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The role of social media in authoritarian leaders’ nation branding and public diplomacy strategies

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How can Erdogan’s Facebook posts of him holding a baby or shaking hands enhance Turkey diplomatic relations? Why Chechnya strongman Ramzan Kadyrov constantly share photos on Instagram while cuddling animals or working out? Scholarly literature has thoroughly addressed the democratic potential of digital diplomacy as a tool both for citizens to streamline social protest and for national diplomatic services to mediate and multiply the messages to reach the wider masses. Nonetheless, a vacuum still exists on the examination of how digital diplomacy – as Aronczyk suggests – can provide authoritarian leaders with a new tool for engaging foreign public in  a “communication strategy […that] allows governments to better manage and control the image they project to the world.”(‘Nation branding’)

We will see – complementing the debate on how social media may serve as a tool of autocratic stability- how digital diplomacy may be an important tool in furthering a nation’s foreign policy”especially for non-democratic regimes by enabling direct interaction and engagement with foreign publics.

As Hanson argued, the technologic changes involving public diplomacy gave politicians and national diplomatic services (NDS) “the opportunity to influence and speak directly and more frequently to large audiences”.Nevertheless, such ability, alongside the capability to segment audiences may be a double-edged sword since it could boost ‘Digital Bonapartism’– a populist rhetoric aimed at marginalizing the opposition and manipulate public opinion in a subtler manner – of authoritarian leaders.Hence, resorting also to empirical data provided by social media analytics, we will provide a snapshot of authoritarian governments’ engagement and assertiveness in digital diplomacy.

Finally, it is worth recalling that the size and emotional preference of international online public determines to a good share the digital diplomatic strategies of non-democratic regimes.

Digital Diplomacy and Nation Branding

As Hocking and Melissen emphasized in their seminal work, “the propensity towards ‘hype’ in responding to technological change” alongside the tendency to resort to vague and amorphous conceptualizations provides little help in analysing ‘diplomacy in the digital age’.

Accordingly, to shed light on the concept,we will define ‘digital diplomacy’ as “solving foreign policy problems using the internet”, id est, as “conventional diplomacy through a different medium”.On the one hand, some critics held that ‘digital diplomacy’ is not diplomacy but ‘listening and dissemination’.Digital diplomacy is indeed a pivotal element of public diplomacy and traditional diplomacy latusensu, sharing with the latter mechanisms, networks and, most importantly, the task of promoting the States’ interests at the international level.

Firstly, the growing usage of social media is instrumental for countries to achieve foreign policy goals while proactively managing their image and reputation abroad. Furthermore – enlarging Szondi’s analysis of the relationship between public diplomacy and nation branding – we emphasize how digital diplomacy may also prove a useful tool in nation-branding without necessarily accounting for the full range of State’s activities to further its image abroad. Nation branding activities through social media involve an effort to develop and spread “a national discourse for global context”.Therefore, digital diplomacy may be deeply interweaved with ‘public diplomacy’: social media may be serve as the medium to convey messages to international audience, enhance a country’s international image in a broader public diplomacy discourse.In fact, as Fouts argued, “for social media, virtual world and physical interactions […] are part of a broader tapestry of interactions that a country should employ to manage its brand”.

Despite the capability of social media to disrupt the top-down political communication and their potential in harnessing countries’ exposure to nation brand-damaging event,their use in diplomacy could bolster the legitimacy of authoritarian regime by framing the discourse and winning credibility among foreign public.

Authoritarian digital narratives: Liars and Outliers?

Unlike the Juan Linz’s authoritarianism Idealtypus, modern ‘competitive authoritarian regimes’ resort to more subtle mechanisms of repression than their counterparts in authoritarian regimes: the engagement of foreign public through social media fits in a broader strategy aimed at winning credibility on the international stage, mainstreaming ‘digital bonapartism’.

