Authors: Elizabeth Deheza and Srgjan Kerim*
The COVID-19 blame game is underway and it has already severely inhibited the implementation of a co-ordinated, multilateral response to fight the coronavirus. When the need is greatest for international cooperation and collective action to confront the most severe global challenge since the Second World War, world leaders are moving away from globalisation and public trust in international institutions is evaporating. We believe this divisive behaviour has been compounded by the lack of clear communication between the World Health Organization (WHO) and Member States and that ‘communicative multilateralism’ must play the central role in beating the virus.
The WHO, a United Nations (UN) specialised agency, has a mandate from its 193 Member States to provide science-based recommendations to protect human health worldwide. The agency had been calling for better preparedness for epidemics or pandemics long before the current crisis, highlighting the vulnerability of many healthcare systems towards such crises. Unfortunately, when the moment arrived, the absence of a clear and simple communication framework and common understanding between the WHO and the Members States undermined previous work and the goodwill the agency once enjoyed.
When several cases of pneumonia were first reported in Wuhan, China in late December 2019, the WHO noted the new threat and started independent epidemiological investigations to understand the cause. WHO’s communications stayed close to China’s official line and even endorsed a preliminary investigation that the virus might be limited to animal-to-human transmission, despite warnings from Taiwan of the possibility of human-to-human transmission.
Later, on 10th January, the WHO released an interim Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) guidance note for Member States and on 14th January it warned hospitals of the possibility that the virus could spread between humans. On 20th January China confirmed human-to-human transmission and after a further ten days of deliberation, while the virus was already spreading internationally, the WHO declared COVID-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) – one of its highest levels of alert under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR), a legally binding agreement between Member States to work together on global health security. At this point, several Member States became anxious, but most did not have a clear idea of what a PHEIC alert actually meant in the context of their response.
On 4th February, WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that the world had a “window of opportunity” to invest in prevention and control as there were a limited number of confirmed cases outside China. By 21st February Dr Ghebreyesus called the international community to action as “the window of opportunity was narrowing”. How did Member States really interpret this message? Was the international community really grasping the idea that we were about to miss the last opportunity to contain the spread of the virus? Was it already too late?
As February rolled into March, the WHO highlighted a huge shortage of equipment for frontline healthcare around the world and finally on 11th March, nearly three months after the first reports, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Throughout April, the WHO made desperate calls to global leaders to put aside any differences, step up collaboration and act in unison. However, by this point, some Member States were struggling to stay ahead of the virus and could only think of themselves, instating measures to protect their citizens and borders without the time to consider a concerted multilateral response.
At the time of writing, with over 5.2 million coronavirus cases reported globally, more than 336,000 deaths and many more unreported cases, the pandemic still rages on. While China claimed to have recovered from the virus, its north-eastern city of Shulan is currently in lockdown after a cluster of coronavirus cases emerged, fearing a second wave. Meanwhile, its political adversary on the issue, the United States, has more than 1.6 million confirmed cases with more than 95,000 deaths, the highest in the world. Other regions like Europe are slowly emerging from strict lockdowns but in Latin America the number of confirmed cases has passed half a million and continues to rise, with Brazil the worst affected.
This is the first truly global health crisis that “We the Peoples” have suffered since the foundation of the UN: every citizen of the world is at risk. The pandemic has forced governments to impose draconian restrictions in an attempt to mitigate the collapse of their public health systems while simultaneously injecting unimaginable levels of capital directly into their economies to soften the financial impact. And yet, if all the governments had rapidly coordinated their responses, collaborated at an early stage and acted in unison, the global impact may have been contained and the recovery period shortened. Moreover, if clearer communication had come from the WHO in a more timely fashion, even the most self-interested and ill-prepared Member State would have known what pre-cautions to take as the viral threat grew and their citizens could have held their governments accountable.
The wider UN has also been lacklustre in its response. Who better than the UN to digest WHO’s early warning messages and convey the right message to its Member States? Who better than the UN to orchestrate a coherent global response through its Security Council (UNSC)? “The UN has a huge role to play in bringing together countries and people during these trying times,” says Amir Dossal, President of the Global Partnerships Forum, to ensure that “no one is left behind”.
