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Facing an Unprecedented Migration Crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean

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The Simón Bolívar International Bridge linking Venezuela and Colombia has long ceased to be a mere bridge. For months, the thousands who cross this bridge daily have transformed it into a symbol of the Venezuelan exodus. Many kilometers to the north of the Latin American region, human caravans from Central America’s Northern Triangle once again placed the spotlight on another longstanding migration issue.

Although they come from different places, those embarking on these journeys face the same situation—they are leaving their homes because of a lack of opportunities, violence, or even food shortages. Occurring at a hitherto unseen speed and magnitude, this phenomenon has created an unprecedented migration crisis for Latin America and the Caribbean. What are the characteristics of each?

Migration from Venezuela involves one of the biggest and most rapid flows of vulnerable persons globally. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), as of February 2019, the country’s economic and social crisis had led to the exodus of 3.4 million persons. Most have left in the past 12 months and have gone to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile, the main receiving countries. The magnitude of this crisis makes it the second biggest globally after the Syrian crisis.

The movement of persons from the Northern Triangle to the United States has been taking place for a much longer time. Between 1980 and 2015, the number of migrants from this subregion who were living in the United States increased by an annual average of 8 percent and in 2017, their total number in the United States stood at close to 3 million. Most persons leave because of the shortage of good jobs, high rates of crime and violence, and the desire to be reunited with their families. Remittances to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, which amounted to almost US$20 billion in 2017, have become one of the main pillars of their economies, accounting for nearly 15 percent of their combined GDPs.

With the movement of persons come challenges and opportunities for both the source and destination areas, as I mentioned last week at the conference “Migration and Cities. The Path to Inclusive Integration,” held in Madrid.

According to a World Bank report published last November, the cost of additional education, health, water, early childhood, humanitarian, employment, and institution building services resulting from migration from Venezuela is estimated at between 0.2 percent and 0.4 percent of Colombia’s GDP, a figure that will certainly increase given the growing number of persons leaving Venezuela. Despite this, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have opened their doors to migrants in a gesture of solidarity commensurate with the magnitude of the crisis. In terms of opportunities, migration can create economic growth when it is well managed.

As happens in other regions, Northern Triangle migration breaks family and community ties and disrupts the support networks in the originating countries. It can, however, contribute to poverty reduction, human capital improvement, and greater investment as a result of the transfer of remittances. El Salvador provides the most compelling evidence of this, where it is estimated that in 2014 the poverty rate would have been 12 percent higher without those remittances. Another analysis conducted in Guatemala using data from that same year demonstrated that the likelihood that a family would face food insecurity decreases by 40 percent when it receives remittances.

At the World Bank, we are supporting the region using the experience gained in other areas of the world such as the Horn of Africa or the Middle East.  We are assisting Colombia by analyzing the effects of migration and short- and medium-term response strategies. Similar studies involving Peru and Ecuador are also being carried out. In addition, we recently announced Colombia’s eligibility for funding from the Global Concessional Financing Facility, a platform that supports countries hosting large numbers of refugees. Furthermore, the refugee issue will be one of the main topics discussed at the upcoming Spring Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to take place in less than three weeks. Going forward, we will continue our commitment by providing technical and financial assistance to migrant-receiving countries.

In the Northern Triangle, we are helping to improve access to health and education, boost the competitiveness and productivity of small producers, and enhance food security in areas impacted by drought and climate change such as the Dry Corridor, while at the same time assisting with crime and violence prevention and conducting analyses of key issues such as job creation. The aim of all these activities is to provide persons seeking a brighter future with options other than fleeing to another country.

Our efforts complement the work being done by other development organizations, governments, and civil society, although they will have to be redoubled given the projected continuation of these migration flows. The only way we will be able to tackle what is likely the greatest humanitarian crisis facing Latin America and the Caribbean today is through commitment and genuine solidarity with persons facing the dual vulnerabilities of poverty and migration.

World Bank

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Americas

Biden’s victory: An Opportunity for Transatlantic Reconciliation after Trump and Brexit?