Therefore, framing the foreign policy discourse may help authoritarian regimes’ credibility and boost relationships with third countries in the long run.Whereas several studies have underscored that leaders in democratic countries are more likely to adopt social media, nonetheless no further research has been carried out on the features of autocrats’ use of social media to attain foreign policy purposes.

Moreover,the increasing involvement of Head of States’ in digital diplomacy further shrinks the role of foreign ministries as gatekeepers for other government actors.

This phenomenon is particularly evident when contrasting the digital audiences of the most followed authoritarian leaders with that of the respective MFAs. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)While MFAs are more prolific in delivering messages, their effectiveness in achieving visibility is limited. The claim that the “stimulus to centralization in foreign policy making […] is not evident in the case of digitization” may be revaluated when tackling authoritarian regimes.  In this form of government strong leaders may rely on their pivotal position to convey narratives aimed at offering the international public partisan explanation of complex events.

Twitter, thanks to its brevity and its intuitive interface quickly imposed has the most widely communication tool for diplomacy, allowing world leaders to broadcast short, poignant messages to millions of followers.These inherent features of social medias give leaders an edge: being the digital realm an ‘emotional space’, the rising prominence of emotional expression may clash with the diplomatic tradition with an international public increasing demand for emotional and visual connections.

Furthermore, as clearly shown in Table 1, the ‘digital audience’ of most-followed authoritarian leaders in every region is mainly located abroad, thus increasingly the value of Twitter as a tool for convey foreign policy messages and signals.

Table 1. Followers and Tweets of non-democratic leaders as of February 2018

The data gathered clearly display a massive divide in terms of the number of followers among leaders –communicating through personal accounts – and their respective MFAs.

Furthermore, through social platforms leaders may tailor messages matching contrasting narratives to target different foreign constituencies: the sheer size of messages delivered by MFA accounts -acting as simple sounding boards –  may be instrumental in amplifying the leaders’ messages spreading the ‘official’ narrative set up by the Head of State/Government. Faced with the need for addressing different audiences at different levels, authoritarian leaders are enhancing their effectiveness in delivering through different social platform, resulting more effective where the message is framed in an epigrammatic or visual manner (Twitter and Instagram, respectively) than the more ‘discursive’ Facebook posts.

Table 2. Most Effective World Leaders on Instagram

Conclusion: Emotional Digital Diplomacy?

Digital modes of communication provide a new dimension and challenge to ‘framing’ issues”. As Manor emphasizes, narratives may be particularly important in digital diplomacy since they offer a clear explanation of complex events.

We argued that the very issue of authoritarian leaders’ engagement in social media concerns digital diplomacy’s values as a powerful tool to expand soft power reach in public diplomacy”.

Moreover, digital diplomacy offer a whole new device to convey narratives. The centralization trend allows leaders to play a crucial role in nation branding, in which the authoritarian structure enabling– as Surowiec has illustrated in his case-study – a “commitment to unification and synergy of collective identity projection [that] is hardly viable in any democratic political field”.

Finally, the narrative storytelling framework of social media – characterised by ‘the predominance of emotional content’ – enables non-democratic leaders to resort to a full range of emotional solutions offered, exploiting the tailoring and timing of the communication.

In a radical overturn of social media promise of a more enlightened politics, as accurate information and effortless communication,digital tools represent nowadays a powerful device for spreading biased narratives and influencing the foreign public appealing to the emotional sphere. Therefore, digitally-empowered autocrats are increasingly carving themselves a niche in the ‘attention economy’ of international arena imitating and learning from digital diplomacy strategies of their democratic peers.

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Diplomacy

The rise of Eurasia: Geopolitical advantages and historic pitfalls

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Asian players are proving to be conceptually and bureaucratically better positioned in the 21st century’s Great Game that involves tectonic geopolitical shifts with the emergence of what former Portuguese Europe minister Bruno Macaes terms the fusion of Europe and Asia into a “supercontinent.”

Yet, in contrast to the United States, Asian players despite approaching Europe and Asia as one political, albeit polarized and disorganized entity populated by widely differing and competing visions, may find that their historic legacies work against them.

