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The USMCA Agreement: A New Era in Mexico-US-Canada Relations?

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Image credit: Official White House Photo

The agreement between the US Mexico and Canada (USMCA) entered into Force last 1st of July 2020 replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Although in many aspects the new treaty resembles the old one a lot, unlike the previous Trade Agreement, the USMCA focuses mainly on car exports, aluminum, and steel tariffs. It also increases environmental and work regulations while incentivizing domestic production of cars and lorries. This agreement also imposes a quota for Canadian and Mexican Automotive production. One could say that majority of the amendments that were made to the old NAFTA and that are crystallised in the USMCA benefit mainly the US than Canada and Mexico.

During all the negotiations that preceded the approval, ratification and enforcement of the new agreement, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) showed no interest in visiting any of his counterparts either in Canada or the United States.During his first 2 years as incumbent president, AMLO has not attended any international events so far, and he has focused on touring cities and regions of Mexico. In 2019, during his first year in office, the President declined to participate in at least three relevant international forums: the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF), which was held from January 22 to 25 ; the Group of 20 Summit (G-20), held on June 28 and 29 in Osaka, Japan; and the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), which occurred on September 24.As outlandish and questionable that strategy was, it was consistent with the foreign policy approach he embraced ever since he took office: The best foreign policy is the domestic one.

For decades it was a common practice that the newly elected presidents of Mexico and the United States sought to meet each other personally, review the state of the relationship between the two countries, perhaps set an agenda of priorities, and send a signal of cordiality between the newly elected administrations.  Very frequently both presidents preferred to meet at the border to avoid having to decide if they would do it in Washington or in the then Federal District, now Mexico City. Such visits have been held for 107 years. They began in October 1909, the first time that Porfirio Díaz and William Howard Taft crossed the border to meet in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, at the inauguration of the international bridge that connects the two cities. During the presidential terms of Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, the first meetings were held in Mexico, just last week and after Trump let out that the Mexican president that had been summoned to meet him, AMLO does not only break with that custom, since now the first meeting will take place in the United States, but is also breaking his presidential campaign promise of focusing on domestic issues rather than international ones.

Donald Trump knows very well that the US is AMLO’s Achilles’ heel in his attempt to sell Mexico as an independent and sovereign country. That is why when Donald Trump threatened to bury the NAFTA, AMLO aligned himself with Trump’s wishes and became the southern wall to stop migration from Central America Trump had so long wished for. AMLO’s foreign policy and concessions to the US have reduced the Mexican diplomacy to the level of servility. The respect, dignity good faith and cooperation that should characterize all diplomatic relations among countries has been lost between Mexico and the US;  not only because of Trump’s incendiary, populist, racist, anti-Mexican speech, but also by AMLO’s submission to Trump’s whims.

Last April during an OPEC+ Summit, Mexico refused to reduce its oil output endangering a global agreement to decrease oil production to tackle the oil price crisis. Donald Trump saw a golden opportunity here and did not miss it: he came to the rescue and he offered to cut American production further to make up for Mexico’s share, he went on to say that Mexico would reimburse the US back at a later date. It was obvious that Trump would not ask Mexico to pay back in one go, and this forced visit to the US might be the first of an unknown series of installments of a debt that Mexico is not even fully aware of.

One can already visualize the scene: both presidents shake hands and pose smiling for the media on the porch of the Oval Office in the White House. They declare having had an extraordinary interview where they share points of view on a variety of topics. Of course, they celebrate the entry into force of the renewed and improved Trade agreement which they describe as the trigger for investment, greater commercial exchanges and of course greater prosperity for the 3 countries that will translate into less poverty, less unemployment and a more equal distribution of resources.

They will not talk about the future of the 11 million Mexicans living in the US, and there will be no talks whatsoever about the about the close to six million Mexicans who are undocumented and that are the target of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, who are constantly persecuted, discriminated against, abused, separated from relative, caged, and deported by the American government. AMLO will not question Trump about such policy and will not try to negotiate some sort of solution to end the violation of their human rights. AMLO will not demand the massive raids and repatriations of Mexicans who have been living in the US for years to be suspended during this health emergency. There will also be no joint statement from both administrations on how to deal with the increasing violence unleashed by drug trafficking in Mexico, and the millions of weapons that are smuggled yearly from the US and that conveniently end up in the hands of the Mexican drug cartels.