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Joe Biden’s victory Last November came at a critical point during the Brexit negotiations between The European Union and the United Kingdom. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether a change in the American presidency will substantially affect the talks between Europe and Britain. Realistically speaking, the effect the Democrats’ victory in the US will have, at least on Brexit talks before the end of this year, will be minimal.

On a positive note, now that Donald Trump has been defeated, this leaves very little room for the UK to use the threat of a quicker and better deal with the US to try to subdue the EU and make them accept a more pro British agenda. The UK has no longer the US is an alternative to fall back onto if no deal is the result of the negotiations by December 31st.

Since the 2016 British referendum, the decision to leave the EU was enthusiastically greeted by Donald Trump. In very simplistic terms, Trump saw The British “Yes” vote as an act that vaguely resembled his campaign slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again.” The long standing, more loyal foreign policy ally of the US in Europe, was slowly showing signs to move away from the multilateralism Donald Trump greatly despised.

Ever since the outcome of the Brexit referendum became official, Donald Trump voiced his strong support for the UK to pursue a hard Brexit, and even enticed the British government with the prospect of a robust trade deal between the US and the UK, to convince the UK to drop out of the EU without a deal. In reality, none of those big American promises ever materialised. From 2016 to 2020, Donald Trump did absolutely nothing to support the UK. Biden’s victory last November, makes any past promises made by Trump impossible to fulfil.

Biden will, in principle, follow a diametrically opposed foreign policy to Trump’s. He sees the EU, and not the UK, ask the key actor that will help him advance American interests in the European continent. While there have been mutual expressions of willingness to strengthen the relationship between the Americans and the British, Joe Biden has always been skeptical of Brexit, and has made it clear from the start that one of his priorities in foreign policy will be to rebuild the relationship with the EU rather than pursuing a trade deal with the UK.

Ideally, should the UK try to have some sort of leverage to negotiate with the incoming American administration, they need to aim to strike a workable deal between with the EU before the end of this year. That, however, seems unlikely to happen. From an American perspective, it is highly probable that the Biden’s administration will not prioritise any UK-US trade deal in the foreseeable future. There is a strong possibility that Joe Biden will focus on domestic and close neighbours (Canada and Mexico) Issues during his first year in the presidency.

While this is understandable, considering the legacy of the Trump, Biden also has to be careful enough to avoid the temptation to play hardball with the UK because of Brexit. If he does, this could prove to be a fatal mistake with long lasting consequences, specially in a moment when the West is struggling with its own internal weaknesses and the rise of external threats to its unity.

One aspect that both Europe and the US have to acknowledge is that the importance of the UK goes beyond striking a trade deal with the EU. Looking at the rise of more geographically widespread authoritarian and antidemocratic pressures from central, Eastern Europe, China and Russia, the UK is still plays an important role on the continent’s security. Talks on further cooperation on how the EU and the UK will cooperate on foreign and security policy once the transition period ends on 31st of December 2020 have not yet been held. The UK, unfortunately, is likely to remain a crucial partner on such topics especially due to its role as a prominent and active member of NATO, and therefore, talks on this issues should not be left unaddressed.

The UK is aware of its importance militarily, and this explains the £24.1 billion investment announced by the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, this year. This is the largest investment since the end of the Cold War and it aims to modernise the armed forces, as well as to expand the Royal Navy to turn it into the largest fleet in Europe.

This move will enhance the UK’s status as Europe’s leading military power. The UK has also been among the first respondents to recent security crisis in Ukraine and Belarus. Not engaging with the UK altogether in security and foreign policy issues may prove to be detrimental in the long run for the security in the EU, especially considering the rising tensions and instability in the Ring of Fire, from Belarus to Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) allow for intergovernmental cooperation, this means that  states can pursue their own policies and coordinate them only when they align with the EU’s. The CSDP also allows EU member states to intervene when NATO as an alliance chooses not to. To date, there are 17 of such interventions, in all of these, the UK has been the biggest contributor.

Security is an area of opportunity for Europe and the US, Biden could potentially push for the Europeans to grant the UK an observer role in the Political and Security Committee, or the Foreign Policy Council to advance a common security and foreign policy for the region that wouldn’t only benefit Europe, but also the US interests in the wider European area.

