“Who is to decide which is the grimmer sight: withered hearts, or empty skulls?” -Honoré de Balzac
For understanding the context of social life, Honoré de Balzac was a master. Minutely analytic in his scrutiny of society, he delicately lay bare every stratum of culture with the precision of an archeologist. Brushing the “dirt” from every “artifact,” his books combined (as Victor Hugo remarked at his funeral) “observation and imagination.”
It was an ideal but too-rare combination. Still, desperately, America needs another Balzac today. Despite so much apt criticism of an incoherent US presidency, millions of Americans continue to regard Donald Trump as an acceptable or even exemplary leader.
How can this be happening in a presumptively informed and democratic American society? In response, we could very easily throw up our hands and exclaim (together with ancient philosopher Tertullian), Credo quia absurdum, “I believe because it is absurd.” For a more serious response, however, we should first examine the wider American society from which this relentlessly conning president was drawn.
To fruitfully extend the illuminating Balzac metaphor, it is high time to “brush the dirt” from all still-revealing “artifacts.”
What might we expect to discover? At a minimum, the results of any such examination should be decipherable and straightforward. If properly executed (that is, if carried out with proper attention to the long-settled criteria of scientific investigation), we could quickly discover that Americans all-too-frequently abhor any genuine learning. Although this nation surely does place a very high value on every manner of “practical” achievement (e.g., smart phones, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, self-driving cars, automatic guns, etc., etc.), it is only because these diverse products are expected to enhance the banal circumstances of American “mass.”
In essence, before learning and intellect can ever be valued for themselves in the United States – a condition which is so clearly required for proper governance – Americans will first need to think far beyond glittering and distracting technologies.
What else might be learned from a “Balzac-like” assessment of dissembling US presidential moments? In some respects, the “Trump Phenomenon” is not utterly unique. Although less rancorous, cantankerous and blatantly foolish, more than a few incapable and dishonest US presidents have been endured during America’s endlessly acrimonious past. At the same time, especially because his own conspicuous debilities are coupled with a “nuclear button,” Donald Trump is more tangibly dangerous than any one of his injurious predecessors.
Vastly more dangerous.
Soon, however, we must return to deeper explanations. In all likelihood, almost by definition, a contemporary Balzac would look more closely at the broader society from which this American president was drawn and from which he was catapulted to nuclear command authority. Here, soberly, all must finally confront a cheerlessly trivialized social order, a generally dumbed-down amalgam of individual citizen souls yearning to “follow the crowd.”
Even in this pervasively anti-thought society, the core problem is not that the “average American” knows too little about matters of consequence.
Rather, it’s that he or she wants to know very little.
Incontestably, these same limiting traits are characteristic of Donald J. Trump. Expressed in more axiomatic mathematical terms, one is the inevitable reciprocal of the other.
Not by happenstance did Trump rise to power in a country so flagrantly proud of its historical and cultural illiteracy. The fact that this US president never reads anything – literally, never, ever – is not widely taken by Americans as a significant liability. On the contrary, the obliging American mass reserves notably few intellectual expectations for its leaders. Indeed, for many voters, ostentatiously, any obvious intellectual disinterestedness is taken as an enviable presidential asset.
Credo quia absurdum, said the ancient philosopher. Once upon a time, when some calculable number of Americans still sought to read challenging books and consider variously complex ideas, Ralph Waldo Emerson urged his fellow citizens to embrace “plain living and high thinking.” Today, this earlier American plea for improved personal and social equilibrium has been casually cast aside. If it were more widely recognized, Americans would then be “assured” that any well-reasoned pleas for consequential reform should only be ridiculed.
Under the aegis of President Trump’s continuously “rotating” senior appointees, matters will only get worse. Nonetheless, growing legions of US citizens acknowledge no real problem with their overtly anti-education president, even one whose proposed “solution” to gun violence in the schools is to randomly arm teachers (because they are “more loving” than police) and to “fight back” with still more guns. In part, at least, such an ominous indifference to intellect and science can be traced to America’s unrelieved barrage of crude and voyeuristic entertainments, many of which center on sadism, torture, murder and (these days especially) a cheerlessly corrosive public discourse.
Always, in the Trump Era, this discourse is laced with utterly baseless rancor and with conspicuously dreary profanity.
Always, in this American White House, science and reason represent merely an annoying impediment to free-floating human hostilities.
It’s time for candor. Earlier, Donald Trump had promised, at one of his more hideous Goebbels-style “rallies,” to protect a nonexistent Article of the US Constitution. Even then, however, his unhidden historical ignorance was glossed over by supporters as unimportant. Still, it represented another humiliating Trumpian symptom of America’s much wider and more deeply insidious national “pathology.” While his followers were generally correct that this president was entirely willing to “speak his mind,” they seem untroubled by the too-obvious corollary.
There was no underlying mind for him to speak.
“What the mob once learned to believe without reasons,” queries Friedrich Nietzsche in the Fourth Part of his Zarathustra, “who could overthrow that with reasons?”
Nietzsche, as usual, had understood splendidly, deeply. He reflected (also in Zarathustra) that “When the throne sits upon mud, mud sits upon the throne.” Disregarding the millions who (“with reasons”) still refuse to renounce a glaringly unhinged presidency, Donald Trump never ever attempts to understand that American history deserves its proper pride of place.
This is because the American president is himself utterly ignorant of America’s history and founding principles.
How many Americans who energetically champion “gun rights” have paused to consider that the Founding Fathers were not expecting automatic weapons? How many can sincerely believe that the Founders would have wanted 350 million privately-held weapons, including huge private arsenals that can kill hundreds in minutes and are sometimes in the hands of citizens living with variously advanced stages of dementia?
Could any argument for “Second Amendment Rights” be more starkly disingenuous than those that put literally unimaginable sentiments into the mouths of 18th century revolutionaries?
Can anyone reserve a legitimate intellectual right to believe that the Second Amendment embraces originally-inconceivable sorts of firearm? How many “educated” Americans bother to learn that their early eighteenth-century Republic was the direct religious heir of John Calvin and the lineal philosophical descendant of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes? How many can appreciate that the fearful Hobbesian “state of nature” described in Leviathan – a “state of war” or “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes) – was deemed insufferable by the seventeenth-century English philosopher because there “…the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.”