There are 3 articles of the UN Charter that clearly determine the UN’s role in such emergency situations: Article 13 refers to the UN General Assembly’s role in initiating international cooperation on economic, social and health issues, Article 57 describes the need of engaging specialised agencies, such as the WHO, and eventually under Article 99, the UN Secretary General must bring forward any matter which may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security to the attention of the Security Council. Unfortunately, to date, the UNSC has not produced any meaningful statement to tackle COVID-19 as efforts have been obstructed by political conflicts between the U.S. and China.
While the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres has referred to the pandemic as “the biggest challenge since the Second World War” and has acknowledged that “normal rules no longer apply”, the General Assembly started to address COVID-19 only in mid-March and its response has not passed beyond a non-binding resolution that called for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat” the coronavirus.
Despite WHO’s leadership through the SARS, MERS, Ebola, Avian Flu outbreaks and its extensive knowledge of past pandemics throughout history, Member States have voiced their frustration at the WHO’s handling of the pandemic. One of the organizations biggest donors, the U.S., has even suspended its funding and has threatened to withdraw its membership if substantial changes are not made. Other countries, such as Australia, have requested more transparency and an independent investigation of the causes of the coronavirus outbreak. A resolution, presented by the European Union (EU), on behalf of 100 Member States, called for an independent inquiry into the WHO’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and was approved at the first virtual annual assembly (WHA) of the WHO’s 194 members on 20th May. The day before, on 19th May, an interim independent review on the WHO’s conduct and response to the virus was released by the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee (IOAC) for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme.
Communication is the most important tool in any international crisis and ‘communicative multilateralism’ must be at the core of all response strategies. The IOAC report calls for “greater global solidarity and stronger multilateral cooperation” but a close reading of the recommendations underlines the clear need to improve the clarity of the communication framework between the WHO and its Member States.
‘Communicative multilateralism’ has also been at the heart of suggested reforms by the IOAC report to the WHO’s response framework. It has been reported that some Member States do not consider a PHEIC declaration a “sufficiently clear trigger” due to its broad coverage between a small outbreak and a pandemic. Alpo Rusi, a distinguished Finnish diplomat recently told us, “A more effective early warning system needs to be urgently set up at the UN”. There have been other sensible calls for change including, “a stepped level of alerts and galvanization of response measures added to the IHR” and “IHR-nominated focal points in governments to adequately raise the alarm”, that must be heeded.
Additionally, the people must be able to hold their governments to account and how can they do this without clear and simple communication, well defined categories of alert and detailed response measures from the WHO? “Covid-19 is wreaking havoc on the health and economic well-being of our society. As individuals, we have readily conceded life-changing decision-making to our leaders, and we now assume and indeed expect them to do what is in our best interest”, exemplifies Amir Dossal, President of the Global Partnerships Forum.
The IOAC’s recommendations provide the opportunity to explore further the mechanisms already in place and well known by Member States that could “trigger” a much needed sense of urgency that the WHO tried but failed to convey to the international community. Lessons could be learned from other disaster response strategies, for example, there are clear and simple categories of alert to the likely effects of hurricanes and earthquakes that have been tried and tested for over 50 years and are widely understood by governments, scientists and the public alike. There are clear lessons that the WHO and the UN can learn from such natural disaster response systems.
There is a general understanding that this pandemic will have far-reaching political, economic and social implications. Parag Khana, an expert on international relations told us, “If we are lucky, the world will pass ‘peak virus’ within the next six months. But the economy, governments, and social institutions will take years to recover in the best-case scenario. Indeed, rather than even speak of ‘recovery,’ which implies a return to how things were, it would be wise to project what new direction civilization will take. That too will be a bumpy ride. The next 3-5 years will remind us that COVID-19 was the lightning before the thunder”.
There are opportunities to improve following any crisis but before we transform the way society has functioned for hundreds of years, we must determine whether multilateralism and globalization is to blame or if there are other weaknesses in the system that have led us here, such as an alarming weakness of national economic, social and health systems?