Recently, the UK has been an advocate of what is called a “Global Britain” that echoes the times of the great British Empire’s prominence as a global player. How this will be achieved is still unclear. This grand strategy may fare impossible under current economic and political conditions in the UK and in the world, as well as with the uncertainty surrounding the future relationship of the UK with its neighbours after Brexit.

Anything can happen, the UK could pursue a close, special relationship with Europe where cooperation is prioritised, or there could be a more profound break between the two, where the UK sets its own agenda against the EU’s. For decades, the terms Europe and the EU have been used interchangeably. Now that one of the major European players is out of the organisation, both sides have not yet worked out how the future relationship will be. If it continues to be antagonistic this could send the whole continent into a spiral of chaos, reduced capabilities an increased volatility.

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Exit the Clowns: Post-Trump America

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Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

As America emerges from the election in grindingly slow fashion, with the soon-to-be-ex-President constantly tweeting frivolous accusations of voter fraud and threats about legal action, it is worthwhile to take stock currently as to just where America sits and what it faces over the next two months before the official Biden inauguration (and yes, there will indeed be a Biden inauguration, have no doubt about that). The following is simply a list of points that should continue to be considered and analyzed as the United States moves away from this four-year experiment with political nihilism:

Perhaps the only thing even remotely positive to emerge from the global pandemic known as COVID-19 is the fact that it clearly allowed the United States to get over some of its traditional political institutional inertia when it comes to encouraging and motivating voter participation. While America has always had mechanisms to allow absentee voting for those overseas and regulations permitting early voting in every single state, these tools have always been extremely minor when compared to the overall voter turnout. America has by and large always been a “turn out on election day” people. This year was clearly different, where the Biden-Harris team literally emphasized early voting for two main reasons: first, to get people to stay motivated even in the face of increasingly disturbing pandemic numbers and cases of new infections all across the country; second, to countermand the varied strategies local Republican officials in the modern day have come to constantly use to depress voter turnout amongst registered Democrats on election day (like voter ID initiatives that are confusing and/or outright illegal). This strategy, in the end, will be seen as crucially important to the Biden-Harris victory as it was the counting of early voting in the wee hours of election day that turned the tide in key states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Georgia while solidifying crucial leads in places like Arizona and Nevada. Eventually, this pandemic must end. So, it will be fascinating to see if the United States treats all the ways it gave voters the chance to vote in 2020 as a one-off never to be repeated or as a new approach to democratic participation that becomes a cherished new political tradition.

In my adult lifetime, most people in America celebrated breaking the 50% barrier when it came to voter turnout. This is a depressingly low number when it represents the oldest and most stable democracy in the world. 2020 saw eligible voter turnout at the 63% level. To be sure, this is still not earth-shattering. But it is without doubt a significant increase for a population that tends to always find reasons to not participate, rather than finding inspiration to get out and vote. The physical numbers overall – roughly 75 million for Biden-Harris and 70 million for Trump-Pence – reveal a true divide in American society that is likely to remain long after Trump’s departure from the White House. Which is entirely appropriate when you consider the fact that there is no such thing as Trumpism. The wave of voter dissatisfaction with Washington DC, that portion of the population that is largely white and non-affluent and feeling disenfranchised by elites, this phenomenon began long before Trump ever made a decision to run for President back in 2014. What Trump did, brilliantly it must be said, was position himself to become the figurehead of this dissatisfaction, tapping into the anger and frustration and elevating his own persona as its leader. The fact that some astute political experts are now even using the term “Trumpism” is a perfect analogy to how Trump has spent most of his business career: catching the tail-end of trends and using deft PR and brand management expertise to usurp the trend entirely. This is why people on the Left of the political spectrum in America need to be vigilant about what the 2020 election truly means. It is a worthy achievement to have won the Presidency, but most current analyses show something of a slight regression in the House of Representatives (so that Democrats’ control has slightly dwindled) and the Senate is going to remain in control of Republicans. This means the classic adage of cutting the head off the snake is irrelevant: this hydra has many heads and getting rid of the symbolic alpha head is not going to reduce the passion of the other side. In fact, given the advanced age of Biden making it unlikely that he can pursue a legitimate second term in 2024, it is far more likely America will see a resurgence of radically right conservatism by  the next electoral cycle to make sure there is no President Harris taking over after one term of Biden.