Hobbes strongly cautioned against any social order that might wittingly or unwittingly create this “dreadful equality.” After all, following such creation, “…the life of man (would necessarily be) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Evidently lost on this president, too, is the ongoing relevance of Hobbesian thinking to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Why else would Trump be actively undermining the already-fragile nuclear arms control regime, even to the extent of abrogating critical US treaties with Russia?
One still-whispered explanation is that this US president is a real-life “Manchurian Candidate,” but a more plausible answer is that he has no intellectual grasp of how best to support American survival in the steadily nuclearizing state-of-nature.
None at all.
For Trump, going back to “nature,” both nationally and internationally, could represent a positive or welcome development. More exactly, in this president’s alarmingly disjointed views of the world, (ones wherein “might makes right”) regression could sometime become an agreeable part of “making America great again.”
Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.”
There is more. This is hardly the first time in modern history that a “crowd” has loved to chant gibberish in belligerent chorus. For a particularly worrisome example, we need only recall the ritual cries of Joseph Goebbels at the Nuremberg Rallies before the War. What Goebbels did expertly instruct, with a shrill and perverse genius – an instruction now capably learned by Donald Trump – is that the bigger the lie, the more believable it can become. At first, the lie doesn’t seem to make any sense. But if one leads chants often enough against some “crooked” opponent or another, fewer will expect to find any “crookedness” on the chanting side.
Such devious “logic” makes no discernible sense. Still, it continues to work well for US President Donald Trump. Absurdly well.
“Intellect rots the brain,” warned Goebbels.
“I love the poorly educated,” echoed candidate Donald Trump in 2016.
Not much calculable difference here. Both Goebbels and Trump were effectively on the same page.
In the past, Mr. Trump, with nary a hint of painstaking analysis, blithely encouraged more countries to acquire their own nuclear weapons (e.g., Japan and South Korea). Immediately, this incomprehensible urging should have signaled a too-willing incapacity to figure out certain complex strategic problems. At a minimum, the president’s earlier encouragements were spawned by his apparent unawareness that possession of nuclear weapons does not ipso facto create credible nuclear deterrence postures.
Not at all.
In the pertinent language of nuclear strategic theory – a language with which I have personally been intimate for over fifty years – in Princeton, Washington and Jerusalem – the Trump fallacy has a specific name.
It is referenced by specialists as the “porcupine theory.”
This prickly metaphor obtains because these violators of strategic logic falsely equate nuclear weapons states with porcupines, presuming that just as the quill-endowed critters will leave each other alone in the forest, so too would nuclear weapon states steer clear of each other in the unsteady interstices of anarchic world politics.
In the end, US presidential selections are too often shaped by primal disfigurements. Many of America’s cumulative political ambitions remain integrally bound up with distressingly embarrassing simplifications and with resoundingly stupefying clichés. The elaborately welcomed appearance of Duck Dynasty as a principal “speaker” before Mr. Trump’s Republican National Convention should already have represented the reductio ad absurdum of a declining civilization.
Yet, it was not generally criticized. Not at all.
But it was consistent – and without causing any electoral disadvantage – with Donald Trump’s terminally proud aversion to refinement, syntax, intellect and meaningful learning. At even much deeper levels, it was expressive of America’s general celebration of low-level and degrading public distractions. For this US president, whose crude sentiments were unhidden, there was more palpable instructional value in television’s Roseanne than in Homer or Shakespeare.
Shouldn’t this illiterate judgment have been a sufficiently worrisome “early warning”?
Accordingly, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his learned generation of American Transcendentalists would have done more than winced. America’s earliest presidents, after all, were individuals of recognizable accomplishment and original thought.
In July 1776, over one short Philadelphia weekend
of dreadful heat and no modern conveniences, a then-future American president composed more
infinitely valuable prose than America’s current president (with all modern
conveniences at his ready disposal) could produce in several contiguous lifetimes.
Thomas Jefferson did not arrive at his presidency with a well-honed expertise
in “branding,” but instead with the much more appropriate
understanding that an American
“brand” should be based upon certain authentic qualities of accomplishment. These traits are inherently true, honorable and correspondingly valuable.
“One must never seek the higher man,” warned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Zarathustra, “at the marketplace.” Years ago, America still stood for something more than buying, selling and grievously raw commerce. Years ago, the country’s national debates did not yet center on mass killing and the right to arm oneself with military-style assault weapons.
It may well be that America has never been quite ready for Plato’s “Philosopher King,” but there were at least some recallable times in its national past that philosophical debates would sound more like a mind-expanding university seminar than a self-defense course on tactical weapons.
Assuredly, American s remember their earlier presidents not for their transient commercial successes in the frenetic marketplace of goods for sale and purchase, but for their auspicious presence in an enlightening marketplace of ideas. For these still-enviable presidents, it was much more important to build a leadership legacy upon wisdom and learning than on the incessantly demeaning symbols of conspicuous consumption.
It’s not complicated. The full horror of the Trump presidency – a horror still energetically accepted by millions – begins with the intellectually unambitious American citizen; with the insistently flawed individual “microcosm.” The American electorate, the macrocosm, can never rise any higher than the amalgamated capacities of its separate members. As Nietzsche could easily have predicted, the whole of the American polity is more starkly despoiled than the aggregate sum of its component “parts.”
Ultimately, for better or for worse, every democracy comes to represent the sum total of its constituent “souls,” that is, those still-hopeful citizens who would seek some sort or other of personal “redemption.” In the deeply fractionated American republic, however, We the people – more and more desperate for a seemingly last chance to “fit in” and to “get ahead” – inhabit a vast wasteland of lost human and intellectual opportunity. Within this desiccated amalgam of cheap pleasures and abysmal entertainments, of political leaders without even a scintilla of courage or integrity, millions of “hollow men” and women remain chained to exhausting cycles of meaningless and repetitive work.
