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The Double-Edged Sword of Politics in the 2018 Chemical Weapons Convention Review Conference

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The states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) have begun their fourth review conference last week, to discuss the implementation of the convention in the past five years and to set its goals to the near future. This review conference is facing some major challenges, derived from the weakening of the CWC non-use norm and the deepening of political polarization between key players. The CWC set ambitious goals and gained wide support from the international community since its entry into force in April 1997. Nevertheless, chemical activities related developments in the international arena dissolved the unified position that was expressed in the convention’s previous review conference of 2013. Today’s main challenges relate to Syria, Iran and Russia activities in the chemical sphere, as well to the structural limitations of the review process and the convention’s implementing body – The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The previous 2013 review conference concluded with a final document and with the states parties political declaration. The declaration expressed an unequivocal commitment for chemical weapons ban and the expected goals of the OPCW.  Despite this commitment, chemical weapons have been in use repeatedly since 2013,and some of the states’ declarations to the OPCW on their related chemical activities, a component of the CWC’s advanced verification mechanism, were not fully disclosed, and, hence less reliable. The U.S closing remarks in the 2013 CWC review conference, expressed disappointment from the political declaration’s vague text. The declaration did not address directly to the chemical weapons use in Syria and to the promotion of the United Nations Secretary-General’s investigation in this regard. The U.S remarks came to realize as a self-fulfilling prophecy when chemical weapons have been in use repeatedly, and particularly in Syria and Iraq. The Assad Regime in Syria, according to the U.S and European media, kept using chemical weapons even after declaring its stockpiles destruction in August 2014. Furthermore, recent mutual accusations between Iran and the U.S on violations of the CWC were making headlines just days before the beginning of the current review conference. These events join the two recent incidents of alleged Russian use of nerve agent (determined to be “Novichok”) in Amesbury and Salisbury, England, that have also raised the profile of breaking the non-use taboo of chemical weapons.

Addressing these developments in the current review conference requires to balance between dealing with noncompliance issues, as well as other core issues of dispute, and with the need for strengthening the CWC states parties’ cohesion, that involves the alleged violators. The first challenge of the current review conference, as seen in the U.S-Iran relations, for example, is when countries exploit the review conference platform as a mean to advance their broader agendas. In this case, the exploitation comes following the U.S sanctions renewal against Iran and the attempts to promote its political isolation. This challenge relates to a broader context when political tensions that do not necessarily relate to the context of the CWC leak to its review conferences. Bridging this gap, between promoting the goals of the convention and isolating the broader political context is a weak point of review conferences in general. This was also the case in the failure of the 2015 Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons review conference when the concluding statements of Egypt and the U.S were mutual accusations of exploiting the review process for advancing other political goals. Such events could create an opposition that prevents the ability to promote the convention’s future goals and risk its implementation. The exploitation challenge, highlights the structural limitations of the review conference, since phrasing the final document to the conference does not have the same legal binding standing as the convention itself. Not fulfilling the commitments under final documents usually do not include penalties or consider a violation of the convention, but could certainly erode the chemical weapons-ban regime over time.

The political gaps between the western bloc of the US and other western powers, to the Russian oppositional approach that gains the support of China, Iran, and Syria are also more prominent in this review cycle. One indication for it is the issue of the OPCW’s attribution mechanism, known as the Watchdog’s Initiative. Last week (21.11) the state parties rejected the Russia-China proposal to establish a group of experts to review the OPCW’s mandate of creating an organizational team that would be able to attribute blame to a chemical weapon use to a violator. So far, the OPWC could only determine if there was the use of chemical weapons without indicating specifically on the attacker. This development also reflects the balancing dilemma of the need for political compromises, while not achieving them can harm the effectiveness of the CWC implementation. States that oppose core issues, such as the Watchdog initiative, can undermine cohesion and the ability to reach a unified and unequivocal commitment to the convention. This situation damages the stability of the CWC since even when a final document and a political declaration are gaining consensus, they are phrased in a way that relates to the lowest common denominator, as was in the Syrian case in the 2013 conference, which lowers their value.