There are definitely voter trends that emerged new from 2020 that will be analyzed for years to come in terms of their long-term impact on future elections. First, it is clear the Republican cliché that only the extreme coasts of America are liberal and all the rest is conservative is dead. Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia all going blue prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt. Efforts made in the major urban cities of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia show that ethnic minority turnout is not just becoming increasingly important, but it literally decides the fate of these given states for future elections. Not every data point, however, spelled positivity for liberals in 2020. The delivery of Florida for Trump but Arizona for Biden shows there is a sharpening divide between the political leanings of Cuban Latinx in FLA and Mexican Latinx in AZ. Also, while it was once considered a crucial part of Democrats’ presidential strategies and then became a critical “purple” state that could go either way, it seems clear that Ohio is now de facto a part of the Deep South politically, leaning solidly red with no real strategy to unhook it from Republican devotion. Finally, it will be interesting to see if the relatively unimportant states of Maine and Nebraska lead the way to a new proportional approach to electoral college votes. Both of these states actually saw a single vote out of their overall low electoral college vote counts split off and go against the overall will of the state. One EC vote in Nebraska went to Biden while the rest went to Trump. In Maine, the reverse happened: one went to Trump while the rest went to Biden. After the uproar in 2016, where Clinton defeated Trump in the popular vote by a secure margin but actually lost the electoral college handily, it would be interesting to see if Maine and Nebraska represent a new way to adapt the electoral college without actually getting rid of it.

Good-bye to the Nihilist CEO as President trend. One of the things I was most interested in seeing in the 2020 election was a reversal of the “Nihilist CEO” trend. I call it this because it basically came to be the overriding zeitgeist of the Trump presidency. Initially, Trump was interested in simply governing as a conservative President, but with a real agenda and goals. As mentioned before with the term “Trumpism,” this more traditional approach did not sit well with the radical conservatives that felt responsible for putting him in office. For them, ‘draining the swamp’ was not a process of replacing liberals with conservatives: it meant literally and figuratively razing the Washington DC establishment to the ground and salting over the earth so that nothing could ever politically grow again. This is why so many Trump appointments to the Cabinet and to major agencies were given to people who had literally spent their professional careers working against those very agencies. So, we had anti-environmentalists in charge of the EPA; an Education secretary who wanted to dismantle public education; energy appointments wedded to fossil fuels and wholly disinterested in new energy resources. The list goes on and on. In each case, what became obvious, was that those who were the most fervent for Trump were de facto anarchists about Washington, so deep-rooted was their hatred for DC. With Biden’s clear victory and his own long career in politics, it is obvious this approach will get jettisoned to the wayside. It is a return to expertise. A return to experience and traditionalism. The Trump clowns are exiting. Time will tell if they are simply replaced by Biden clowns or by true experts looking to work hard for the nation.

Ironic justice: the Electoral College Vote Count. Finally, it is deeply ironic that, in the end, the electoral college vote for Biden vs. Trump in 2020 will almost be a perfect inverse mirror of Trump vs. Clinton in 2016. Trump may have lost the popular vote in 2016, but he was always adamant that his electoral college win (304 to 227) was so “lopsided” that it meant he was sent to the White House with a decided mandate. Well, when all the votes are finally counted and verified in 2020, the electoral count will most likely be Biden 303 to Trump 228. This is why his claims of election fraud or malfeasance are so empty and ridiculous. Not only did Trump once again lose the popular vote (by a wider margin this time), he lost the electoral college vote by the same margin he claimed brought him so much political legitimacy in 2016. Ironic justice, indeed.

