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Will Germany end up as NATO’s “weak link”?

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In a series of recent comments in US and British media, their authors appear increasingly alarmed by the prospects of maintaining the unity of NATO and, on a broader scale, of the West as a whole. Not as a result of US President Donald Trump’s “subversive” actions many Western media outlets and experts like to talk about but, rather, due to Germany’s changing policy. Let’s take a closer look at what has been going on.

The imbalance of geopolitical forces in Europe has for many centuries been a major trigger of continental and global conflicts.

According to US and British experts, the political and economic edge that Germany has enjoyed over other European states during the past 150 years has been a major destabilizing factor – something many German politicians, albeit with some reservations, tend to agree with. German ex-foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel insists that “neither the United Kingdom nor France is able to put pressure on Germany when it comes to plotting a course for the EU.” 

Some experts believe that the United States is the only country that wields enough political and economic influence to do this. However, Donald Trump’s anti-German rhetoric could push Berlin to “distance itself from the transatlantic alliance and focus instead on forging an EU-wide alliance.”

Germany has repeatedly reiterated its status as an independent power center “with a political philosophy all its own.”

The more radical expressions of German “independence” during the 20th century twice ended in disaster. After the end of World War II, Germany adopted a raft of military and geopolitical limitations and restrictions – initially under Allied pressure, and later on mostly a voluntary basis. In the wake of the country’s reunification, Berlin sought to convince the NATO and EU allies that it remained true to its commitments of the previous decades.

However, European and US fears of “German instincts” lingered on.

Meanwhile, memories of the fact that Anglo-Saxons were the main opponents, either open or secret, of the 1989 German reunification are still fresh on the Germans’ minds. Today too, it is US and British analysts who lead the chorus of fears that “the handcuffs that Germans voluntarily put on themselves may just as voluntarily be cast away.” They also wonder how long it will take new generations of Germans to want to make their country a fully sovereign state again.

Well, America does have reasons for concern. Since the early 1990s, the Germans have been talking about “the need for greater equality in relations with the United States,” and Berlin has consistently been working to strengthen the EU’s role as a global player. Including in terms of military capability – a factor that found its way into the 1992 “Fundamentals of German Defense Policy.”

In 1998, many Social Democrats and the Greens who had just won the elections, but had not yet formally taken up government posts, spoke out against the country’s participation in the NATO operation against Yugoslavia. Still, the outgoing government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl supported the allies.

Over the course of the 2000s, the “Atlanticists” were getting more and more reasons to be concerned about the so-called “German Question,” and this is exactly when the idea of a “European army” started getting traction. In 2002, Germany (though backed by France) caused the first major split in NATO, speaking out against the US-led invasion of Iraq. Time magazine then feared that Germany could eventually become a European superpower, mistreat its neighbors and shift towards a “national” policy over a “European” one.

By 2015, the British had concluded that the old imbalance of forces that destabilized Europe following the German unification of 1871, had come to the fore again after Germany reunited again in 1989 and the establishment of the Eurozone made Germany a dominant force in Europe again.

Finally, soon after Donald Trump took office, many members of the European and even US segments of the global Western establishment started mulling the possibility of naming the German Chancellor Angela Merkel the leader of the Western civilization as an alternative to a newly-isolationist America. And it was Merkel who, after the May 2017 NATO summit, the first one attended by Donald Trump, said that Europe could no longer rely on the United States. The outcome of the 2018 NATO summit only added to Europeans’ fears that with the Cold War now over, Washington was now all set to undermine the EU’s global competitiveness. Washington responded by making Germany the butt of wrathful attacks, accusing Berlin of virtually sabotaging NATO’s 2014 decision to increase its members’ defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024. President Trump complained that by failing to honor its commitments to the alliance, Germany, as the leader of the European Union, was setting a bad example for other NATO members.

With all this being said, because Germany in its present state is not in a position to singlehandedly play a leading role internationally, it prioritizes continued European integration and strengthening the EU’s global role. Including in terms of security and defense. Meanwhile, a realization of the fact that without US participation NATO virtually loses its combat capability, is turning Europe into a hostage of America, denying it the chance to act more independently even right here on the continent, let alone in the world. Therefore, the issue of “European sovereignty” is becoming a topmost priority for Brussels, and this is where Germany comes in as a leading proponent of “an independent and strong Europe.”