Despite the above-mentioned examples of the political challenges in the CWC review conferences framework, the foundations of the convention lay on the states parties’ ability to cooperate. More than one hundred episodes of chemical weapons use recorded in the past three years shows how actual the threat of chemical weapons is, and how global cooperation to deal with it is important. There are important goals for the CWC that would be achieved despite the parties’ political contradicting interests. Among these goals, are issues such as inspection and verification measures in countries that are characterized by political instability, updating the lists of restricted chemicals, physical protection on chemical facilities, scientific and technological developments that challenge the convention, and the threat of states and non-states actors using chemical weapons. These issues show not only the importance of the CWC in regulating chemical weapons abolishment, but they also highlight the risks that undermine the convention’s purpose.

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Macron is wrong, NATO is not brain-dead

Iveta Cherneva

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Right before the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall this weekend, French President Macron decided to make another staggering statement in a series of gaffes over the past weeks. “NATO is brain-dead”, he said in an interview for the Economist yesterday and everyone gasped. Europeans more than anyone need the alliance alive and well.

Macron also said that he didn’t know if he still believed in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty – the part on collective defense which says that an attack on one is an attack on all. The French President was worried about whether the US was still committed to the alliance.

This is not the first time that NATO has been kicked. The alliance has been scorned over the years, many doubting its reason d’etre. The transatlantic alliance has proven to be a resilient one over the decades, however. It is a mathematical constant, if you wish.

If the transatlantic alliance didn’t break on the rocks of the Iraq war, it surely can survive Trump.

Macron’s concern is that historical forces are pulling the transatlantic allies apart but that perception is a product of Trump’s rhetoric, nothing more – it is not indicative of the pattern of transatlantic relations over the decades. Transatlantic relations are not Trump. 

President Trump is facing an impeachment and elections, all within the next months to a year. The assessment of transatlantic relations cannot be based on the rhetoric of a person who might be gone soon. No one in the Washington community believes that Trump would withdraw from NATO, even after all the tough rhetoric. NATO is here to stay, and that is the belief among virtually all US officials and diplomats. Transatlantic relations will soon normalize after President Trump is out of office because that is the pattern. The transatlantic partnership is deeply ingrained in the American political psyche. There is no need for apocalyptic statements that rock the boat.

The US has guaranteed Europe’s security since the end of the Second World War. Europe cannot do it on its own. What is true is that Europe needs to start contributing more to its own defense.

For a third of NATO’s European member states in proximity to Russia, NATO is anything but obsolete. From the Baltic States, through Poland, Slovakia, Romania, down to Bulgaria, NATO’s enhanced military presence since the Crimea war has been felt as a counter-measure to Russian ambitions. That of course is far away from France, but European NATO is not France. Macron doesn’t speak for all the NATO European states most of who cannot imagine political life and even survival without NATO.

What is apparent is that French President Macron is rolling out a gaffe after gaffe this week. He caused a diplomatic scandal with the Bulgarian and Ukrainian governments, by saying in a far-right magazine that he preferred legal African migrants to Bulgarian and Ukrainian criminal gangs. The week before that, he blocked Albania and North Macedonia from starting accession talks for EU membership, which drew a lot of criticism from all corners of Europe. Yesterday, Macron called Bosnia a jihadists ticking bomb, of course ignoring that France is a jihadist force itself. Macron’s “brain death” comment angered Angela Merkel who warned him to cut down on the drastic remarks.

So Macron, not Trump, is the one with the divisive, anti-European role, judging by the past weeks. Macron, not Trump, is turning into the European anti-hero.

The claim that the French President’s series of inflammatory statements is a strategy to position France as the alternative leader of the European Union could be as true at the hypothesis that all this is a part of Macron pandering to the French far-right.

The truth is that NATO is alive and kicking. Its very existence serves as deterrence against a potential attack on a NATO member, so that Article 5 does not even have to be tested. NATO should not be taken for granted; only when something no longer exists will one get to appreciate all the invisible deterrence benefits.

If the history of Article 5 shows us one thing, is that it was used for the first time by the Americans in the aftermath of September 11th. This is a common reminder, anytime someone in the US questions the value of NATO.