There are manifold ironies here. While generally unrecognized, this de facto servitude is sometimes felt in the United States by the very very rich as well as by the very very poor. This paradoxical “artifact” of American privilege is based upon entire lifetimes spent on grimly sterile forms of pointless personal accumulation.
Now, our most spirited national debates continue to be about guns and killing not about history, literature, music, art, philosophy, or beauty. Within this vast and predatory nether world, huge segments of our unhappy population drown themselves ritually in vast oceans of alcohol and drugs. Whether incremental or sudden, this intractable submersion is now becoming deep enough to swallow up whole centuries of national achievement and entire millennia of a once-sacred poetry.
At its core, the American “opiate addiction problem” is not fundamentally about drugs. It is, rather, the symptom of rampant individual unhappiness and an intractable social despair. The most tangible residue of this unrelieved problem can be found scattered as toxic litter over thousands of America’s beaches and playgrounds. In the end, this litter can be taken as the materially squalid overflow of a nation’s much larger social disintegration.
This coming-apart is destroying a US society that has become complicit in its own manifestly unheroic demise.
Small wonder that so many millions of Americans cling desperately to their smart phones and related electronic devices. Filled with a deepening and ultimate horror of ever having to be left alone with themselves, these virtually connected millions are visibly frantic to claim some recognizable membership in the public mass. Earlier, in the 19th century, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had already foreseen this omnivorous mass, even before the rise of social media.
“The crowd,” opined the prophetic Danish thinker, “is untruth.”
Later, in the twentieth century, in a portentously similar insight, Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gassett foresaw the uniquely perilous consequences of “mass,” a term also resembling Sigmund Freud’s “horde” and quite nearly identical to Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s “mass.”
Whether one speaks of a “crowd,” “horde,” or mass,” the selected noun can speak volumes about how a non-reading and non- writing President Donald Trump remains able to claim the enthusiastic support of millions. In brief, while seeking such support, there is never any compelling reason for Mr. Trump to bother reconciling his policies with verifiable facts. In proudly announcing his “Made in America Week” some time back, this president took no pains to justify that his own family businesses were continuing to rely heavily on foreign-made goods and workers.
Always, in this gravely pernicious presidency, hypocrisy is undisguised.
Is this a sign of virtue?
Although virtually all respectable academic economists are convinced that Trump-generated tariffs will have deleterious effects on each American’s individual family pocketbook, this president continues to plan for some sort of “victory” in his indecipherable trade wars.
Conceptually, for this president, it’s not a difficult reconciliation to make. In any such calculations, full speed ahead, facts and logic be damned.
For the moment, at least, we Americans remain grinning but hapless captives in a deliriously noisy and airless “crowd” or “herd” or “mass.” Disclaiming any residual interior life, we proceed tentatively, and in almost every palpable sphere, at the lowest common denominator. Expressed in more annoyingly recognizable terms, even our vaunted American “freedom” is becoming a contrivance.
Once again, it’s time for candor. Our simplifying American context offers a regrettable but ubiquitous “solvent.” This caustic solution dissolves almost everything substantial of intellectual or analytic consequence. In education, the once revered Western Canon of literature and art has already been replaced by more generalized emphases on “branding.” Already, apart from their pervasive drunkenness and enthusiastically tasteless entertainments, our once-sacred spaces of higher education have been transformed into a steadily rusting pipeline to ritualistic jobs and sterile vocations.
Soon, even if we should manage to avoid nuclear war and nuclear terrorism – an avoidance not to be taken for granted in the rapidly unraveling Trump Era – the swaying of the American ship will become so violent that even the hardiest lamps will be overturned. Then, the phantoms of great ships of state, once laden with silver and gold, may no longer lie forgotten. Then, perhaps, we will finally understand that the circumstances that could send the compositions of Homer, Maimonides, Goethe, Milton, Shakespeare, Freud and Kafka to join the disintegrating works of forgotten poets were neither unique nor transient.
In an 1897 essay titled “On Being Human,” Woodrow Wilson inquired thoughtfully about the authenticity of America. “Is it even open to us to choose to be genuine?” he asked. This earlier American president had answered “yes,” but only if we first refused to stoop to join the threatening and synthetic “herds” of mass society. Otherwise, as Wilson had already understood, our entire society would be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty demise of broken machinery, more hideous even than the unstoppable decompositions of each person.
In all societies, as Emerson and the other American Transcendentalists had also recognized, the scrupulous care of each individual”soul” is most important. There can be a “better”American soul, and also an improved American politics,but not until we are first able to acknowledge a more prior obligation. This is a far-reaching national responsibility to overcome the staggering barriers of a Kierkegaardian “crowd” culture, and to embrace once again the liberating imperatives of Emersonian “high thinking.”
In the end, the Donald Trump presidency is “merely” the most debilitating symptom of a much deeper American pathology. In this country, the underlying disease is rather a far-reaching national unwillingness to think seriously. Left unchallenged at this rudimentary level, such reluctance could eventually transform us into the finely-lacquered corpse of a once-promising American Civilization.
Naturally, if this president should ever authorize the use of American nuclear weapons, such transformation could become instantaneous.
More than likely, the Trump presidency will notend with the bang of a catastrophic nuclear war, but even that “happy ending” could represent little more than a temporary reprieve. Accordingly, unless Americans begin to work much harder at halting their society’s steep indifference to both intellect and reason, we will recurrently have to face the ominous kinds of metamorphoses that Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once famously termed a “sickness unto death.” As Americans who can still understand more than the embarrassingly empty witticisms stitched into red baseball caps, the truest work should begin not with politics directly (all politics are ultimately just reflection), but with very deliberate and purposeful fixing of their private “selves.”
The American democracy, as we may yet learn from Thomas Jefferson, a US president of true intellectual accomplishment, was never expected to flourish without an informed citizenry. Once this is finally understood and accepted, an imperiled nation could more properly guard itself against another patently unfit American president. It follows that there could not possibly be any more important “brand” of national awareness.