Washington, for its part, is showing a clear desire to undermine European unity with all the talk going on there about the impending collapse of the European project. Meanwhile, the United States is being advised to push NATO for the role of a new unifier of Europe. Some members of the Intermarium coalition  go even further and are now seeking direct military cooperation with the United States – even outside the framework of NATO’s formal mechanisms – in a bid to “deter” not only Russia, but also Germany. In response, in the fall of 2018 Germany (again together with France) pitched the idea of creating a full-fledged European army. During the Munich Security Conference held earlier this year, Angela Merkel “unequivocally confirmed Germany’s clam to European leadership, and even more importantly, Europe’s bid for “strategic autonomy from the US.”

The problem is, however, that Germany remains torn between the need to address mounting problems at home and the need to demonstrate a firm stand in the face of new foreign policy challenges. On the one hand, Berlin is facing “the most serious” security challenges “since joining NATO and the EU.” From the outside, Europe is coming under increasingly “strong pressure from Russia and China,” and now also from the United States. From within, the very fundamentals of European unity are being challenged by “populists and proponents of authoritarianism.” Even countries still embracing liberal values, including France, Spain and the Baltic states, disagree about the future of the European project. Under the circumstances, Germany objectively needs a more “thorough” defense policy in order to be “taken seriously” both in Europe and elsewhere in the world. On the other hand, any dramatic military buildup could only add to fears of a revival of the “German diktat.”

One way to solve this problem could be a full-fledged implementation of a strategy to create a European army. “The Germans build tanks, the French produce planes and the Italians build ships. However, a political decision is still a long way off.”

The idea of Europe’s greater autonomy within NATO could get a new boost if a German candidate is put at the head of the European Commission. The CDU and the CSU have for the first time ever agreed to nominate a common candidate who has “fairly good chances” of leading the European Union’s executive body.

However, the EU lacks the authority and power it needs to make sure that a united Europe can really become a major global player. Berlin’s “tandem” with Paris is plagued by a maze of incongruities and compromises, which do not really sit well with wide circles of the German political establishment. European politics is becoming increasingly factional and fragmented, and the addition of many new member states has made it even less manageable and harder to reach a consensus on a joint policy, above all in international affairs. Just how and if all these structural constraints can be overcome is probably the hardest task the EU is facing today. As well as its economic powerhouse, Germany. Many German politicians wonder just how much longer Berlin will have to bear the brunt of tackling Europe’s systemic challenges and crises amid a mounting wave of accusations and bad blood from a growing number of its neighbors.  

The intractable dilemma Berlin is facing now is which way to go with the situation being as it is. Support a policy that threatens to further destabilize a project of European integration that is seen as being of paramount importance for Germany’s future? Or go for a course designed to minimize the damage caused by the policy of outside powers that threatens the country’s fundamental interests? Would the latter option necessarily “undermine NATO” or would it gradually erode the alliance’s leading role in European affairs? Paradoxically, the policy being currently pursued by the EU and Germany means that Berlin’s activity or passivity can be equally detrimental to the Pan-European project, potentially resulting in its fragmentation or even disintegration. As is evident from the case of the Nord Stream 2 project, Berlin is capable of standing up to pressure, even from the US, when it comes to defending the country’s vital interests. Ultimately, it is up to the Germans to decide to what extent Germany will be ready to subordinate their interests to those of other countries.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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An occasion for the EU to reaffirm its standing on Security policies and Human Rights

Nora Wolf

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The EU Commission Vice-PresidentMargaritis Shinas addressing the conference

Vice-President of the EU Commission Margaritis Shinas was a keynote speaker at this summer’s Diplomatic Conference in Vienna organised by the International Institute IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy and their partners. High dignitary of the Commission seized the occasion to express the EU’s take on the 75th anniversary of victory over fascism, unfolding health crisis and to it related pressure on human and labour rights, as well as on the Union’s continued efforts towards remaining a ‘rock’ amid the volatile climate.

It is known by now – and acknowledged by the EU Commission VP – that the COVID-19 crisis has had some severe implications for Human Rights and, to a lesser extent, for cooperation outlooks. In the face of the first wave, countries in Europe and elsewhere have adopted different courses of actions in order to manage the health crisis and attempt at containing its threats. Placed in an unprecedented situation, governments have undoubtedly each reacted in ways they deemed most appropriate at the time.