Writing in The National Interest, US Naval College national security scholar Nikolas K. Gvosdev argued that the United States, for example, was blinded to the shifts by the State Department’s classification of Russia as part of Europe, its lumping of Central Asia together with Pakistan and India and the Pentagon’s association of the region with the Arab world and Iran.

“The (State Department’s) continued inclusion of Russia within the diplomatic confines of a larger European bureau has intellectually limited assessments about Russia’s position in the world by framing Russian action primarily through a European lens. Not only does this undercount Russia’s ability to be a major player in the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia, it has also, in my view, tended to overweight the importance of the Baltic littoral to Russian policy,” Mr. Gvosdev said.

He warned that the US government’s geographical classification of Central Asia, Eurasia’s heartland has “relegated it to second-tier status in terms of U.S. attention and priorities.”

US failure to get ahead of the tectonic shifts in global geopolitics contrasts starkly with the understanding of Central Asian nations that they increasingly exist in an integrated, interconnected region that cannot isolate itself from changes enveloping it.

That understanding is reflected in a report by the Astana Club that brings together prominent political figures, diplomats, and experts from the Great Game’s various players under the auspices of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Entitled, ‘Toward a Greater Eurasia: How to Build a Common Future?,’ the report warns that the Eurasian supercontinent needs to anticipate the Great Game’s risks that include mounting tensions between the United States and China; global trade wars; arms races; escalating conflict in the greater Middle East; deteriorating relations between Russia and the West; a heating up of contained European conflicts such as former Yugoslavia; rising chances of separatism and ethnic/religious conflict; and environmental degradation as well as technological advances.

The report suggested that the risks were enhanced by the fragility of the global system with the weakening of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and NATO.

Messrs. Nazarbayev, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be better positioned to understand the shifts given that they govern territories at the heart of the emerging Eurasian supercontinent and see it as an integral development rooted in their countries’ histories.

Then Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu made as much clear in 2013. “The last century was only a parenthesis for us. We will close that parenthesis. We will do so without going to war, or calling anyone an enemy, without being disrespectful to any border; we will again tie Sarajevo to Damascus, Benghazi to Erzurum to Batumi. This is the core of our power. These may look like different countries to you, but Yemen and Skopje were part of the same country a hundred and ten years ago as were Erzurum and Benghazi,” Mr.Davutoglu said drawing a picture of a modern day revival of the Ottoman empire.

Mr. Erdogan has taken that ambition a step further by increasingly expanding it to the Turkic and Muslim world.

At its core, Erdogan’s vision, according to Eurasia scholar Igor Torbakov, is built on the notion that the world is divided into distinct civilizations. And upon that foundation rise three pillars: 1) a just world order can only be a multipolar one; 2) no civilization has the right to claim a hegemonic position in the international system; and 3) non-Western civilizations (including those in Turkey and Russia) are in the ascendant. In addition, anti-Western sentiment and self-assertiveness are crucial elements of this outlook.

Expressing that sentiment, Turkish bestselling author and Erdogan supporter Alev Alati quipped: “We are the ones who have adopted Islam as an identity but have become so competent in playing chess with Westerners that we can beat them. We made this country that lacked oil, gold and gas what it is now. It was not easy, and we won’t give it up so quickly.”

The Achilles Heel, however, of Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan’s Eurasianism is the fact that its geographies are populated by former empires like the Ottomans and Russia whose post-imperial notions of national identity remain contested and drive its leaders to define national unity as state unity, control the flow of information, and repress alternative views expressions of dissent.

Turkey and Russia still “see themselves as empires, and, as a general rule, an empire’s political philosophy is one of universalism and exceptionalism. In other words, empires don’t have friends – they have either enemies or dependencies,” said Mr. Torbakov, the Eurasia scholar, or exist in what Russian strategists term “imperial or geopolitical solitude.”