So, Macron is wrong on NATO. It will be good if he toned down the lunatic rhetoric of the past weeks, to show that he himself is not brain-dead. If Macron’s intention was to make waves, he is succeeding. If his intention was to be vying for the European Union top leadership spot, he is failing.

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Strategic Instability in the Era of Information and Communication Technologies: Crisis or the New Norm?

Natalia Romashkina

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Strategic stability is once again becoming a primary concern in international relations. The topic has received a great deal of attention of late, mainly because of the steady erosion of the reduction and limitation regime: the United States has now withdrawn from both the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), the New START treaty is set to expire soon, and no further talks on reduction and limitation of nuclear arms are being held. Another reason is the rapid development of information and communication technologies (ICTs), which are playing a growing role in the global military and political arena in the 21st century. With a new technological revolution under way, can we ensure a level of strategic security that is both necessary and sufficient? Or will instability become a new trend in global strategic security as well? It would be hard to argue that this is not a crisis.

Today there are two approaches — or rather a rift between the old understanding of “strategic stability,” which took shape during the bipolar era (when the term itself was coined), and a radically new understanding of the ways of ensuring strategic stability in the modern world and the challenges that this presents.

As is often the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. It would be a mistake to discard the experience of maintaining strategic stability that was accumulated throughout the Cold War period and which helped prevent a deep-seated confrontation from boiling over into a large-scale war — even though the political and technological changes that have taken place since then cannot be ignored.

As an example, during the bipolar era, “strategic stability” was defined as a state of relations that would remove incentives for a nuclear first strike.

Since nuclear arms still exist and their destructive capabilities are constantly improving, this understanding of strategic stability is as relevant today as it was during the Cold War, when it was only taking shape. But the situation has grown considerably more complicated over the last three decades, and the methods and mechanisms of preventing nuclear war that were envisaged during the bipolar era are no longer in line with the current geopolitical reality and the level of technological development. With these massive changes in international military and political relations, we need to consider other parameters in addition to the nuclear component, while at the same time preserving the essence of the idea. Furthermore, the bipolar era, when the world was split between two global opposing powers, has given way to a situation where strategic stability is determined by a greater number of players. This is why we need to assess the characteristics and capabilities of the military and political system as a whole.

Strategic stability of the military and political system is a state of the world (the lack of a large-scale war) within which the framework of this system is maintained even under continuous disturbance (destabilizing factors) for a certain (defined) period of time.

Therefore, on a professional level, not only should we be talking about “maintaining” and “strengthening” strategic stability, but we should also acknowledge the need to ensure strategic stability and devise new approaches to assessing its level based on our experience — which means we must develop common qualitative and especially quantitative assessments of this level. For that to be possible, we need to agree on common assessment criteria.

The bilateral discussion of such criteria between the United States and Russia came to a halt in the 1990s, as the U.S. no longer considered it necessary. This has given rise to a global problem, because the reduction of strategic stability to a level that is below what is needed and what is sufficient is dangerous for all states without exception. It is thus in the best interests of all countries to ensure this level, but the extent of their responsibility varies. The nuclear powers are still the most responsible.

What new features of this system, in which ensuring a necessary and sufficient level of stability is so crucial, have emerged over the past few decades?

An increase in the number of local wars and armed conflicts which break out and progress increasingly under the influence of ICTs.

The restructuring of international relations after a period of bipolarity followed by multipolarity dominated by the United States. This new transformation is, first of all, caused by changes in military and strategic relations between Russia and the United States, as well as by the appearance of a new global centre of power, namely China, which is not involved in the nuclear disarmament process.

The gradual erosion of the strategic arms limitation and reduction regime: the United States has now withdrawn both from the ABM Treaty and the INF Treaty, the New START treaty is set to expire soon, and no further talks on reduction and limitation of nuclear arms are being held.

Nuclear missile multipolarity, which consists in a growing number of states possessing nuclear weapons and the increasing probability of their proliferation.

The trend towards doctrinal changes among nuclear powers that are formally aimed at strengthening the deterrence regime but in fact lead to a reduction of the threshold for the use of nuclear arms; in particular, there is a growing possibility of a limited nuclear war.

Creation of a large-scale U.S. missile defence system, which brings about serious changes in the strategic balance of power and increased uncertainty in strategic planning.