Recalling classic French author Honoré Balzac, “withered hearts” and “empty skulls” need not be mutually exclusive. Rather, most notably in the scarcely hidden case of a now- deteriorating American polity, the first can flow lethally and directly from the second. Moreover, the impacted ambit of corollary suffering could quickly extend far beyond US borders to other and distant countries, and include major wars or genocide.
Such would be a plausible legacy of a
declining American democracy increasingly detached from reason and learning.
 There are many compelling components to any such allegation, but the most serious of these concerns an American president’s authority and capacity to initiate nuclear war. In this connection, several recent articles by the author expressly deal with this overriding concern. See, for example, Louis René Beres, http://www.jurist.org/forum/2017/08/louis-rene-beres-trump-nuclear.php See also: https://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-05-11/possible-trump-presidency-showcases-fatal-flaw-in-nuclear-command-safeguard. Professor Beres is the author of twelve published books dealing with nuclear command decisions, including Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (The University of Chicago Press, 1980), and, in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/
 At the July 4 2019 celebration in Washington, this president promised “brand new Sherman tanks” and instructed that in the 18th century the Revolutionary War army had “taken control of all national airports.” (No Sherman tanks have been built in the last seventy years).
 A somewhat analogous fallacy in domestic politics is revealed in the recommending of easy private access to guns, and, correspondingly, of arming teachers to deter school shootings. To be sure, it makes little sense to argue (as does Donald Trump) that a determined and deeply disturbed individual with access to multiple firearms would be best deterred by a “loving teacher” with a handgun concealed in her/his desk drawer or pocketbook. It is also worth noting that in several thousand years of western philosophy, a key hallmark of a civilized society has been the “centralized force monopoly of the community,” not the “every man for himself” vigilante system now seemingly favored by a sitting American president.
 One of this writer’s first scholarly assessments of the “porcupine” fallacy was published in Parameters: The Journal of the US Army War College (Department of Defense) in September 1979. See; Louis René Beres, “The Porcupine Theory of Nuclear Proliferation: Shortening the Quills,” Parameters, Vol. IX, No. 3, September 1979, pp. 31-37. More recently, see also Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York and London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 2nd edition 2018.
 On US President Donald Trump’s ideas of art and beauty, see: Louis René Beres at Oxford University Press: https://blog.oup.com/2017/09/aesthetics-politics-donald-trump-beauty/https://blog.oup.com/2017/09/aesthetics-politics-donald-trump-beauty/
 However ironic, Sigmund Freud had maintained a general antipathy to all things American. In essence, he most objected, according to Bruno Bettelheim, to this country’s “shallow optimism,” and its seemingly corollary commitment to a disturbingly crude form of materialism. America, thought Freud, was very evidently “lacking in soul.” See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983), especially Chapter X.
U.S. versus China, and U.S. versus Russia
The main ideological conflict in the world used to be between capitalism versus communism. After the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, that became replaced by the ideological conflict being between imperialism and anti-imperialism. With the expansion of America’s NATO military alliance against Russia, after 1991 — after the communist dictatorship there ended — to include as new members all of the Soviet Union’s former Warsaw Pact allies in Europe, and with America’s aim now being to bring into NATO the former Soviet allies to the south of Russia, such as Azerbaijan and Georgia, American imperialism is viewed in Russia increasingly as an existential threat, which it certainly is.
The basic difference between the U.S. Government and its allies, on the one hand, and between Russia and China and their allies, on the other, is the same difference in either case: whereas the U.S. and its allies require other Governments to follow their instructions, and consider their own instructions to be moral demands (and thereby binding, actually commands instead of mere suggestions), Russia and China and their allies reject — on principle — any country’s dictating to another. They don’t consider it to be moral, at all, but instead profoundly immoral — they consider it to be imperialistic, dictatorial, bullying, hostile toward international democracy — and they simply won’t accept it; they reject it morally, outright. Iran, too, feels that way about the matter. So, too, do many other countries. That’s the basic difference: the imperialists versus the anti-imperialists.
In other words: the U.S. and its allies consider imperialism — the supposed right of a nation to command another nation — to be something that should be within the bounds of, and accepted by, international law. The U.S. Empire doesn’t call itself an “Empire,” but it is one, and its empire is therefore called instead “the Washington Consensus”, which is a “consensus” in hostility against whatever countries the U.S. Government wants to become regime-changed — to turn into an American colony. The “Washington Consensus” is actually an imposed ‘consensus’. It is a consensus against nations that disobey that ‘consensus’.