As opposing as they may seem, there are several striking similarities between Donald Trump and AMLO. This will explain the docility that will characterize the Mexican envoy this week. AMLO has been carefully crafting since late 2004, when he first started campaigning for the presidency, the image of a nationalist, left-wing advocate for social justice who is ready to stand up for anyone threatening Mexico’s sovereignty. Trump is a simply a racist and a demagogue. Nonetheless, both share a desire to make of the Executive the most powerful branch of the state; they both dismiss institutions and the rule of law; they both have consistently attacked free press and free speech; they both publicly humiliate those that disagree with their policies; they both have shown contempt for science, experts’ advice, research and academics; they have both pursued utterly shambolic policies that have made the pandemic effects worse in both countries; and they both show a high degree of disaffection, lack of empathy, narcissism and have created a sick cult of personality around their persona.

Just like in 2016, when Donald Trump visited Mexico, the visit of the 8th and 9th of July of AMLO will be used by Trump to harvest huge electoral and political gains. Trump is losing popularity rapidly, and he is in desperate need of a foreign policy boost before the November elections. All previous attempts to make him look good internationally have been a failure: he has not been able to kick-start the Middle East Peace Process; the visit to North Korea’s  leader Kim Jung Un ended up as a media mess that benefited North Korea more than the US; and his attempt to bring down the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela has not yet materialised. Donald Trump will be looking to make of the USMCA his big highlight of the year. This will also help him divert attention from his disastrous domestic policies to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and will allow him to again use Mexico as the centre of his next electoral rallies just like he did in 2016.AMLO’s decision to visit Donald Trump during electoral months in the US will also be perceived as Mexico publicly backing Trump’s reelection campaign over Biden’s. This will he detrimental to the bilateral relation should the Democrats win the presidency back in November.

AMLO, however, could turn this visit into a success if he would be willing to change course. One of his many unfulfilled campaign promises was to make the economy grow at an average of 4% annually. Ever since he took office the economy has remained stagnant and latest projects place Mexico to suffer a 10 to 11% contraction because of the global pandemic, one of the worst slumps in Latin America. AMLO could sell this visit as chance for Mexico to regain foreign investment his 60s inspired economic, hyper-centralised economic policies have scared away and have contributed to increased poverty, inequality, and unemployment. He is in serious need of an economic boost to help him regain his rapidly decreasing popularity just 2 years into his 6-year presidential term.

However, AMLO is not planning to potentially benefit from this meeting on any way. He is flying commercial without any delegation of representatives and he wants this visit to remain as low key as possible. He has given no indication about his willingness to change direction and promote Mexico’s foreign investment. One just must look at the symbolism of Trump’s declaration of the Mexican president to understand that this visit does not bode well for Mexico. Donald Trump boasted last Tuesday during a conference that AMLO, was to soon visit the United States after he travelled to Yuma Arizona to monitor the progress of the border wall. On the whole, this will be a zero-sum game in which Mexico will be the loser.

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is a politics and international relations tutor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She gained her Bachelor's in International Relations at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City and her MA in International Relations and World Order at the University of Leicester, England. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She has spoken at numerous international conferences and has written on topics such as democracy, migration, European politics, Contemporary Mexican Politics and the Middle East. Her research interests include: Democratisation processes, governance and theories of the state, contemporary Mexican politics, Latin American politics, political parties, international relations theories, contemporary USA-Latin America foreign policy.

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New American extremist armed movements calling for democracy

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The American interior has witnessed in recent years (the growth, spread and revival of a number of new armed extremist ideological movements in the American interior), which have come to challenge the authority and orders of the American government similar to its American communist counterpart in previous periods, and aims for a “new revolution” in the face of the American authorities.