We must be careful that rising geopolitical tension is not exploited by some national political elites as an excuse for imposing inward-looking policies and strategies. This may bear fruit on the short- term but will be counterproductive longer-term. A shift to nationalism would disrupt global supply chains of goods and services, doing harm to economies of scale and the provision of aid which will worsen health security. World leaders must step back from knee-jerk reactions to retrench and instead should come together in order to pursue modalities of international cooperation.
Clear communication channels only work if the message is simple and the recipients are educated on the subject. While the IOAC’s recommendations call for “more robust use of WHO collaborating centres around the world, expert networks, such as technical advisory bodies, and public health institutes”, we believe that they should be more ambitious and aim to strengthen the understanding of health systems and pandemics within schools, universities and the public at large. As for the international organizations such as the UN and WHO it must be clear: reforming them and updating them to the requirements of the globalized digital era necessitates ‘communicative multilateralism’ and the launching of ‘Verified’ by the UNSG António Guterres on 21st May, to create a cadre of “digital first responders” to fight misinformation, may be a positive step to adjust.
* Srgjan Kerim, President of the 62nd session of the UN General Assembly, is a seasoned diplomat, scholar and businessman with more than 30 years of international political experience as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia. Mr. Kerim began his academic career as a professor of international economics at the University of Belgrade. In addition, he was a visiting professor at the University of Hamburg (Germany) and at New York University. Mr. Kerim is also a recipient of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Award and has been decorated with honours by nations such as Italy, Germany, Austria, the U.S. and others.
Can diplomats be proactive online without becoming “wolf-warrior”?
With the increasingly important digital world, traditional, offline tools and approaches are becoming less and less sufficient and effective in shaping the public conversation, influencing the global or national public opinion, and obtaining trust.
As a part of reform that veers towards revolution in a domain well known for its adherence to norms, today’s diplomacy is also experiencing functional changes in terms of what strategic communications means in the digital environment. As we are witnessing lately, the emerging diplomatic virtual presence has become a significant part of public diplomacy and policy.
Today, the undeniable power of social media lies in its fundamental role of linking the public and political sphere as part of a worldwide conversation. It is notable that the general reason behind its effectiveness and the steep rise of adoption lie in the power of this environment of building strong brands and credibility. This certainly is today’s Zeitgeist and involves the systematic cultivation of the attempt to influence the public opinion with every single action and to boost social legitimacy, in a more and more interconnected world that seeks to turn individual gestures and actions into symbols.
However, does this fully explain why social media is becoming an emerging playground for sarcasm and open battlefield for a digital war of accusations and threats?
One of founders of today’s Twiplomacy phenomenon is the former US president, Donald Trump, who proved to be, for better or worse, one of the most vigorous and captivating presences on social media among world leaders. What is striking in this is the gradual increase in the adoption of the new diplomatic style, known as the Wolf-warrior approach, which gained prominence in the context of the COVID-19 crisis and Chinese presence in the social media. This approach, which originated from a Chinese patriotic movie, in which the main mission of the warrior is fighting back foreigners, is characterized by a more aggressive and assertive style of conducting foreign policy.
It is argued by some that this approach is not being adopted in order to display authoritarian tendencies and to project but rather it is more often adopted by Chinese diplomats as a defense response to the repeated attacks and accusations. It seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Drastic times call for drastic measures?
Either way, the US-China digital war leads to questioning the adequate behavioral approaches to addressing the continuous global power competition and diplomatic tensions. Assertive and offensive or proactive? What makes a wolf-warrior and where do we draw the line?
When credibility and national identity are under threat, assertive approaches seem to come in handy when defending one’s stance and strengthening confidence. We know it very well from the Chinese ancient wisdom: project strength when you are weak. This general principle applies to political stances and authority in advancing agendas, as well as preserving independence in hegemonic environments. However, when increased assertiveness is taken down the wrong road, the world ends up being divided into conflicting blocs. While proactiveness is certainly the adequate modus operandi to overcome such blockages and prevent escalating disputes from bouncing back, the line is certainly crossed when it reaches bullying and propaganda levels.
What is the smart and well-balanced dose of actions when interests and sovereignty come first? Assertiveness or smart power?