Mr. Erdogan’s vision of a modern-day Ottoman empire encompasses the Turkic and Muslim world. Different groups of Russian strategists promote concepts of Russia as a state that has to continuously act as an empire or as a unique “state civilization” devoid of expansionist ambition despite its premise of a Russian World that embraces the primacy of Russian culture as well as tolerance for non-Russian cultures. Both notions highlight the pitfalls of their nations’ history and Eurasianism.

Both Mr. Erdogan and Russia’s vision remain controversial. In Mr. Erdogan’s case it is the Muslim more than the Turkic world that is unwilling to accept Turkish leadership unchallenged with Saudi Arabia leading the charge and Turkish-Iranian relations defined by immediate common interests rather than shared strategic thinking.

Similarly, post-Soviet states take issue with Russia’s notion of the primacy of its culture. Beyond the Russian-Ukrainian conflict over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s support for Russian-speaking rebels in the east of the country, Ukraine emphasized its rejection of Russian cultural primacy with this month’s creation of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of its Russian counterpart.

Earlier, Ukraine’s parliament passed a law in September 2017 establishing Ukrainian rather than Russian as the language of instruction in schools and colleges. The law stipulated that educational institutions could teach courses in a second language, provided it was an official language of the European Union. National minorities were guaranteed the right to study in Ukrainian as well as their minority language.

Similarly, Kazakhstan, the Eurasian nation par excellence, shifted from Cyrillic to Latin script.

“Russia’s influence (in Central Asia) has been largely mythologized, and its role in both national and regional security has not been properly and honestly discussed. Different fears and phobias still influence the decision-making process, including those over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea, the concept of the ‘Russian World’ as a pillar of its national identity, and its soft power,” said Kazakh Central Asia scholar Anna Gussarova.

Ukraine may put a dent in the Russian World’s attractivity, but it does not amount to a body blow.

Ms. Gussarova cautioned that while Central Asian elites may recognize the risks involved in embracing Russian primacy, the region’s public remains far more aligned with Russian culture, at least linguistically.

“Whereas the expert community, which is supposed to shape public opinion, uses the English-language platforms Facebook and Twitter, the general public relies on Russian-language social media. This dichotomy underscores the limitations of any effort by the government and affiliated experts to shape public perceptions. At the same time, this gap shows greater public support for Russia and its activities, which makes nation building and language issues difficult and sensitive,” Ms. Gussarova said.

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Diplomacy

Diplomatic Defense of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Sajad Abedi

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The Islamic Republic of Iran considers defense diplomacy to strengthen the efforts of the defense sector in the supine area in the process of rebuilding the country’s defense base, which has been used as a new concept and has been emphasized in the formulation of a national defense and national security strategy.

Defense diplomacy is part of the national power of a country that, along with foreign policy, forms the source of power to enhance the capacity of action and action of a country in foreign relations. This diplomacy will not only monitor the application of diplomatic policy, but also guarantee the sharing of diplomacy in defense policy.

Indeed, the link between defense and military activities with diplomatic activities can be a powerful interconnected tool of national power. On the other hand, the use of defense diplomacy will be effective both during peace and war as well as in preventing conflicts and even using the capacities of the international environment to strengthen the capabilities and effects of wartime time (including the provision of armed forces’ readiness).

Accordingly, defense diplomacy for Iran is a strategy to strengthen the efforts of the defense sector in the area of suppression in the process of reconstruction of the country’s prosperity. Therefore, the achievement of vast capabilities in defense diplomacy requires understanding of the periphery, deep understanding of Iran’s position, theorizing and conceptualization to create a dialogue to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities and capabilities, which inevitably has to rely on global domination and the common discourse in this area is the knowledge of global politics.

In this context, Iran is also considered to be a regional power that has historically had an environmental role, with Iran’s defensive capabilities growing somewhat after the revolution. But this cannot be considered as the only component of enhancing regional defense capabilities of Iran. Because of the cross-border security conflicts in Iran’s regional environment, the use of defense treaties is the most desirable for Iran.