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A Dangerous Interregnum

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Authors: Zlatko Hadžidedić and Adnan Idrizbegović*

Less than two months are left for the transition of government in the United States of America. Not a long period, but sufficient to trigger processes that the next American administration would not be able to reverse. There are no reasons to doubt that President Trump, who still refuses to concede the election defeat, will try to make the future of the Biden Administration as difficult as possible. In this context, let us remember that President Trump hails the abandonment of the nuclear treaty with Iran as his highest achievement, so it would be reasonable to assume that he would do almost anything in his power to make this very step irreversible. The question of whether that includes the option of a military attack on Iran, therefore, hangs in the air.    

We are witnessing a current concentration of American air power in Iran’s neighbourhood. This particularly refers to strategic B52 bombers and F16s from American bases in Europe. Further arrival of F35s in the region would increase the likelihood of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. This likelihood might also be increased with the announced arrival of the aircraft carrier Nimitz into the Gulf waters. As news agencies reported, the military option of that type had already been seriously considered by President Trump and his advisors, although it did not enjoy a high degree of support among the highest US military officers. In the forthcoming period, as long as Trump sits in the White House, it is realistic to expect that this dispute between the military and the Administration will gain in intensity, given the fact that President Trump’s team is well-known for its stubborn sticking to its original agenda.

In this context, it must be noted that the nuclear treaty with Iran was declared as one of President Obama’s greatest foreign policy successes. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a detailed agreement with five annexes reached by Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany). The nuclear deal was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and Iran’s compliance with the nuclear-related provisions of the JCPOA was verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It was a groundbreaking agreement that satisfied security concerns of Americans, Iranians, Arabs, Europeans, as well as others, opening the gates for Iran’s readmission onto the global scene. By adopting this treaty, Iran left its position of a pariah state. By betraying the treaty, President Trump has transformed the favourite role of the US as a leader of the free world into that of a pariah state. Does that imply his willingness to go even further in his rejection of all norms of international law, by launching a military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, as a logical continuation of his unlawful withdrawal from the ratified international treaty? 

From President Trump’s perspective, such an action should prevent a quick and easy return of the US to the treaty in the post-Trump period. A war in the Gulf should lead to an instant rise of oil prices; consequently, it should also lead to the strengthening of the US dollar, linked to the prices of oil. In the times of the failing global economy, additionally burdened by the crippling effects of the pandemic, this would be the most favourable impetus to the withering economy of the US. The rise of oil prices would also have a negative effect on the manufacturing-oriented economies of American competitors in China and Europe. This rise would also strengthen the military industrial interests in the US, commonly backing the Republican Party, potentially at the expense of the financial ones, which traditionally stand behind the Democratic Party. 

A thorough, or even only partial, destruction of the Iranian nuclear programme would certainly be the most favourable outcome for hardliners on both sides, and President Trump probably sees it as a chance to either remain in power despite the election results, or to undermine the position of the future Administration. No doubt, that would trigger a robust return of Iranian hardliners to power in the forthcoming elections, which would probably close the door to negotiations with Iran for the President-elect. Most likely, it would give a strong push to the Tehran radicals to renew the nuclear programme, this time exclusively for military purposes. Since an attack itself would probably be launched from the US military bases in the region, it would also trigger an Iranian retaliatory attack on these countries. Such a development would probably strengthen homogeneity among the cornered Arab NATO countries, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar, pushing them further into Israeli arms. This would also bring the Sunni-Shiite rift beyond the point of repair. Needless to say, most hardliners, not only in the West, would be absolutely delighted with that result. 

According to President Trump’s orders, the ongoing withdrawal of the American troops from Afghanistan, Iraq, as well as Syria, must be completed 5 days before the transfer of power to the Biden Administration. The withdrawal itself (complete or partial) shall leave an enormous strategic gap, for which there is no alternative to fill the void. Such an exit strategy is without precedent in the American military history, especially given the monumental costs attached to the invading enterprise that took place in these three countries. President Trump’s orders, therefore, imply that another gigantic calculus may be at play this time, a calculus of lasting global significance. Let us remember that an absolute departure of all foreign troops from the region was, actually, Iran’s demand after the assassination of the commander of the Iranian Republican Guard, Kasseem Suleymani. Does that mean that President Trump has accepted Iranian rules, or even supremacy, in the Gulf? Does it mean that President Trump would abandon American allies in the Middle East, from Israel to Saudi Arabia? And what will happen with oil, hitherto controlled by American companies, which exploited it due to the American military presence? Of course, if President Trump is not abandoning literally all American positions, alliances and interests in the region, it is likely that he must have some other strategic rationale. Perhaps cutting the military expenditures sounds acceptable to the ears of the American public. However, it is not sufficient to justify the magnitude of the shift.