Proactiveness and high reliance on social media can also be channeled into advancing one’s objectives and consolidating strategic gains through smart use of power or through soft power. One of the best examples of this strategy is India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who’s presence on Twitter proves that, most of the time, the tone defines the effectiveness of the message and that balance is to be preferred to unhinged assertiveness. In the end, the art of persuasion is not limited to the right choice of words and actions here and now but also includes the challenging task of building trust in the long run.
China-India Vaccine Diplomacy – Will Pakistan Learn From Neighbors?
Modern infectious diseases and viruses have stimulated anew war and conflict along with poverty, counterurbanization (deurbanization), and climate change that need freshassessment in international relation arena. International cooperation for objective of infectiousdisease control goes back to atleast the 14th century, and to the later date of 1851, when Europe held its first International Sanitary Conference for multilateral cooperation to prevent the spread of cholera and yellow fever. Beginning in 2000, vaccine became cohesive as key tools in helping developing countries to achieve MDGs. In 2007, foreign ministers from seven countries issued the landmark “Oslo Ministerial Declaration” that formally linked health to foreign policy. Yet,in the past, there have been very few moments, as CoVID19, that assimilated such a huge number and variety of the world’s state actors at diplomatic front. The coronavirus vaccine – one of the world’s most in-demand commodities – has become a new currency for “Vaccine Diplomacy”. Vaccine diplomacy is not only the use of vaccine to increase diplomatic relationship and influence other countries but also, from a strategic perspective, vaccine access opens the door to expand long-term health security provisions.
China, one of the first countries to make a diplomatic vaccine push, promised to help developed and developing countries.Since the start of the pandemic, China used medical supplies to pursue foreign policy gains, sent masks and protective equipment to hard-hit territories,at present distributing vaccine.The vaccine diplomacy is a expansion of China’s endeavors to frame itself as the solution to the pandemic. Since the early days of the CoVID19 outbreak, China’s President Xi Jinping has focused on publicizing Chinese efforts to supply medical aid worldwide. China’s planeloads of CoVID19 donations including hospital gowns, nasal swabs, and surgical masks etc. – were regardedoptimistically, especially in developing countries. In addition, Chinese government sent experts to support medical personnel across the continent.Correspondingly, the Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s largest vaccine producers,produced Covishield, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca. India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar said it plans to supply CoVID19 vaccine to 49 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. So far, the country has been distributed 22.9 million doses under its “Vaccine Maitri” (Vaccine Friendship)initiative. Mr. Jaishankar also announced a gift of 2 lakh vaccine doses for about 90,000 U.N. peacekeepers serving in numerous hotspots around the world.
The vaccine race has become a new domain for China-India strategic competition. China’s whole state apparatus is behind the drive and Beijing sprang into action “Health Silk Road” through the cooperation channels of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Moritz Rudolf (German Institute for International and Security Affairs) says, “Health was one of the many subtopics of the BRI. With the pandemic, it has become the main focus”. On the other hand, C. Raja Mohan, (Director, Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore) said, “There is no way India can match China on a lot of issues, but in this particular case, because of India’s pharmaceutical infrastructure, India is in a good position”.In reality, both countries arecontemplating vaccine diplomacy as a matter of national pride and soft-power projection.
In Pakistan, the power of vaccine diplomacy has been underexplored despite the successful facts that included promoting peace between the Cold War powers of the 1950s and 1960s.The historical and modern-day track records of vaccine diplomacy are impressive. But, it has not yet led to an overarching framework for its expanded role in foreign policy of Pakistan. At the moment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, and National Command and Operation Center should establish vaccine diplomacy framework and play an imperative role in promoting international health agreements between Pakistan and governments throughout the world. Vaccine diplomacy will not only enhance Pakistan’s reputation in international arena but also blunt the propaganda of anti-Pakistan forces within boarder and abroad. Consequently, vaccine diplomacy activities should integrated into the foreign policy of Pakistan.
Sail Away Tomorrow: Where Should We Sail?
On January 1, 2021, we all met both the new year and the new, third decade of the 20th century. This is a good reason to think not only about possible events in world politics over the next twelve months, but also about the likely trends in the development of the international system over the next ten years.