However, the pandemic itself topped with the varied policies have caused notable restrictions on Human Rights. Most notoriously, the right to life and that to health have been challenged in extreme circumstances where, at the peak of the crisis, health institutions were so overflowed that the provision of maximal care to every single individual was compromised. The effective and equal access to healthcare has therefore quickly become a central preoccupation of many governments, drawing on some dramatic first-hand experiences.

On that, I will say that if the global health crisis has been a synonym for many negative impacts, it has also been a precious opportunity to rethink carefully the existing narrative of programmatic and progressive rights – such as the right to health – needing no immediate attention, nor realisation. This narrative held predominantly by some Western democracies ever since the adoption of the UN International Covenants, has been unduly weakening the universal and indivisible stance of Human Rights. Needless to say, in adhering to that dangerous narrative, planning for and prioritizing health access, resources and system capabilities is undermined. This, in turn, contributes to the difficult and insufficient responses of some governments that have been witnessed. May the victims of inadequate infrastructures due to an obsolete distinction between rights serve as a poignant reminder: social, cultural and economic rights need be readily available to all.

Equally interesting is the toll taken on a whole other range of Human Rights – an international system built up in last 75 years on the legacy of victory of antifascist forces in Europe and elsewhere. Numerous individual freedoms have also suffered limitations, often as a direct result of actions taken to promote and ensure the right to life and the right to health for the most vulnerable. Indeed, people’s freedom of movement, that of religion (external dimension), that of assembly and association, as well as their procedural rights – only to name a few – have all been greatly affected during the crisis.

Of course voices have raised their discontent at those restrictions put in place to mitigate the crisis, considered by many to be too incisive and too manifold when cumulated. But despite an apparent clash between two groups of interests protected by different rights, the resolution which has emerged from the approaches followed by most countries is very telling. In fact, a balancing exercise revealed that protecting the right to health and to life of the minority of people ought simply to be considered predominant in comparison to the other individual freedoms and rights of the majority. This reasoning, grounded in solidarity and the protection of minorities and vulnerable persons, is in fact very encouraging in an era of growing individualism combined with overwhelming challenges which will certainly require peoples to unite against them.

Nevertheless, this does not take away from the fact that the full and optimal enjoyment of Human Rights has generally been seriously affected as many interests have been caught in the crossfire of the fight against Coronavirus’ harmful effects. Moreover, the crisis has also created some divides amongst European countries. This is because the sanitary emergency has caused for precarious contexts of resources shortages and sometimes unfruitful cooperation, even shift in alliances.

This has naturally brought about separate criticisms and questioning of the EU cooperation strategy and security arrangements. In that sense, growing expectations are felt for the EU to uphold and promote its fundamental values including the rule of law, solidarity, non-discrimination and antifascist line.

Vice-PresidentSchinas is well aware of that reality and reiterates the EU’s unalterable commitment to peaceful cooperation, human dignity, liberty, equality and solidarity in these troubled times. He further ensures that the most recent security strategies led by the Union do not – and never will – eat away at the protection of fundamental rights. What is more, whilst the EU’s arrangements can be seen as slightly ‘under attack’ currently, the VP feels that rather than seeing this period as a high-stakes test on EU democracies it should be seen as an opportunity to take a bigger stand than ever for the European common values and call for strengthened multilateralism. This necessities constructive reciprocal and respectful active engagement with the EU Mediterranean and eastern European neighbourhood.

All that is because it is not too difficult to imagine that the aftermath of the C-19 crisis can open several paths of new dynamics in international relations. Yet, as it cannot be stressed enough, an upcoming change in the conception of relations between nations could be decisive for numerous other contemporary challenges – namely: migration crisis, armed conflicts, climate change. While one of the paths could consist in an increase in protectionism and nationalist attitudes, another one would involve, on the contrary, a shift towards reinforced cooperation and enhanced solidarity. The latter outward approach, advocated by the EU Vice-President and believed to be the best hope for the future, is one deeply enshrined in the antifascist legacy and the very raison d’être of the Union.