The very concept of the “Washington Consensus” was created in 1989 when Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the communist Soviet Union, was unwilling to apply the amount of force that might hold the Soviet Union together, and the anti-communist Revolutions of 1989 in the Soviet Union and in China made clear that communism was about to end in at least the Soviet sphere, and that consequently the American rationale for the Cold War — anti-communism — would soon end. So, America, having perpetrated many ‘anti-communist’ (but actually anti-independence, and in some cases even boldly anti-democracy) coups in Thailand 1948, Syria 1949, Iran 1953, Guatemala 1954, Chile 1973, and many other lands, needed a changed ideological excuse, in order to continue building-out its Empire (not yet called “the Washington Consensus”); so, the “Washington Consensus” became, itself, the new excuse. This ‘consensus’ of the U.S. and its allies consists in the imposition of “libertarian” or “neo-liberal” economic policies, as being an international obligation for countries in the “developing world” to accept and apply (often called “austerity,” because it is austerity for the masses of that underdeveloped country’s citizens, so that foreign investors can reap the profits from it). This ‘consensus’ became the new ideological excuse to extend the American Empire. However, as the appeal of “neo-liberalism” began to wane (as a result of its increasingly bad international reputation), a new excuse was increasingly needed. “R2P,” or “Responsibility to Protect” the residents in other lands, became introduced, especially after around the year 2000, as the new, ‘humanitarian’, excuse for America and its vassal nations (‘allies’) to apply sanctions against, and even to invade and occupy, countries such as Iraq, Syria, and Venezuela — countries that, ‘just by coincidence’, happened to reject the Washington Consensus. This new excuse for America’s spending approximately half of the entire world’s annual military costs was more clearly putting forward the Washington Consensus as constituting the ‘real’ United Nations — the one that had a military force (and that didn’t have Russia, China, or any other recalcitrant nation, on any “Security Council”). The U.S. regime champions R2P as being a ‘humanitarian’ motivation behind such sanctions, coups, and invasions, for ‘regime-change’ against recalcitrant countries, such as Iraq, Syria, and Venezuela. The American anti-‘communist’ organization, Human Rights Watch, and the British anti-‘communist’ organization Amnesty International, now became especially prominent, as public endorsers of R2P. Often, however, subversion by the U.S. succeeded at conquest, without there even being any need to apply sanctions (or worse). R2P isn’t necessary for those types of operations — subversion. An example is Brazil, in regard to the ending of any functional democracy in Brazil and the imprisonment of the popular democratically elected President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (“Lula”) and replacment of him by a far-right regime. The U.S. regime, prominently including Joe Biden, did it, so as to extract from Brazil’s poor the money to pay to foreign investors to buy and strip that nation, in accord with the dictates of the IMF and the rest of the Washington ‘consensus’. By the time of 19 July 2017, the U.S. Justice Department publicly admitted “It is hard to imagine a better cooperative relationship in recent history than that of the United States Department of Justice and the Brazilian prosecutors” who had rigged the ‘evidence’ that got President Lula thrown into prison. A remarkable article at Brasil Wire — which has been copied many times to the web archives — “Hidden History: The US ‘War On Corruption’ In Brasil”, documents (with 77 links) U.S. subversion, which had regained U.S. control of that country, by means of a coup that was a cooperative effort by the aristocracies of both the United States and Brazil. Subsequently, on 15 June 2019, The Intercept bannered “Glenn Greenwald Explains the Political Earthquake in Brazil Caused by Our Ongoing Exposés” and linked to, and described, how the anonymously supplied evidence that they had published had laid bare the rigging of the case against Lula that had transformed Brazil from being a budding democracy, into its present fascist regime — again into being a country that U.S.-and-allied billionaires can exploit virtually without limit.
The U.S. regime’s emphasis upon ‘corruption’ had been central to the ‘justification’ of ousting Lula. This is an example of another excuse that the U.S. and its allies employ in order to ‘justify’ their imperialism: it’s America’s global ‘anti-corruption’ campaign. Agents of U.S. billionaires had actually established Transparency International at the very same time as they did the Washington Consensus, as a means to rig the corruption-rankings of countries, so that the World Bank would be able to ‘justify’ charging higher interest rates to countries that America’s aristocracy aim to conquer (regardless of whether that conquest was by subversion — such as in Brazil — or else by sanctions, or by coup, or by military invasion).
Consequently, the American Empire started, on 26 July 1945, in order to ‘conquer communism’ (U.S. President Harry S. Truman, on that date, got sucker-punched into that support of imperialism, and he remained so); and, then, after 24 February 1990, that ideological excuse morphed into the “Washington Consensus” imposition of “libertarian” or “neo-liberal” economic policies; and, then, it morphed yet again,into ‘responsibility to protect’ (or, as one of its champions put it, ‘Sovereignty is an anachronistic concept’ and should therefore be ignored); and, then, the alleged motivation came increasingly to rely upon ‘anti-corruption’. Regardless of the excuse, however, the actual intention has remained unchanged, ever since the Cold War started on 26 July 1945. Basically, America would impose its own world-government, and only the excuses for it were changing, over time — new paint on an old building — and, “To hell with the U.N.!” Billionaires’ greed was never being presented as the motivation behind their empire (just as the aristocracy’s greed has been behind every empire). But, after the time of Ronald Reagan’s election to the U.S. Presidency in 1980, the idea that “Greed is good” has been advocated by some U.S. officials; and some Americans even use that idea (such as “capitalism”) in order to argue for the Washington Consensus.
The U.S. and its allies believe that the English Empire is okay; the U.S. Empire is okay; the Spanish Empire was okay; the Italian Empire was okay, the French Empire was okay, the Dutch Empire was okay, the Portuguese Empire was okay; the German Empire was okay; the Russian Empire was okay; the Japanese Empire was okay; the Chinese Empire was okay, and so forth. And, this imperialism-accepting view of morality is profoundly contrary to the morality of today’s Russia, China, and their allies, all of which believe, instead, that imperialism by any nation is evil, because each nation’s Government is sovereign over only its own land, and because national sovereignty consists in the right of each nation’s Government to rule over all of the internal matters within its own land-area. No national government, or alliance of national governments, should be able to dictate anything of the internal affairs in any other country. This is democracy between nations; it is international democracy. Democracy (or not) within a nation is no valid concern of international law, but is inevitably and entirely a matter of national law: the nation’s Constitution, and the entire national legal system. Foreigners should not be dictating that. To do so is international dictatorship.
Though all nations share a view that international matters require international agreements and international laws which are based upon international agreements, and therefore they all share the view that an international government, of some sort, is required, in order to enforce international agreements, the imperialistic countries believe themselves actually to be such international governments, or else that they are being ruled by such an international government (“the Empire,” “the Washington Consensus,” or whatever they might call it). The anti-imperialist countries believe that that’s not true, and that imperialism is what leads to interference in the internal affairs within other countries, and thereby produces wars, which are especially evil wars — ones that are of the aggressive type, aiming to expand the attacking nation’s control, to extend over additional lands. That’s international theft. Russia, China, and their allies, refuse to accept it.
Whereas anti-imperialist countries believe that any violation of a nation’s sovereignty — other than in response to an invasion from that country — is evil, pro-imperialist countries believe that it’s good, if one country agrees to be ruled by another country. (In the view of pro-imperialists, the agreement of one country to be ruled by another is alleged to be sometimes voluntary, and not to be the result of invasion and conquest or other means of external control — it’s alleged to be a ‘voluntary’ empire. Normally, the imperial country demands each of its ‘allies’, or vassal-nations, to say that their ‘alliance’ is ‘voluntary’. This myth is part of the imperial system.)