First, let’s get ourselves oriented and learn the terrain. Humanity today is going through a painful period of deglobalisation that affects all of us together and each one of us individually. This is not just about the immediate social or economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alarming failures in the usual mechanisms for the growth of interconnectedness and interdependence of countries and peoples did not begin yesterday, and they will not end tomorrow.
One can argue for a long time about how inevitable deglobalisation was and, if not, who exactly is responsible for its arrival. In any case, the global financial crisis of 2008–2009 and the post-crisis period of 2010–2013 showed that for the time being, it is possible to forget about the linear and especially about the exponential development of globalisation. After this crisis, some parameters of human connectivity (international trade, the volume of foreign direct investment) barely recovered until the middle of the last decade, and then collapsed again. In today’s world, centrifugal processes have already accumulated tremendous inertia, and it would be naive to expect that any single event, even a very important one such as the Joe Biden administration coming to power in the United States or the creation of the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership in Asia, are able to stop them, much less to reverse them. It’s time to come to terms with the fact, that the on-going deglobalisation is serious and will last a long time.
Serious and for a long time, but not forever, right? Antiglobalists everywhere in the world have convincingly won their last battle, but in the common war against globalisation they will not win, in any event. The Hegelian “mole of history” continues its tireless work; albeit slowly and stumbling, albeit with stops and even retreats, but humanity is moving forward along the thorny path to future unity.
The world is being pushed in this direction by two powerful factors, which have become stronger over the years, no matter what the current anti-globalisation crusaders may assert. First, the pressure of common problems increasingly faces everyone in the world—from climate change to the threat of new pandemics, which urgently require the unification of global society in the interest of common survival. The self-preservation instinct of the human population must somehow manifest itself—at least, we would very much like to hope so. Second, technological progress is accelerating, creating new opportunities for remote communications of all kinds from year to year. The physical space and resource potential of the planet are shrinking, the opportunities for geographically distributed models of work, study and socialisation are expanding, and Napoleon’s old aphorism about geography as a destiny is increasingly losing its former axiomaticity.
Sooner or later, the world will somehow return to globalisation. Or rather, sooner or later, the world will create a new model of globalisation, which will be as different from the old model at the beginning of the century, as the modern Formula 1 car is incomparable to the first Ford Model T.
But all the same—sooner or later? When exactly will Globalisation 2.0 start? This is not an idle question, because the fate of entire generations depends on the answer to it. And not only generations of politicians, but hundreds of millions or even billions of people entering adulthood today, in five, ten or twenty years from now. What prospects are looming before these people? What professional and personal trajectories can they expect? In what value systems will they have to exist?
If we start from the experience of the already distant crisis of 2008-2009, assuming that we are on the way towards the lowest point of a new “de-globalisation stage” of the globalisation cycle, then we can relatively confidently predict another change of world development by the middle of this decade. If an additional adjustment is made for the more complex nature of the global cataclysms of 2020 -2021, then the moment the vector changes will have to be shifted at least another two to three years into the future—closer to the end of third decade of the 21st century, which has only just begun.
Let’s try to start from this rather conventional chronology. According to it, humanity has five to eight years in reserve to prepare a new historical cycle of globalisation. Over these years, it is necessary not only to minimise the negative consequences of the (temporary) de-globalisation which is unfolding today, but also to formulate and agree on a global strategy for a new globalisation cycle. Well, and in some details—to radically update the political elites in most countries of the world, to learn how to successfully resist the right and left-wing populists, to work out modern algorithms of multilateral approaches to international problems and prevent a world war, a global ecological catastrophe, a new catastrophic pandemic or other annoying delays during the transition to these algorithms.
The tasks are serious, but within the framework of ten years of world history, they are quite manageable. The problem of smoothing out the inevitable negative effects of de-globalisation could already be tackled by such world leaders as Joseph Biden, Josep Borrell and Antonio Guterres. None of them mentally belong entirely to the 21st century; they all grew up and began their ascent to political heights in the Cold War era. None of them looks like a revolutionary, a prophet, or even a visionary. But, as they say, “the old horse will not spoil the furrow.”