The growing role and power of non-nuclear (highly precise and highly intelligent) weapons in strategic planning. These new armaments create the hypothetical threat of a disarming strike against strategic nuclear forces. Developing these kinds of weapons complicates the global strategic landscape and makes crisis decision-making all the more difficult.

Deployment of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons on the same platforms, which may lead to the launch of ballistic or cruise missiles with conventional warheads being perceived as nuclear weapons use.

The appearance of low-yield nuclear weapons, which lowers the threshold for nuclear weapons use and, as a result, increases the probability of an armed conflict escalating to a nuclear war.

Development of ICT-based state-of-the-art anti-satellite weapons that allow countries to interfere with enemy satellites, including parts of the ballistic missile early warning system, and destroy them using ground-based anti-satellite systems. Such weapons can also disrupt the operation of satellites used for network-centric warfare, which is an approach being actively developed by militarily developed states. This is one of the most serious threats to strategic stability at this stage.

The militarization of space. In February 2019, President of the United States Donald Trump signed a Memorandum on the Establishment of the United States Space Force, which lists such purposes as protecting U.S. interests in space, “deterring aggression and defending the Nation,” as well as “projecting military power in, from and to space.”

In addition to technological developments, experts from various countries increasingly point to the role that psychology plays in influencing strategic stability in the modern world. Western society and its political elites no longer fear nuclear war, which may lead to a considerable reduction of the threshold for weapons use, including with regard to nuclear arms. And most alarming of all is not this confidence in the impossibility of nuclear war, but rather the belief that a “small,” local nuclear war can be fought and won. Such views have started to grow and spread partly due to progress in ICTs, which makes it possible to project informational and psychological influence on a huge audience in a relatively short amount of time and at minimal cost.

We can thus distinguish several key factors of the global influence of ICTs on strategic stability. First, ICTs can be used for destructive military and political purposes. Second, the exponential growth of technologies that force countries to acquire strategic advantages can make it tempting to try and win a large-scale war. Third, the boundaries between peace and war, defence and offence in military planning (including in the nuclear sphere) tend to become blurred. Furthermore, the logic of global confrontation is changing: the combined use of non-military tactics and harmful ICTs enables countries to achieve their war goals even without armed conflict. And one last notable factor of influence is the reduced path to the escalation of conflict, caused by the probability of ICT attacks on nuclear missile infrastructure.

When elaborating criteria for assessing the level of strategic stability and developing plans to ensure it, it is wise both to consider those factors that can be found in any historical period and those specific to the current age. The accelerated progress of ICTs falls into the latter category. Analysis shows that all the destabilizing factors in the modern strategic stability system are due to the development of ICTs. According to expert estimates, over 30 states possess so-called offensive cyber weapons; this is why this threat should really be singled out as a destabilizing factor of its own. Moreover, each of the other factors is enhanced by the destructive use of ICTs, the militarization of peaceful information technologies, and the ease of use, unexpectedness and speed of both IT and psychological weapons.

Additional risks are posed by so-called cyber electromagnetic activities, which are being actively developed by the United States. These include cyber operations, electronic warfare, electronic peacetime attacks, electromagnetic spectrum management operations, the suppression of targets by active and passive interference, as well as electromagnetic disinformation.

The potential use of ICTs to undermine the security of military facilities as part of a nation’s critical infrastructure is clearly a global threat. At the same time, estimating the possible damage from such threats and developing countermeasures is significantly complicated by the intangible nature of ICTs, as well as by the wide range of sources of possible malicious technologies: state and non-state actors, and even single hackers. All of this increases the level of uncertainty and instability. ICT threats may be attributed to various elements of military organization and infrastructure. But in the context of strategic stability, special attention should be paid to the security of nuclear missile weapons. All nuclear powers are modernizing their nuclear systems to keep up with the progress in computer technologies. The integration of network operations in military planning programmes began more than 30 years ago, and today we can already speak of an ICT revolution in military affairs. More and more components of the military nuclear infrastructure — from warheads and their delivery vehicles to control and guidance systems and command and control systems of strategic nuclear forces — depend on sophisticated software, which makes them potential targets for ICT attacks.

