayers’ money are either unaware or simply don’t care that the public sector undertaking is just as expensive (if not more) with the added downside of inefficiency and lethargy. It must also be pointed out that HAL Dhruvs (a light helicopter) manufactured by the PSU have had serious doubts raised about their capability and a South American nation has mothballed all its Dhruvs after a significant no. of them crashed within a short span of time. It is only logical that any foreign manufacturer would be hesitant to partner with HAL. If there is indeed something wrong in this deal, it is the sorry state of affairs at HAL and the government must take immediate steps to resolve it.

On an ending note, defense procurements in India and around the globe have always been shrouded in mist and with good reason. Given the stringent security clauses, unique modifications and country-specific costing, it is near impossible to compare figures across the board, unlike the Big Mac Index. While everyone has the right to an opinion, it should be exercised with caution and should never be misused. The fleet strength of the IAF is rapidly depleting and the Rafales are needed. The opposition is being hypocritical by painting its inability to close a deal in a decade (remember, Saint Antony of the “You can’t be accused of corruption if you do nothing” fame) as a done deal and conveniently forgetting the facts and reports, it had itself prepared. The Government, on the other hand, is doing a poor job by its high on rhetoric and low on facts media reporting. The deal is tough and not easily understandable for all because it is meant to be that way. Having a simple analogy to substitute for this deal is hilarious and plainly, uncalled for. Something must be left to the experts and not brought down to the floor. We are, after all, buying a Mach 2 capable fighter plane, not the bhaziya-tamatar of everyday use. While common sense should prevail on this issue of national importance and the cacophony should subside, it is highly unlikely in the coming days and the slugfest will continue. Meanwhile, the only casualty in this conflict will be the Indian Air Force and its brave pilots, who continue to fly old and unsafe planes for the foreseeable future to come.

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US Air force : Competing with rivals or creating a new weaponry market?

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US President Donald Trump has once again stressed the need for formation of US space force, reasoning that Russia and China are pioneers in the area.

The US Space Force, which is intended to have control over military operations in outer space, would be a new branch of the military by 2020, on par with the army, navy, air force, marines and coast guard.

Trump’s remark proves that Washington’s main objective of the space force is not to lag behind in the competition with its traditional rivals.

This is the first time since the adoption of National Security Bill in 1947 that a new branch of military is added to the US Armed Forces. Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), sometimes referred to informally as US Space Command, will be a major branch of the United States Air Force, with its headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. This command intends to support US military operations worldwide with a variety of satellites and cybercrime operations. Approximately 47,000 people in 88 locations throughout the world will carry out AFSPC operations.

Trump believes that a mere US presence in space is not enough,  that it must dominate it as he does not want to see the dominance of China and other countries in space.

The new space force will have the same power as the other branches of the US Armed Forces, and will monitor space and cyber-attack operations, including satellite management and launches, including launches of ballistic missiles. But unlike NASA, which focuses mainly on space exploration and scientific discovery, the new space force will focus on military aspects and space defense.

Adversaries

The BBC writes that military and non-military operations in space carried out by the US Global Positioning System (GPS) could interfere with each other. Satellite navigation uses GPS, which the US military invented and is used by civilians, too.

“People are unlikely to know that space is now a military environment,” said Alexandra Stickings, research analyst for Space Policy and Security within the Military Sciences team at RUS, explaining that this has been going on for decades.

During the Cold War, the US and Soviet Union weren’t fighting in space but used spy satellites. At that time, Washington had deployed an anti-satellite rocket in the Pacific Ocean, and Moscow developed a weapon that could destroy a satellite in orbit.
According to Secure World Foundation, China, Russia and the US have the technology to destroy satellites. These weapons are missiles thrown directly from earth to a satellite in orbit.

These weapons are known as “same orbit” and are actually satellites launched by rockets from the ground. After the missile is separated, the satellite will target itself to the orbit of the satellite and will either connect to it or collide with it.
In 2007, China launched an anti-satellite rocket to destroy a meteor orbiting 800 kilometers above Earth. The experiment succeeded.