What politically divides the world today is precisely this difference: imperialism versus anti-imperialism — NOT capitalism versus socialism. (In fact, some countries, such as the Scandinavian ones, blend capitalism with socialism, and maintain higher levels of democracy than do the more ideologically rigid and more purely capitalistic countries such as the United States do.) So, there isn’t (and there never really was) any necessary correlation between democracy on the one hand, and capitalism versus socialism on the other: it was a figment of U.S.-allied propagandists’ imaginations — a lie — to suggest that capitalism goes with democracy. Nazi Germany was capitalist; fascist Italy was capitalist; imperialist Japan was capitalist, but they all were dictatorships, not, at all, democracies. For example: the Italian dictator Mussolini — the founder of fascism — said that fascism is “corporationism,” and he rejected both socialism and democracy. You can read here Mussolini’s essay on “Capitalism and the Corporatist State”, in which he was defining “fascism,” or his synonym for it, “corporationism,” and what he said in that essay describes the U.S. and its allied Governments today, as they actually are: today’s U.S. and its allied Governments are “corporationist” or “fascist,” as Mussolini described that, in 1933. Earlier, in 1914, Mussolini had said that “I shout it loudly: anti-war propaganda is a propaganda of cowardice.” He said that every nation seeks to expand, and that there is nothing wrong with this: “Imperialism is the eternal and immutable law of life. At bottom it is but the need, the desire, and the will for expansion, which every living, healthy individual or people has in itself.” He wasn’t similar to America’s leader in the 1930s, but he was similar to most American leaders of today. (For example, Barack Obama — though silk-tongued, unlike the less-deceptive and more forthright Mussolini — said repeatedly that every nation except America is “dispensable”: only America is not.) On 2 October 1935, Mussolini announced his war on Ethiopia, as providing a way for Ethiopians to share in Italy’s glory: “For many months the wheel of destiny, under the impulse of our calm determination, has been moving toward its goal; now its rhythm is faster and can no longer be stopped. Here is not just an army marching toward a military objective, but a whole people, forty-four million souls, against whom the blackest of all injustices has been committed – that of denying them a place in the sun.”
Basically, what Truman started on 26 July 1945 was America’s becoming, itself, a fascist nation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was deeply anti-fascist, and had hoped to start the U.N. as the international democratic federal republic of nations, but Truman shaped what the U.N. became instead, which is a mere talking-forum that can do only what there exists virtual unanimity to do. So, effectively, “international law” has become, and now is, whatever the U.S. regime wants to do. Tin-pot invading dictators can be prosecuted, but America’s invading dictators (who lead vastly more mass-murdering and destructions of nations than the tin-pot ones do) can’t. FDR and the allies (especially Russia, which wasn’t even a democracy) defeated the fascists, but Truman (largely by mistake, instead of by intention) led the fascist resurgence and post-WW-II victory.
First, this difference, between the U.S. and the countries that it attacks, will be exemplified here in the case of U.S. versus China, and then it will be exemplified in the case of U.S. versus Russia. In each instance, the example applies also with regard to each of those two countries’ allies:
On October 9th, America’s Public Radio International (PRI) bannered “Biden says he’ll make China quit coal. Can he deliver?”, and sub-headed “China is on a coal spree, financing and providing technical expertise to roughly 60 new coal-fired power plants outside its borders.” But China (unlike the United States) is actually committing itself to reduce, instead of to expand, its usage of coal, and that fact is simply omitted from the PRI article, because PRI (like all of America’s major news-media) is an agency of U.S. Government propaganda — indoctrination. How, then, can their article claim “China is on a coal spree?” Is it simply a lie? No. The article isn’t about that (China’s domestic coal-usage). It is strictly about China’s building coal plants in other countries, because this is the issue that provides U.S. propagandists an opportunity to present the Chinese Government as being in need of regime-change. That’s essential, in order to maintain public support for the U.S. Government’s anti-China sanctions and other hostile policies toward China. It’s propaganda, for sanctions, subversion, and maybe later a coup, or even an outright U.S.-and-allied invasion, against China.
As regards China’s domestic usage of coal, an article was published, on September 30th, in the significantly less propagandistic (because not so beholden to the U.S. or any Government) Asia Times, headlined “China’s carbon neutral pledge – pipe dream or reality?”, which sub-headlined “Xi’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2060 clashes with China’s geopolitical interests,” and that article noted how extraordinarily dependent, upon coal, China — a coal-rich nation — is, and has been while its economy has been growing at a breakneck pace. This article also noted: “The US, the world’s largest economy, and second largest carbon dioxide emitter, for its part, is the only major world power that has not announced plans to go carbon neutral.” That fact, of course — America’s refusal to go carbon-neutral, and its 4 November 2019 abandonment of the 2016 Paris climate agreement, which both China and Russia remain committed to — somewhat punctures the U.S. Government’s case against China as being a global-warming villain. The U.S. doesn’t even have plans to restrict its CO2-emissions.
Furthermore, this news-article opened:
China is trying to spearhead a new climate change agenda that has the potential to dramatically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by next decade and beyond and help the world’s second largest economy and most populous nation become a global climate change leader.
Last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping surprised his listeners at the virtual UN General Assembly in New York when he announced that China would be carbon neutral before 2060, and ensured that its greenhouse gas emissions would peak in the next decade.
This is a severe contrast to the U.S. Government. Nothing was said about it in the PRI article.
The PRI article deals with this problem for U.S. propagandists by falsely insinuating (which is the way that propaganda usually works) that the Chinese Government’s publicly announced plans are not to be taken seriously but are only communist propaganda:
Inside China, those overseas coal plants are often portrayed as benevolent. Jingjing Zhang, one of China’s top environmental lawyers, said that “from the Chinese government perspective, it is a way of giving. ‘We are helping the developing world … helping those countries have a better economy.’”
And if its smoke-spewing projects drive up the world’s temperatures?
“The argument from China’s government,” Zhang said, “is that it’s not the Chinese government’s responsibility. It is the host government’s responsibility.”