Special attention needs to be paid to the protection of strategic weapons, the early warning system, air and missile defence systems, and the command and control system for nuclear weapons. Furthermore, in addition to, or instead of, the principle of deterrence by inevitable retaliation, there is now growing interest in deterrence by blocking the use of offensive means (a “left of launch” strategy) through the use of ICTs.

Decreased strategic stability is due to the fact that the development of malicious ICTs increases the probability of a number of adverse events, such as the erroneous authorized launch of ballistic missiles; the decision to use nuclear weapons; the receipt of a false alarm from the early warning system about the launch of ballistic missiles, which is possible on account of the growing sophistication of ICT attacks or the damage or destruction of communication channels; interference in the control system of the armed forces (including nuclear forces); and the decreased confidence of military decisionmakers in the performance of control and command systems. In addition, a critical issue is the impact that the increased probability of nuclear weapons being disabled or destroyed by means of ICTs will have on future nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation processes.

The possibility that decisions about the use of nuclear weapons will be influenced by information and communication technologies is therefore the most serious threat that exists today — not in theory but in fact. There is now a greater probability of an erroneous authorized launch of a ballistic missile as a result of false information or due to a lack of confidence in the proper operation of military systems and some actions being perceived as the first step to mutually assured destruction. This leads to a considerable reduction in strategic stability.

All of the above threats are further exacerbated by the growing use of remote-controlled robotic strike weapons, the development of artificial intelligence technologies for military purposes, machine learning, the autonomous operation capabilities of various systems and subsystems, automated decision-making systems and other elements that may be subject to ICT attacks.

What global steps can be taken today in response to these global threats to strategic stability, based on the experience gained in the bipolar era? First, all the parties involved (Russia, the United States and China) will have to find common ground in terms of what in their opinion constitutes strategic stability; develop and formalize a common understanding of the danger of ICT threats; and, of course, develop common approaches to assessing the probability of intentional and unintentional ICT attacks. Moreover, they will need to have a clear agreement on the probable response in the event that an ICT attack on strategic nuclear forces is detected. These steps may provide building blocks for an ICT deterrence policy, similar to what was done with regard to nuclear weapons in the bipolar era.

At the same time, it would be reasonable to start work on an ICT arms control regime (statements, commitments, agreements and treaties) that could include: a ban on ICT attacks against certain targets, primarily military facilities; the limitation and/or renouncement of offensive ICT capabilities; the introduction of ICT arms control measures; the establishment of international norms regulating the ways and means of preventing and stopping cyber conflicts; and the development of a convention on the prohibition of the harmful use of ICTs in the nuclear weapons sphere.

From our partner RIAC

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“Let Russia Be Russia” (US debate on global security system)

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The controversial decision by the current US administration to withdraw from the INF treaty, as well as its threat to suspend observance of the Open Skies Treaty and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), has been met with criticism and resistance even in the United States itself. However, opposition  to President Trump’s moves is multi-pronged and pursues goals not necessarily aimed at preserving what has remained of the global security system as some of the “champions of peace” also happen to be the very same “liberal interventionists,” who are responsible for many of the armed conflicts happening today. It is imperative for us to distinguish between pragmatics, who really seek to reduce military threats, such as former US Defense Secretary William Perry, ex-US ambassador to the Soviet Union John Matlock, former presidential adviser Thomas Graham and some others, and experts and media personalities, whose criticism of the US withdrawal from these accords is merely an attempt to jump on the bandwagon of the ongoing anti-Trump campaign being waged by liberal “mainstream” media, which is often openly Russophobic too, faulting Trump for his “too polite” way of dealing with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The Wall Street Journal was among the first to break the news about Donald Trump’s plans to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty (OST). In an October 27, 2019 article, the newspaper wrote that President Trump had signed a document outlining the US administration’s intention to withdraw from the 1992 accord. The newspaper’s sources specified, however, that the decision was not final and consultations continued.