Above all, at the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Victory Day, Excellency Schinas reminds us with much humbleness that the journey for safeguarding Human Rights is one that is perpetually underway.

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Metternich: The visionary reconstructor of Europe and champion of conservatism

Nikita Triandafillidis

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Klemens Von Metternich early life and orthodox ideas

Klemens Von Metternich was born on May 15, 1773, into the House of Metternich, a German noble family that originates from Rhineland. He was the son of a diplomat that had served at the Imperial court of Treves.

At the age of 15, he started studying law at the University of Strasbourg while getting more familiar with the concept of conservatism. In 1792 he was attending the University of Mainz, again at the faculty of law where his conservative ideas flourished, promoting traditional imperial institutions emphasizing the necessity of prosperity and stability in Europe.

Klemens Von Metternich is considered to be a controversial figure in international affairs due to his ideas of obstructionism, while some critics of him go as far as call him an enemy of freedom. He was a harsh critic of the French Revolution and its consequences and he dreaded the ideas of liberalism and nationalism that emerged after it.

On the other hand, he is praised for his vision of peace in Europe by holding on to the traditional monarchical systems that were the only way to establish peace and prosperity in his view. Thanks to Metternich, Europe established itself as a dominant economic and military power of the 19th century while reviving again the European values of stability and development for its European citizens.

The French Revolution

In 1789, amidst the French Revolution, Klemens Von Metternich expressed his dissatisfaction with the situation in France, calling the revolution a “hateful time” for Europe. His statements came when most of the French nobility was executed in France and there was a huge concern growing among the European powers that the situation would spread to the whole of Europe.

Soon enough, Metternich’s concerns turned out to be true, as France sunk into a period of political turmoil. In 1794, the king of France Louis the XVI was executed spreading chaos among the country. The so-called “Reign of Terror” was established where thousands of French citizens were executed.

The French Revolution brought out views and ideas of liberalism and nationalism that contradicted the traditional systems that ruled Europe. Metternich resented these ideas. He was more focused on the idea of the European Enlightenment. He understood clearly that to provide tranquility and stability in Europe, certain fundamental laws needed to be established for Europe to function properly.

He pointed out that aspects of religion and morality should be the primary necessities to co-govern with natural laws. His ideal system for Europe was a monarchical system that would co-share power with other classes of European society. Metternich’s goal was to prevent any further revolutions and uprisings in Europe, however, his plan was briefly jeopardized by the man that threatened to destroy everything he believed in.

Napoleon Bonaparte: Metternich’s political nemesis

Napoleon Bonaparte, France’s most prestigious general at that time, re-emerged as France’s savior promising to save the French revolution and ending France’s political turmoil. In 1804, Napoleon became the emperor of France. However, he was never recognized by any monarch in Europe.

The Great Powers of Europe, fearing that the effects of the French Revolution will backfire to them, decided to invade France and restore the reign of King Louis XVI. However, this act gave justification to Napoleon to declare war on the European powers by proclaiming that this was just a defensive measure to preserve the French Revolution.

At first, Metternich viewed Napoleon with great interest, mentioning that he was the only one capable of providing discipline to a troubled France. An extraordinary man with practical knowledge about the common life of the citizens. However, his praise came with some precautions about Napoleon. He thought that he was a very practical and strong man but only if he was born in a different age. He did not find his abilities suitable for the age they were in.

Metternich was appointed as the Austrian Ambassador in France in 1806. By that time Napoleon had managed to defeat Spain, Prussia, and Austria making his advances to the Russian Empire. It was at that point that Metternich decided to use his diplomatic skills to keep Austria “breathing” long enough until Napoleon would be dethroned. His plans accelerated when he became Austria’s Foreign Minister in 1809.

At the same year he became a Foreign Minister, Metternich decided to show his diplomatic skills by arranging the marriage of Napoleon with Marie Louise the daughter of the Austrian Emperor, Francis I. With this maneuver, he managed to convince Napoleon that Austria would be a close ally of him, while in reality, he was just buying time for Austria and the remaining great powers to come up with a plan to dethrone Napoleon. He didn’t have to wait long.