Actually, that view, which is expressed by China’s Government, is a basic operating principle of that Government’s foreign policies. It isn’t just propaganda; it is, instead, ideology — it is China’s, Russia’s, Iran’s, and many other countries’, ideology: anti-imperialism (versus America’s imperialism, America’s moralistic ‘regime change’ con, like “Saddam’s WMD”). Just as imperialism has become America’s ideology, anti-imperialism is the ideology of the countries that the U.S. propaganda-media attack.
The anti-imperialist ideology (supporting international democracy among and between nations — rejection of international dictatorship — instead of supporting international conquest and occupation or control over nations) was stated privately by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the closing years of World War II — he blamed both of the two World Wars on imperialism, and was passionately committed to ending imperialism, by means of the United Nations. That’s an institution he actually invented, and even named (but all of this was done privately, not publicly, because he wanted buy-in from both Stalin and Churchill, and the latter, Churchill, argued feroociously with him against it, because Churchill was — and had always been — a champion of continuing, and even expanding, the British Empire). But FDR died on 12 April 1945, just before the U.N. would be organized. And his immediate successor, Harry S. Truman, shaped the U.N. so as for imperialism to be able to continue, in order for America to become the world’s first global empire, by means of sanctions, coups, and outright invasions, in order for the U.S. Government to be able to spread its influence and control. After WW II, America developed the biggest empire the world has ever had.
FDR’s concept of international law was that only a democratic global federation of nations, which he planned to be the “United Nations,” would, or even could, be the source for international law, because, otherwise, the history that had produced the two world wars — contending and competing gangs of nations, imposing their ‘laws’ upon their conquests, and trying to expand their empire — would continue. And that ancient system, of empires, has been continuing, despite what had been FDR’s hopes and plans. The U.N. that was created, was designed by Truman’s people, not by FDR’s.
I have written elsewhere about how crucial this difference of moral viewpoints is between Putin and the U.S. Government, which also explains why the U.S. and its allies also want to regime-change him and grab Russia. In terms of domestic policies, Putin is determined that the State not be controlled by the nation’s billionaires; and this, too, is a principle that the U.S. Government and its allies cannot tolerate. (The Washington Consensus instead endorses it, in principle, as part of “the free market.”) The U.S. and its allies refuse to accept any nation’s leader who is unalterably opposed either to being controlled from abroad, or to being controlled by his/her own nation’s billionaires. FDR refused for America to be controlled by America’s, or by any country’s, billionaires.
FDR was correct; Churchill was wrong; but Truman sided with Churchill (who got backed up by General Eisenhower, who seems to have clinched Truman’s decision because Ike was an American). And, on 24 February 1990, G.H.W. Bush made the equally fateful decision to continue Truman’s Cold War. And all the rest is history. Truman and G.H.W. Bush shaped it. We are living in it. It did trillions of dollars worth of good for the investors in corporations such as Lockheed and Exxon. That decision, by the U.S. Government, has been the choice of the people, America’s international billionaires, who, behind the scenes, have controlled the U.S. Government after FDR died, on 12 April 1945. It’s the new America: the imperial America. And it’s done not only by America’s Presidents, but by almost all members of the U.S. Congress. For a typical example of this: the 2017 “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”, against Russia and against Iran, passed by 419 to 3 in the U.S. House, and then 98 to 2 in the U.S. Senate. Imperialism is just about the only issue on which there is virtual unanimity in today’s Washington. It is truly bipartisan, there. Both of the billionaires’ Parties are war Parties. This is especially remarkable for a country that no country even threatens to invade (much less has invaded, since 7 December 1941). Its military Department is called the “Defense Department,” instead of the “Aggression Department.” Is that name dishonest? Should it be changed, to something more honest? Maybe it should be changed back, again, to being called the “War Department.” But, unlike when it was called that, it now is 100% the Aggression Department. So, shouldn’t it be called that, now? Shouldn’t a spade be called a “spade,” instead of just “a gardening tool”? If it’s the Aggression Department, why don’t they call it that?
Author’s note: first published at Strategic Culture
Townhalls and Betting Odds: An Election Prediction
No debates but we had matching townhalls. THe first debate will be remembered for Trump’s persistent interruptions of his opponent. If he had hopes of a boost in the polls it was not to come. He is still down in the polls but keeps predicting a ‘big beautiful red wave’ on election day.
With no opponent to hector in a townhall, Trump’s combative DNA made moderator Savannah Guthrie the target. Questions in a townhall come from the public but Guthrie cut through Trump’s usual slanting of facts. When he went after Obamacare promising his usual ‘fantastic’ healthcare she pricked that balloon fast reminding Trump his party held both houses of Congress for his first two years and asking why he had not passed his ‘beautiful’ healthcare plan then. He quickly changed the subject.
In the competing townhall, Biden droned on with facts and figures from notes. Except of course for the occasional stutter and difficulty enunciating words. He leads in the polls including the swing states although his lead continues to diminish. Meanwhile a New York Post story on son Hunter’s escapades in China and the Ukraine while Daddy was vice-president was ignored by mainstream media and blocked by Facebook.
As Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago (that is old Boss Daley who ruled Chicago in the 1960s) who when caught passing on $1 million worth of no-bid insurance contracts to his son said simply, “If a man can’t put his arms around his sons, then what kind of a world are we living in?” Of course without bids and the lowest bid winning the contract, the public lost and the money came out of the taxpayer’s pocket. But Daley’s almost comical take had them laughing and joking about the Daley machine; a machine which, by the way, became famous for the phrase . . . ‘vote early and often’.
If in the Hunter Biden case, the money comes from Ukraine or China, the public is even less concerned. . . it’s never a perfect world.
Then there is Kamala Harris whose Stanford professor father was from Jamaica and whose Tamol mother was also a Ph.D. With such illustrious parents, it is no surprise her sister has a JD from Stanford. If the Biden/Harris ticket wins, she will be the first black vice-president, also the first person of Indian descent to hold that post. Her Wikipedia page shows her to be a tough prosecutor earning fame as California’s attorney general, and eventually winning a seat in the US Senate.