Earlier, however, in its October 20, 2019 issue, the WSJ reported that former Secretary of State George Schultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Senator Sam Nunn, all of them critical of the US withdrawal from the OST, had warned about Trump’s decision to exit the treaty. While paying homage to the customary tune about Russia’s “aggressiveness,” these three politicians, known for their participation in past disarmament programs, emphasized the need to keep in place existing defense agreements with Russia, reminding their readers, and above all, Donald Trump, that the great achievement of post-Cold War US diplomacy could soon be erased if some of the Trump administration officials have their say and the United States unilaterally withdraws from the Open Skies Treaty, which even during the current period of tense relations between Moscow and Washington helps to preserve transparency and trust. They argued that such a withdrawal from the treaty would be a big mistake, adding that it would undermine trust between the United States and Russia, and be detrimental to the US allies’ security.

The authors added that the idea of the Open Skies Treaty, initially proposed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, got a new lease on life in 1992, when Moscow agreed to open its territory for overflights to verify Russia’s compliance with the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty). With the CFE Treaty now suspended, Russia is showing clear “defense generosity” by maintaining its “most verified country” status (the authors of the letter admit that Russia is a country most extensively covered by OST overflights).

Apparently trying to fend off standard accusations at home of “working for Moscow,” Schultz, Perry, and Nunn wrap up their letter with a customary admission about Republicans and Democrats having a shared view about “a  serious challenge to international security” allegedly posed by Russia.” That being said, they still draw a pragmatic conclusion that instead of pulling out of previously signed international security agreements, Washington should redouble its commitment to the risk-reduction strategies consistently sought by previous US administrations.

This standpoint distinguishes pragmatic supporters of maintaining the security system – the priority, which Schultz, Perry, and Nunn confirmed in their April 10, 2019 article “The Threat of Nuclear War Is Still With Us” – from Trump’s professional debunkers from the Democratic Party.

Trump’s opponents also criticize him for breaking agreements, and not just defense ones, but trade and environmental as well (above all the Paris Agreement on climate change). However, while criticizing Trump, they still arrive at quite opposite conclusions by calling for ramping up pressure on Russia and filling the White House with “hawks” from the Pentagon and the State Department, etc. They also talk about the imaginary  “friendship” between Putin and Trump, allegedly stemming from some Russian contribution to Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, and which they believe should be neutralized no matter what, including by initiating new conflicts with Russia.

Jeremy Kuzmarov, who writes for Counterpunch, points to an unprecedentedly high level of Russophobia in the ongoing debate among potential candidates for the 2020 presidential election from the Democratic Party.

Kuzmarov notes that it is impossible to explain this level of Russophobia by the election campaign alone. It is about ideology. Kuzmarov notes that former US President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both represent the  “globalist project,” which is still alive and views Russia and China as obstacles on the way of human progress (hence Obama’s absurd decision not to include Russia in the Trans-Pacific Partnership project – as if Russia and China were not Pacific powers). At the same time, they see Trump’s victory in 2016 as an unfortunate “stab in the back” from US voters. Therefore, all proponents of this ideology, still dominant in the United States, are up in arms and out to fight Trump, whom they never tire of calling “a Kremlin puppet.” This is exactly the ideological “narrative” that makes the US Democrats incapable of compromise in the field of disarmament.

Therefore, any proposals of compromise made by independent experts are subjected to appropriate “modifications” before they are published in order to avoid accusations of being “helpful” to Moscow, just like in the case of historian Stephen Cohen. This explains the cautious tonality of the proposal made by Thomas Graham – a former assistant George W. Bush and a prominent expert on Russia. In a think piece titled “Let Russia Be Russia,” published in Foreign Affairs journal, he offered a rather strange “quid pro quo” whereby the US and Ukraine accept Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea (as if someone is going to discuss this with them!), and Russia withdraws its support for Donbass. Only then, Graham argues, can we discuss disarmament initiatives, joint efforts by Russia and the United States to prevent Iran from going nuclear, etc. Well, even if this rather unrealistic idea resonates with some in the US expert community, it hardly fits into the ultra-liberal ideology of “reformatting” the world, which is still espoused by US political elites. Therefore, it looks like Graham’s proposal will remain just a vain wish for a possible compromise. Meanwhile, the last pillars of the global security system are crumbling right before our eyes…

From our partner International Affairs

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