In 1812, Napoleon marched towards Russia. Certain for his victory, a naive Napoleon did not see how big of an obstacle Russia would be. While advancing to Moscow he captured an empty city that was set on fire, while the Russians retreated to the east. With his lines of supply being cut off and a devastating Russian winter approaching them, Napoleon decided to retreat, looking for gold at the surrender of Russia but receiving only copper.

In the meantime, Metternich put his plan on the motion. With Napoleon’s army retreating and being chased by the Russians, he convinced the remaining Great Powers to give a devastating blow to Napoleon. In 1813, Napoleon was defeated in Leipzig by the armies of Russia, England, Prussia, and Austria. Napoleon was imprisoned at the island of Elbe in the Mediterranean Sea. However, he managed to escape and rallied up soldiers that were loyal to him but again he was defeated for a second time in 1815, in the famous battle of Waterloo in Belgium. Metternich was crowded as a hereditary Prince of the Austrian Empire. The only man that stood against his ideal formation of Europe was defeated.

The Vienna Congress

The year 1815, saw Metternich at the peak of his power. He had become a key figure in the plan to dethrone Napoleon, with his excellent diplomatic skills and his determination to steer Europe into the path of stability where Kings governed and people were governed. At the Congress, he made his points very clear for the beginning. He believed that the only way to ensure peace in the continent was to bring the Great powers together so that they could prevent any large European War to escalate again.

Metternich’s policies were based on two principles. One being the protection of historical traditional institutes such as the Church, the dynastic monarchies, and the essence of aristocratic privilege and the second was the establishment of a new vision of international balance in the continent of Europe. Instead of punishing France for the Napoleonic wars, he suggested including them in the table. With that move Metternich showed his true European face, putting the future of his continent above any nationalist notions.

The success of the Congress was inevitable. While including France at the Council of the Great Powers, Europe started to become more stable. The Council that included England, Russia, France, Austria, and Prussia agreed to prevent any further revolutions and political uprising in Europe. All the disputes between the powers were resolved with diplomacy which gave them all leverage to re-organize Central Europe in a more simple way to avoid any internal intense rivalries.

Contributions to Europe and modern diplomacy

Klemens Von Metternich was viewed by many people as a great man and a true European citizen who managed to sustain a united European front for almost 100 years. Despite some minor uprising after the Vienna Congress, Metternich was a solid diplomat whose vision about Europe became a reality.

However, he is also viewed as an oppressor of freedom. His despise for liberal and nationalist movements made him an “enemy” of the common people. What Metternich was more afraid of about these movements was the potential disruption inside the Austrian Empire that was made up by a multinational coalition of 11 nations. He did not want to see the Empire being torn apart. He went as far as suppressing any suspicious uprisings in Germany where there was a lot of revolutionary activity, by censoring books and newspapers and installing secret police spies that would infiltrate universities to arrest any suspected revolutionaries.

On one hand, he has been a symbol of oppression but that is not a judgment that represents him. He was a great man and a man with a vision for Europe. Numerous times he mentioned that he felt more European than Austrian, putting the needs of Europe above the nation. In his memoirs, he wrote about the unfair judgment that he received but also mentioned how wrong those people were. “Old Europe is at the beginning of the end and new Europe has not yet begun its existence, and between the end and the beginning, there will be chaos. In a hundred years, historians will judge me quite differently than do all those who pass judgment on me today.”

Indeed, 100 years later historians acknowledged the wisdom and the vision of Klemens Von Metternich. After the devastating consequences of WWI and WWII, his diplomatic ideas that kept Europe at peace were missed and Europe realized that the failed liberal system will open the door to a nationalist and fascist system that will doom the whole continent.

History tends to repeat itself and while our world is more connected now and more liberal the shadows of nationalist far-right movements lure Europe. This aspect, combined with failed liberal policies result in dissatisfaction of the masses and without order, chaos would erupt as it did hundreds of years ago. Metternich’s contributions to modern diplomacy and the history of Europe are remarkable. His ideas flourished after WWII with the creation of the European Union, a system that might not share the same conservative ideas as he did, but surely contributed to the prosperity of the continent.

His ideas of European stability and control of power are more relevant now with the new crisis that the EU is facingand soon enough the European Union will have to rethink Metternich’s ideas for the neo-liberal system to survive, otherwise, there will be only room for nationalistic far-right movements that threaten the dream of the EU by returning to failed protectionism measures and policies.