Meanwhile, Washington has claimed that Russia is developing a laser aerial system designed to disrupt US space systems. The Pentagon also claims that Moscow is creating missiles that can be launched from fighter planes to destroy US satellites.

Cecil Eugene Diggs Haney, a retired US Navy admiral who previously served as Commander, United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM), said that the US should study raise funding for space programs and overall preparedness.

Fruitless efforts to demilitarize space

Although the US is pursuing military goals in space, under the pretext that China and Russia are taking military action there, in 2008 Moscow and Beijing proposed a draft international agreement to prevent the deployment of weapons in space. To this day, Washington has made various excuses and has not signed the agreement.

In 2014, Russia presented another draft resolution to prevent the deployment of weapons in space to the UN General Assembly, which once again faced opposition from the US and its allies.

In line with that, Reuters writes that evidence suggests the Trump Administration has defined space as a new battlefield. In his speech in the Pentagon, Mike Pence said: “History proves that peace only comes through strength. And the next generation of Americans to confront the emerging threats in the boundless expanse of space will be wearing the uniform of the United States of America as well.” Trump’s vice president several months ago also said that the US should strengthen its space force in the future as much as its ground forces.

Many people like Pence believe the US will face new threats in space soon. The Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, General David Goldfein, recently delivered a speech at the Air Force’s annual meeting where he said that mankind will eventually face space warfare that must use information from all areas, including air, cyber, land, sea and space, to increase its military strength.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has recently announced that the Pentagon agrees with the plan to form a space force and considers space a new battleground and that it plans to create a combat command. He added that the Pentagon fully understands Trump’s concerns about protecting U.S assets in space, thus the US intends to take this into account because other countries have shown that they can attack these assets.

NASA chief told CBS News in an interview last month: “Our very way of life is dependent on space. If we lose the GPS signals, there are no interbank transfers, and no food in the stores among other things, which is why hostile countries around the world are taking steps to harm US capabilities.”

Some argue that the formation of a space force is time-consuming and requires a huge effort. Some political observers have also warned that a space force could trigger an arms race in outer space. Critics believe that many of the assigned missions are already being carried out by the other branches of the US military, and that a “space force” is unnecessary and too costly.

Former US Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James has claimed that few or no one in the Pentagon wants President Trump’s Space Force. “None of them are in favor of a Space Force, I say none of the top leaders, but they’re stuck.”

She also said that close to 35,000 people are already working in the US Air Force and formation of a new military wing could be disruptive.

Since Democrats in the US Congress also do not support Trump’s plan, formation of a US space force may also face a legal barrier. For example, Senator Brian Emanuel Schatz has called establishment of US Space Force a stupid idea and predicted that it would never be realized.

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has also criticized the plan saying, “Maybe, just maybe, we should make sure our people are not dying because they lack health insurance before we start spending more billions to militarize outer space.”

Farid Karimi writes in Zoomit:  “The United States now has more than 800 satellites in total, but while the US Army will not need any new satellites, it cannot form a space force overnight.  The formation should be approved by the Congress, just as the US Air Force separated from the Army long ago with Congressional approval.

A new weapons market

In addition to the US, Russia, and China, many other states such as India, Iran and Japan have been operating in space and have launched satellites. No doubt they will also try to improve their defenses against their enemies in space. This will ignite a weapons race and a new weapons market.

The US, Russia and China are three of the world’s largest arms manufacturers and the world’s weapons market is in their hands. The formation of a new arms market puts more profits into the pockets of arms manufacturers.  That may be one reason for Trump’s insistence on the development of US space forces.