The hasty withdrawal of the US troops, however, serves one clear purpose: it deprives Iran of available American targets for its potential retaliation attempts, and inevitably redirects Iranian wrath at the American allies in the Gulf. Thus the withdrawal not only increases the probability of President Trump’s military adventure against Iran, but also leaves the Arab allies between Iran and Israel, to choose their strategic sponsor. The question is, whether the recent secretive meeting between the Saudi Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is to be interpreted in this context?

In any case, the heaviest weight of the American absence in the region will fall on Israel’s shoulders. The Israelis know that an attack on Iran would bean option that could provide Israel with a necessary timeframe to adjust to these new realities and acquire a projected control over their Arab neighbours. A strategic importance of the attack would, therefore, require participation of Israel’s military. As the Israelis know it too well, detrimental effects on the Iranian nuclear programme are essential for the very existence of the state of Israel, since the Islamic Republic Iran is finally in the position to capitalise its long-lasting struggle against American dominance in the Middle East and gain strategic control over the entire Levant and the Gulf, so as to be promoted into a global player. The level of communication between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu suggests that certain promises may have been made to the Israelis that an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is imminent. However, the assassination of the Iranian main nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, attributed to the Israeli intelligence agencies, might be interpreted as an attempt to undermine the Iranian nuclear programme without a full-scale attack, either because the Israelis do not believe in its feasibility, or because they are trying to avoid it, given its long-term consequences that eventually might prove unfavourable for Israel’s position.

There might be one more option at play, bearing in mind President Trump’s favourite „art of a deal“ strategy: a secret deal between the current US Administration and Iran, that the US leaves the Shiite world (Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, plus control over Afghanistan in potential partnership with Pakistan) to Iranian domination, in exchange for Iranian tacit permission to have the plutonium generator in Arak – suitable for development of a military nuclear programme – bombed and temporarily destroyed by the US. That option would buy several years to both the US and Israel, with a significant postponement of Iran’s eventual production of a nuclear weapon. To the other side, it would give Iran a chance to improve its geopolitical position as one of the two main powers in the region, in interim coexistence with Israel as a de facto leader of the Arab NATO alliance. Under these circumstances, a Shiite bloc led by Tehran, separating Sunni Arab countries from Turkey and Russian influence, might be a favourable development for the US. The questions are, of course, to what extent it would be acceptable to Israel, and to what extent it would draw Iran into overstretching, and effectively, into economic weakening.        

Whatever the calculus of the outgoing Trump Administration, the incoming Administration of the President-elect Biden has no interest in allowing that such dangerous developments take place. If President Trump orders an attack on Iran in the last 5 days of his mandate, right after the departure of the American troops from the region, all its negative consequences will be attributed to the Biden Administration, crippling their announced initiatives to stabilise the world affairs. For, Its geopolitical consequences could be numerous: a takeover of the Middle East by the strengthened Iranian radicals; a possible nuclearisation of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and maybe Egypt; a further rapprochement between Iran and Russia, this time in the sphere of strategic nuclear cooperation, which would eventually terminate the Western influence in Eurasia. 

By going in that direction, President Trump would promote the strategy of „poisoning the well“ to the future Democratic Administration, depriving it of prospects for relevant foreign policy results in its next 4 years. Eventually, that might lead to the second coming of Trump; and then, to a burial of American democracy and implementation of an authoritarian one-party regime, as desired by the Republican radicals ever since the mid-1970s. 

*Adnan Idrizbegović, Independent researcher, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina

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