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Democratic Backsliding in the Visegrad Four: Examining the Illiberal Turn

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The initial years of the post-communist era reflected a promising beginning of the consolidation of democracy in the Visegrad Four countries. Slovakia, the only exception to this regional trend of democratic consolidation under Mečiarism, also showed signs of successful transition with the revival of democracy after the 1998 elections. However, in the last few years, with the rise of eurosceptics, ultra-nationalists and populists, the democratic model has been facing grave challenges in these countries. Besides attacking the opposition, students’ organisations and NGOs,  the conservative leadership in these countries, have also passed regressive reforms in media, constitution, as well as the judiciary. These attacks and reforms are aimed at strengthening the power of eurosceptic populist leaders, and thereby reducing any chances of Eurocentric opposition in the future. But why, despite initial years of promising success, democratic consolidation failed in the V4 countries? This essay argues that the challenges to the democratic consolidation in these post-communist countries have been a result of myriad local, national and international factors at economic, political and social levels.

Primarily, the membership in the EU, which was a major foreign policy objective of the new political elite post-1989, had raised numerous expectations among the citizens in these countries. But after the EU membership in May 2004, when those expectations still seemed a distant dream for the citizens in these countries, the disappointment with the EU membership’s promises rose throughout the region. This disappointment soon became a fertile ground on which the conservative section of the political elite mobilised their support, which became evident with the victory of nationalistic and eurosceptic parties throughout the region.

This discontentment with the Western European model was made further worse by the economic crises of 2008-9 and the subsequent Euro debt crisis of 2011. Contrary to expectations that the EU membership will be a guarantor of economic prosperity and improved standards of living, the V4 countries had to suffer immensely as a result of these crises which primarily resulted because of the loopholes in other countries. Furthermore, the subsequent burden of reforms with adoption of EU’s austerity policies aimed at stabilising the European économies post-crises, also proved costly for these countries, and hence furthered their apathy towards the integrationist model of Brussels.

Post 2015, the Refugee Crisis, resulting due to the massive influx of illegal migrants into Europe from politically unstable areas of the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, further fuelled the simmering anti-EU attitudes among the V4 countries. Though only Hungary was directly affected by the wave of these migrants, all V4 countries reflected a response which was reminiscent of classical xenophobia and exclusive nationalism. Despite these countries officially voting against Brussels’ proposal of obligatory refugee quotas, and opposing the financial aid given to Turkey following EU-Turkey deal to stop refugees from entering the EU, the conservative media and politicians in these countries left no stone unturned to show a face of refugees that immediately mobilised the people to vote populist demagogues to power at the cost of ruling out the Eurocentric federalists.

Finally, another important, and often overlooked reason for the failed democratic consolidation in the V4 countries has been their lack of historical experience with democracy. As a result of this lacked democratic experience, people in these countries failed to develop a democratic culture in a few decades post-1989, and instead found it easy to turn back to their familiar models.

However, despite all the gloomy prospects of democratic consolidation in the V4 countries, the region is not the only aberration. The rise of Euroscepticism, nationalism, and populism has been on the rise throughout the continent, which became evident with Brexit and the rise of conservative parties, like National Front and Alternative for Germany, among others. Therefore, it is imperative for the EU that these occasional setbacks in few countries must not hinder its vision of greater European integration. Because, any void created by declining role of Brussels in the Visegrad region will immediately be filled by Russia, which is craving to regain its influence in its ‘near-abroad.’

Moreover, the recent experiences from Afghanistan, Libya, Algeria and elsewhere, also made it clear that the quick imposition of the democratic model is not the universal solution for discrete problems across the world. The fact that the evolution of democracy took centuries of deliberate transformations, and occasional violent conflicts, in England, France, USA and elsewhere, must be kept in mind while assessing the democratic consolidation in any part of the world. Expecting successful transition and consolidation of democracy in the V4 countries, without keeping in mind that it has been only a few decades since these countries embarked on this painful transition, is in itself problematic.

Nonetheless, the post-1989 transition has also successfully contributed to transforming a considerable section of the population in these countries, who now show major disliking towards any non-democratic model. Therefore, even if the current situation of the V4is not a pleasant one, the big picture coming post-1989 is a reflection of a successful break with the ‘Other’ past.

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