Betting odds are also favoring Biden. At -190 you would have to put down 190 to win 100. In Trump’s case at +155, you can put down 100 to win 155. Remember the bookies do not want to lose which is why a bet on Biden is more expensive. He is the favorite to win. If bookies odds condense opinion, it looks like Trump is going to lose the election. All the same, a lot can happen in two weeks.
‘Selective’ Bipolarity? From a Coalition of War to a Coalition of Sanctions
The US-China split is evolving into a long-term rivalry. It is unlikely to be affected by the US elections or the mitigation of certain current irritants like the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that the thirty-year era of broad manoeuvre in international relations, when it was possible to simultaneously interact with different centres of power, has effectively come to an end. A confrontation between these major players will force others to choose between the US and China. In many areas, a parallel partnership with both powers will simply be impossible. Common sense dictates that such logic will sooner or later lead to the formation of a new bipolar system.
One of the few obstacles to the new bipolarity is the presence of other centres of power. They lack the strength and capacity to play the role of the second pole. However, they can afford to at least temporarily stay above the battle of the two giants and distance themselves from it. From the point of view of diplomacy, this is the optimal strategy, since it is this strategy that preserves their freedom of manoeuvre. The loss of room for manoeuvre also leads to the loss of diplomacy. But, on the other hand, for the two contenders for leadership in the bipolar world — the United States and China — it is vitally important to attract the big players to their side, and tie them to their pole for the subsequent battle for hegemony.
Thus, the most important task for the diplomacy of Washington and Beijing will be the fight for major players. And here it is important to create an effective coalition against the rival, or, at least, to prevent the formation of such a coalition on the opposite side.
When entering the new Cold War with China, the United States did not prepare an effective coalition with major players in advance. War has been declared, but there is no broad coalition. Yes, the United States has allied relations with Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. They are likely to remain in close alliance with the United States and on an anti-Chinese footing, although the alliances themselves were created amid different realities. However, the list of coalition members seems to have been exhausted.
India is potentially the most valuable member of the anti-Chinese coalition. Delhi has old contradictions with Beijing, which have recently become more acute. But luring India into a tough anti-Chinese coalition led by the United States will be difficult. The history of independent India has its own foreign policy traditions, which do not include subordination to another country. There are also problems in relations with other large countries, which have difficult relations with China. For example, the US partnership with Vietnam and Indonesia has become deeper, but they are far from a coalition against China.
Russia, for obvious reasons, cannot be part of such a coalition. Moscow for Washington is a rival, standing somewhere between China and Iran. A partnership with Moscow would sharply increase the US point tally in its confrontation with the PRC. But American diplomacy lost time and chosen to switch to other issues (human rights, Ukraine, interference, etc.). Without a doubt, all these topics are important and even fundamental, but if we proceed from the fact that the global politics of the coming decades will be determined by the confrontation with the PRC, then they become secondary. Washington could not or did not want to take such a prospect seriously.
The US approach to Moscow is underscored by a “colonial” perception of Russia, which it regards as a “fading” country; demands that it change and become a “normal” country have also played a role. Incidentally, the same attitude ultimately crippled the relationship between the United States and Beijing. Although China is perceived as a growing centre of power, it does not want to become a “normal” country according to Washington’s understanding of the word either. Against this background, Russian-Chinese relations have gained potential. This is not a military alliance. However, Russia and China have acquired a significant reserve of confidence. Growing US pressure is pushing the two powers closer together.
Under these conditions, the European Union is becoming important for America. Almost all EU countries are US military allies in NATO. However, the North Atlantic Alliance is not even remotely focused on containing China. It was indirectly involved in the fight against international terrorism and spread its wings against the backdrop of a “hostile” Russia. Deploying European allies against China is not a trivial task. Moreover, NATO is almost unfit for such a solution, and the alliance with the Europeans will have to be reformatted in many respects.
The EU’s motivation to get involved in the conflict between the US and China is not obvious. My colleague Timofey Bordachev has analysed these perspectives from a realist standpoint. If you look at the issue from this angle, it turns out that the EU is not interested in competing with the PRC. It has no significant interest in doing so. China does not threaten European security, just as the EU itself has no military-political interests in Asia (including the almost complete absence of instruments of power in the hands of the EU outside NATO or the policies of individual member states). In addition, the EU states have a democratic structure, which means, according to Timofey Bordachev, that a significant deviation from real interests will be corrected during the course of electoral and other democratic processes.
This is a perfectly rational view. However, in reality, the situation may be different. In a recent article, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, defined EU policy as the “Sinatra Doctrine”, referring to the famous song My Way. According to Borrell, the EU should have its own balanced approach to China. The EU needs to cooperate with it on a global agenda (climate, regional conflicts, development tasks, and so on). However, on specific issues, the EU must defend its sovereignty. First of all, we are talking about technologies and value chains. On China, Borrell’s views are almost identical to the American narrative. China is an assertive, expansionist and authoritarian country. The EU is critical of its violations of human rights and the military-political activity of Beijing in the South China Sea. An even more critical attitude is expressed towards the threat of economic expansion towards the EU itself.
The European Union’s ideological support for the US line against the PRC will be an important victory for Washington. Values, ideology and identity are of great importance for international relations. In addition, the EU narrative contains not only values, but also quite specific interests in the field of economics and security, which are similar to American views.
The main question is: how exactly will the support of the United States from the European Union be expressed? In all likelihood, we will talk about more consolidated pressure on Beijing in the field of telecommunications and other sensitive high-tech sectors. The EU can use the experience of the UK, which has already taken the first serious steps towards restrictions on Chinese telecoms.
In the end, the United States can build more flexible coalitions against China in comparison with the usual military-political blocs. They will be based on consolidated actions driving targeted sectoral and technological constraints. That is, it should be a coalition of sanctions, not a coalition of war. For many, this can be a convenient formula. It will not require strict subordination to Washington, but it will provide an opportunity to annoy China, while not creating immediate risks of military confrontation.
Bipolarity will be “selective,” that is, concentrated in selected critical areas. However, history shows that the transition from economic to military rivalry can turn out to be unexpectedly rapid, and a selectively-applied rivalry can suddenly become a total one.
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