First published in our partner MNA

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Future of ISR Capabilities in South Asia

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A number of problems faced by the inhabitants of the South Asian region include poverty, food scarcity, natural calamities, and mismanagement of the resources by the governments, corruption and so on and so forth. Cherry on the top is conflicting relationships regional nuclear neighbors leading to huge expenditures on military build-up. Thus, first priority of most of the regional states is to secure themselves from external and internal threats by spending of large sum of budget on military/ arms buildup.

The beginning of 21st century brought the information technology into play which changed the life as we know it. Developed world adopted this change much faster than the developing countries. However, because information technology eliminated the distances and was so cheap that even the developing states could not remain immune to it. Nonetheless, due to technological hurdles the journey is not as smooth as it was for developed countries.

It is a fact that every man-made technology has a flip side; same is the case with information technology. States started using the information technology for military purposes along with civilian purposes which blurs the lines of its use in peace time and war times. Previously information was just considered as integral component of warfare, but in present times information is the warfare.

States are flexing their muscles in technologies that help them to attain real time information on enemy to eliminate the element of surprise not only in war or crisis time but also in peace times. One significant technology which is making its mark to facilitate intelligence and information gathering is Unmanned Armed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) also known as Drones.

Being a developing region, the focus of South Asian states should have been on the elimination of poverty and facilitation of basic facilities to its population. However, security concerns and threat perceptions forced states to invest in their militaries to ensure their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Security situation of this particular region is complex because two arch nuclear rivals that are neighbors are involved in continuous arms race.

Till last decade the focus of security concerns in South Asia were related to conventional and nuclear issues, but with the information warfare knocking at the door, the situation is gradually yet surely changing. With the evolution and amalgamation of new technologies into warfare, South Asian security situation is becoming more volatile and fragile. These difficulties are not arising because new technologies are coming into being but because of the myopia of states to restrain themselves to not use technology against each other.

Recent in South Asia reveals that information warfare which would involve cyber warfare, space weaponization and ISR technologies are making their way into South Asia. Both nuclear rivals do have the capabilities for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), which also include the technologies like drones and satellites.

These drones by both states were operated through existing ground control stations, which restricted the range, endurance and flexibility of these drones.  From military point of view drones control through ground based control station is a short coming. The same short coming acted as the much desired restraint on the use of technology in South Asia.

However, the recent chain of events reveal that drones will be used in South Asia by India through satellite control which will definitely boost the flexibility, range and endurance of the Indian Drones. India is all set to launch another satellite GSAT-7A which will be an advanced military communication satellite in geo-synchronous orbit; it would be especially designated to Indian Air Force.

India in its most recent Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) signed with the US is trying to procure armed Sea Guardian Drone or Predator-B drone for effective intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Predator-B is not only capable of information gathering but can also fire “Hell Fire” missile and smart bombs. It is capable of flying at high altitude, with jamming proof systems like protected GPS, IFF (identification of friend or foe) receiver and has ability to re-arm as well.

Besides, Predator-B India is also in process to acquire missile armed Heron TP drones from Israel for $ 400 million dollars. Fleet of Harpy UAVs is also part of Indian inventory. Harpy is also technology acquired from Israel but is not equipped with missile. India has already shown the intention to create tri-services for space, cyber and innovative technologies in military to develop and use them more effectively in future.

To counter India in drone of UAVs technology Pakistan has also made its indigenous drone named Burraq, which is also capable of firing laser guided missile. Moreover, after the COMCASA and S-400 deal, Pakistan is buying 48 armed Chinese Drones, Wing Long II.

However, in face of growing competition in  ISR capabilities and Information warfare, at the moment Pakistan might also ventured into dual use remote sensing satellites and designated military satellites, to not only have real time intelligence but to increase the endurance and range of its drones as well.

Thus, in the light of current trends it would be safe to say that space, cyber and ISR technologies are becoming part of South Asian military environment. Acquiring armed ISR technology like drones reveals that currently both states are preparing themselves for modern and sub-conventional warfare. Moreover, continuity in conflicting relationship between both states will catalyze the competition in ISR technology and induce more lethality in it which would lead to more instability.