Defense diplomacy is a mechanism that plays an important role in achieving the goals of the country’s specific security or foreign policy. The goal of the defense diplomacy is to create the desired political, national and international conditions for the preservation and expansion of the national and vital values of the country against actual and potential enemies. In this regard, the realization of Iran’s defense strategy within the framework of the defense guide requires a combination of two hard and soft areas.

Defense cooperation in Iran is based on the foreign policy framework of the country. Foreign policy determines the type and scope of political and even economic and military cooperation of a country with other countries. In such a case, the objectives of defense diplomacy are in the general objectives of foreign policy, and defense diplomacy is a subset of foreign policy.

Iran’s defense guidelines are organized with a value-oriented approach and belief in the power and power of “universal civil defense”. The foundations of this paper are “Religious Beliefs and Beliefs”, “The Supreme Command and Controls of the Total Power”, “The Soul of Independence, Self Esteem and Self-Recognition”, “Modern Technologies”, “The Climatic, Geopolitical, and Geostrategic Conditions of the Country”, “Defense Experience” Sacred “,” world experiences “,” the ideas and theories of the defense and security elites “and” the idea of a future war “. Its basic principles are “preserving the values of the Islamic Revolution,” “preventing any armed conflict and armed conflict,” and “preparing the state to defend itself and using the armed forces to defend vital interests.”

The realization of Iran’s defense strategy within the framework of defense guidelines requires a combination of two hard and soft areas. Hence, a part of the means of production in the Ministry of Defense is of a strict nature, the production and supply of which constitutes one of the major barriers to deterrence, and the production of power tools and promotion of Iran’s defense capabilities can be considered in this area. Another part of the threat management tool is the software approach. In this regard, the development of soft technology and the movement of defense diplomacy can be considered as a necessity to achieve soft deterrence, because both deterrents have a complementary role. Regarding these issues, establishing a link between “military industries”, “service industries” and “defense diplomacy” has provided the ground for promoting the maximum national defense capability.

The activation of the issue of defense diplomacy in the Islamic Republic of Iran is an important feature of the defense sector’s activities in the process of reconstruction of the defense base of the country. This reconstruction has two basic infrastructure and superstructure. In the infrastructure sector, structural changes and increasing the function of defense industry organizations and hardware upgrades can be highlighted today, which has led to the pride and glory of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the superstructure, investments can be made in the field of research and development of defense studies and the activation of defense diplomacy. In the past, the Ministry of Defense, as an armed forces support, was recognized only in two areas of military-defense and welfare, and in fact its third role in supporting the diplomacy of the armed forces and the significant role of the country’s defense and security policy was neglected. The decade of the year 2001 is the beginning of the attention and action of the Defense Ministry in this field.

On the other hand, the ultimate goal of the armed forces in the twenty years of the country is “deterrence.” The main function of defense diplomacy can be seen in the realization and implementation of the deterrence strategy and its application in the interaction of the political unit with other units of the international system. Accordingly, deterrence strategy is considered as the most important principle in defining the scope of defense diplomacy and military and defense strategy. Defending diplomacy, with an emphasis on the prevention element, provides the conditions that, prior to any confrontation; the political unit can achieve its own interests and goals and, in the best of all, divide power in various fields.

Generally speaking, defense diplomacy, as one of the policy areas of the state, has an important role in achieving the goals of the armed forces by creating favorable political conditions for the preservation and development of national and national values against enemies. Rapid and ongoing progress in the kidneys the social, economic, political, social, cultural, and military community in our day requires the planner to identify and validate the variables that can bring the system and its sub-systems in the future in any way and to any other the amount affected. Planning, if successful, should have a look and a long look to the future. A prospect of defense diplomacy makes it possible for Iran will assess its current situation with future demands and plan accordingly for the future to achieve the desired regional and strategic objectives.

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A new world system, or a world without a hegemon

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The state of the world and, frequently, the course of history depended on the foundation on which peace on Earth was based – either on international balance or on omnipotence of another hegemon. Today, the Atlantic circles of different levels have adopted another propagandist mantra: international relations would be disrupted catastrophically or, worse still, slide into global chaos if the United States moves away (or forced to move away) from global domination.