Will even the most powerful representatives of the outgoing generation of politicians be able to successfully resist the challenges of populism, protectionism and regionalism? Are they capable of channelling the colossal energy of the collapse of the old international system in a peaceful way? The positive answers to these questions are far from obvious, but there are chances of success. If the numerous Bidens and Borrels, who still have considerable opportunities, turn out to be at the height of the tasks set before them by history, then they will somehow save humanity from some of the unpleasant surprises in the next few years. If they fail, the international system will face new difficult challenges.
But the preparation of a new globalisation mega-project is clearly beyond the power of the outgoing generation of political leaders, whether it’s Biden or Borrell. There are generals created for defensive action, and there are generals born for offensive operations. There are managers who manage companies from their offices, and there are entrepreneurs who create the companies of the future in their garages. Already in the second half of this decade, when the vector of development changes, the world will need fresh ideas, which it will be useless to search for in the political experience of the last century.
In a slightly different set of circumstances, the natural world leaders of a new generation could be French President Emmanuel Macron or, say, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But they still are no leaders of the global revolution. Perhaps they were just unlucky, or they entered politics at the wrong time. Certain hopes for the beginning of the renewal can be associated with the upcoming parliamentary elections in Germany this fall. But, most likely, the time for a new global agenda has not yet come—the world is still at the end of an old era, and not at the start of a new one.
Let’s not forget that the main issues of the new agenda will be fundamentally different not only from the current issues, but also from the Globalisation 1.0 era. Which ones—we can only guess so far. For example, if the victorious march of globalisation at the beginning of the century was marked by the strengthening of the conditional East, the weakening of the conditional West, then the fundamental issue of Globalisation 2.0 will most likely be the issue of a large-scale redistribution of resources between North and South in favour of the latter.
If the “old” globalisation was associated with accelerated economic growth and with an increase in personal and public consumption, then in the course of the “new” globalisation, most likely, the main criterion for success will be to ensure the transition to sustainable development models, both at the national and global levels.
If the global processes at the beginning of the century reflected a universal public demand for freedom, then in the second quarter of the century we will most likely see a more articulated and more insistent demand for justice.
In all likelihood, many familiar algorithms of foreign policy will also change. Major international organisations, hopefully, will still remain by the end of the 20s. In any event, a significant part of international activity will not boil around or within rigid bureaucratised institutions, but around specific problems: political, social, environmental and so on. To solve these specific problems, mobile situational coalitions of participants will be formed—and not only by nation-states, but also with the involvement of the private sector, civil society institutions, and other participants in international affairs. Old hierarchies will gradually lose their meaning, the terms “superpower” and even “great power” will increasingly be perceived as archaic, with no sense in modern life.
What does all this mean for Russia? In a sense, Moscow was very lucky: the crisis of the globalisation model at the beginning of the century actually nullified numerous Russian failures on the path towards integrating the country into the global economic and political system. Yes, Russian foreign policy over the past thirty years has made some mistakes and miscalculations, but what can we say about it now, if there is practically nowhere to integrate?
But it is unlikely that Russian politicians should rejoice in the epoch of deglobalisation that has come and stand in solidarity with the triumphant antiglobalists. Yes, Russian foreign policy feels comfortable amid the conditions of de-globalisation; properly in these conditions, the comparative advantages of Russia’s foreign policy style are most clearly manifested and its disadvantages are least noticeable. But if the assumption about the probable timing of the next change in the vector of world development is in principle correct, and if globalisation in its new embodiment returns to the world on the horizon of five to eight years, then even today Russia needs to actively prepare for this change.
The country must be able to demonstrate results that exceed those in its attempts to integrate into Globalisation 1.0 at the beginning of the century, especially considering that Globalisation 2.0 will inevitably turn out to be a more complex, more contradictory, and in some ways even more competitive environment than its previous incarnation.
Russia, like the other countries of the world, has several years to rebuild its system of foreign policy institutions, master the new rules of multilateral diplomacy, get rid of “bad assets” and find
its place in the coming world order. As the current Russian president likes to repeat on other occasions, “there is no time for reflection”.
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