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Romania Militarizing the Black Sea Region

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Romania’s policy in the Black Sea region is aimed at creating strategic prerequisites for Bucharest to achieve long-term regional leadership.

Russia is the only Black Sea country, which does not fit into the geopolitical landscape being built by Bucharest. It is a country with which Romania, as a member of the EU and NATO, is not bound by allied treaties. Therefore, Romania views Russia as an obstacle to its plans, and its policy is aimed at getting this hurdle out of the way.

Strengthening European security is part of the general context of containing Russia will dominate the agenda of Romania’s chairmanship of the European Council from January 2019.

Worried by the current imbalance between the northeast (Baltic region: Poland, Baltic states) and the southeast (Black Sea region: Romania) flanks of NATO, Romania will seek to offset this by beefing up NATO’s military presence at both ends of the arc of instability now being created.

Russia’s presence on the Black Sea is seen by Bucharest as a sign Moscow’s growing influence in the eastern Mediterranean region, which, simultaneously, is reducing the West’s sway over the region. Bucharest sees that as a long-term problem as a drop in the West’s influence in the Mediterranean will significantly undermine Romania’s own position in the Black Sea region.

Even though Russia’s military doctrine does not pose any deliberate threat to Romania, this still does not deter Bucharest from making anti-Russian moves. Amid the US’ and EU’s current tensions with Turkey, Bucharest has a theoretical chance to fill the emerging void in NATO’s military architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean. Bucharest is ready (and willing!) to assume some of the geopolitical functions previously assigned to Ankara to act as a regional vanguard in the confrontation with Russia on the Black Sea and increase its strategic significance for the United States and NATO.

The Black Sea region, which links Eurasia with North Africa and the Middle East, serves as a gateway to the Mediterranean, which in turn, is a corridor to the Atlantic and the ocean. Romanian politicians of the past viewed the Black Sea as a road to the Caspian via the Caucasus isthmus with access to Central Asia.

The Black Sea is Romania’s only waterway to the outside world that allows it to widen the boundaries of Romanian influence.

Romania’s geopolitical doctrine considers the Black Sea as a constituent element of Romanian national identity along with the Danube and  Dniester rivers, and of Romanians as a Black Sea nation. The political tradition of Romania views the Dniester as a natural cultural, political and geographical borderline that separates Europe from Russia-Eurasia, Romanians from Slavs and the Romanian geopolitical area from Russia. The Danube is considered as a vital artery and cradle of the Romanian people, connecting it with the Black Sea and Europe.

Therefore, Romania’s expansionism on the Black Sea is not a variable but a permanent aspect Bucharest’s foreign policy, along with two other constant vectors to Moldova and the Western Balkans. This three-tier construction constitutes the basis of the Romanian geopolitical consciousness, which, regrettably, is resulting in ill-advised foreign policy moves.

Guided, or rather misguided, by this erroneous policy, the Romanian elites have made all these three components of the Romanian national consciousness and cultural identity dependent on the ever-changing political situation in their relations with Russia.

It was exactly this policy that inevitably pushed bilateral relations on a downward path, since Russia is viewed in this context as something hostile and contrary to the  manifestations of Romanian identity in the world in a political-spatial and cultural-ideological dimension.

Romania spends 2 percent of its GDP on defense with the purchase of modern weapons accounting for a hefty 33 percent of the country’s military budget – more than in any other of NATO’s East European members. It looks like Romania’s chances of equaling Poland in terms of its strategic importance to NATO may soon increase given the country’s geographic closeness to Russia’s Crimea.

Bucharest and Warsaw have already signed an agreement on strategic partnership, and Poland’s “Three Seas” initiative and Bucharest’s “Great Romania” project geopolitically complement each other.

The idea underlying the coordinated action by Warsaw and Bucharest is to create an anti-Russian corridor extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, which is part of Poland’s plan to promote European cooperation along the North-South axis.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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