We have already learned from history that any world order is relative and comparatively short. Starting with Antiquity, the best minds have been dreaming about an ideal world order, perpetual peace on Earth and harmonious relations between states. Reality was and remains different. The history of the world order was written by the bloodshed in big and small wars, the “game of the thrones” for domination, the never-ending replacement of leaders, triumphs of victors, and tragedies of the vanquished.

One cannot but wonder: how come that after so many years of deliberations mankind has not arrived at a common opinion? The variety of historical situations, relevant examples and rich historical experience means that there is no “magic formula” of an ideal world order accepted by all.

World history has clearly demonstrated that peace established under the aegis of a state that claims hegemony is never firm and never long-lived because the potential hegemon pursues plundering and occupation of its neighbors and rivals. The Roman Empire that, having defeated Carthage, knew no rivals in the pre-Christian world but nevertheless collapsed several centuries later under the burden of internal contradictions and external wars.

THE EUROPEAN BALANCE established at the Vienna Congress in 1815 by the powers that had defeated Napoleon turned out to be amazingly long-lived: for nearly 100 years, the Old World lived in peace. It looked as if the Europeans, who still called the tune in world politics, had finally found the key to a firm world order and entered the new age brimming with optimism. They learned the lesson of their past: balance of power should be maintained while disagreements should be resolved on time by diplomatic means.

FOREIGN POLICY of the United States changed to a much greater extent than the foreign policies of all states that had fought in the war.

According to American historiography, the results of World War II transformed the United States, a prewar regional power, into a global power.

In retrospect, the Soviet-American bipolarity in the nuclear age looked as a sustainable variant of the world order despite the risks and the situations in which mankind came too close to a nuclear catastrophe (during the Caribbean Crisis of 1962).

The Cold War was buried with a lot of pomp; America’s foreign policy acquired such new pillars as triumphalism, the liberal world order, the “Washington Consensus,” and globalization under the U.S. aegis.

Very much like many times before, the victor immediately acquired a crowd of enthusiastic supporters convinced that the “benevolent” American guidance would make the world a much safer place.

Very soon, however, many of them realized that the “benevolent hegemon” was in fact egotistical and unmanageable. The old truth – power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely – perfectly fitted domestic and foreign policies and was reconfirmed in the unipolar world. At the early stages (especially under the Clinton Administration), the United States had demonstrated moderation and the readiness to rely on “soft power.” With time, however, Washington was consolidating its domination and tightening its policies.

At the turn of the 21st century and very much in line with the logic of politics based on strength, the United States started using military force in the Balkans, Afghanistan, in the Middle East, and North Africa under the pretext of establishing liberal order and relying on the right to humanitarian intervention.

As could be expected, the unipolar world was becoming increasingly vulnerable: America’s military, financial and economic capabilities proved to be inadequate to keep it safe and intact; meanwhile, new rivaling power centers appeared and were consolidating their strength.

WITH THE HEGEMON prepared to take into consideration the interests of its partners and to trim, to a certain extent, its ambitions for the sake of greater aims shared by all humanity, unipolarity could have developed into a foundation of a new sustainable world order. However, this is an ideal and, therefore, imaginative picture. In real life, the winner is never inclined toward self-restriction; it is guided by the right of the strongest that by definition “takes all.”

Today, nearly thirty years after the Soviet Union’s disintegration, when sovereign Russia as its descendant replaced it on the international arena, we have accumulated enough facts to say that Washington’s shortsighted approach to its relations with Russia was a grave strategic error the repercussions of which have not yet been fully comprehended.

THE 21ST CENTURY is neither an apotheosis of the unipolar world nor triumph of the liberal world order predicted by Washington when the Cold War became history. The U.S. has obviously overestimated its potential and underestimated the progress of other players involved in world politics.

The end of a certain epoch, that at the dawn of American history Franklin compared with sunset, is not the end of the world.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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