   The outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic in the American interior has also caused the strengthening of the strength of these American armed movements, as well as the growth of “new armed extremist movements” that challenge the authority and orders of the American government similar to its former American communist counterpart, and the map of these movements and their goals can be traced, as follows:

   The emergence of the most dangerous and most important armed movement called the “Boogaloo Movement” against the American government: due to the restrictions imposed due to the outbreak of the virus, it fueled the “Boogaloo Movement” against the American government.  And what is new in the “American Boogaloo movement” is its armed tactic, and its “publicly” carrying of rifles and wearing tactical military clothing, and it was the beginning of their mobilization in the US state of “Hawaii” and in the state capital’s buildings to protest against the closure orders, due to the outbreak of (Covid-19).  It is the distinctive of the “military appearance” of the “Boogaloo Movement” against the US government, which attracts the most attention. It threatens to wage “civil war”, as an extremist movement that uses “violent, not peaceful armed protests” against the orders of the American state, and has arisen due to the social problems caused by the pandemic to spread violent messages against Washington. The start of its launch was in April 2020, when armed demonstrators went out in separate organized protests in front of government buildings in (Concord and New Hampshire). The point worth noting and analyzing here is that the extremist “Boogaloo” movement is attracting many American youth daily. One of its affiliates said in a post on Facebook that the term “Boogaloo” began as a funny thing, but it evolved into a deeper symbol of “Boogaloo Movement”, by calling for the freedom  against the decisions of the American authorities.

   On the other hand, the (Three Percenters Militia Movement) appeared in the month of April 2020: those who organized a march at “Olympia headquarters” in the capital, Washington, and the participants in the gathering were keen to wear “Hawaiian shirts” to support the demands of the “Boogaloo extremist armed movement”.

  In May 2020, a third extremist movement appeared in the United States, called the “Blue Igloo movement”: which began with a demonstration in Raleigh, North Carolina, and promoted itself on Facebook, and the movement entered into some “armed confrontations” with the state police.

   A fourth movement appeared, consisting of armed members called the extremist “Liberty Militia movement”: they are mainly deployed in the state of “Michigan”.

   A new fifth movement appeared called “The Rhett E. Boogie Group”: by advocating on Facebook forums, this led to the launch of a movement which invited “Gretchen Whitmer” as a representative of the “Democratic Party”, to address these violent threats.

   In March 2020, there were also demonstrations related to the “Neo-Nazis movement” in the US state of “Missouri”: one of those belonging to this extremist movement was killed when the “Federal Bureau Investigations agents” FBI  tried to arrest him, for trying to bomb a hospital in the “Kansas City”  area.  After the outbreak of the Corona virus, the “Neo-Nazis movement” announced that its new goal was to “start a revolution” in the country.

  During the month of May 2020, a white supremacist group, known as: the “Associates of Bradley Bunn” appeared in the state of “Colorado”: which prompted the “US Department of Homeland Security” to issue an alert to it.  And “Bradley Benn” is a former US Army soldier, who was arrested on May 1, 2020, after the “Federal Bureau Investigations agents” FBI found that there were “four pipe bombs” in his home in Loveland, Colorado, which led some to sympathize with him for his courage, and they formed a movement in his name.

   The other armed prominent group in the USA, which has been revived and unified under a given new name of the  “White Supremacist Groups”, which has been active since 2019, has been revived, and has declared itself as (an extreme right-wing movement), and includes a group of armed militias.

   In general, it is possible to observe and track the goals of these American armed movements and increase their activities, especially after the outbreak of the Corona epidemic and the poor economic conditions in the American interior, and made the beginning through social media, where one of them wrote: “Many individuals are very upset with the way that the USA is managed and the other passed laws that are criminalised to the law-abiding citizens”. Perhaps what is new in the thinking of these American extremist armed movements, according to the study of the “Extremism Program at George Washington University”, is that their discourse goes beyond discussions about combating restrictions, which many protesters describe as “tyranny” to talk and violent radical discourse about “Killing FBI agents” or police officers “to start a war”.

   From here, we understand the existence of (a real state of conflict and undeclared polarization within the American interior itself, whose features appeared between the movements of the left and the right and resulted in the carrying of arms and resistance to the American authorities themselves), and this internal American conflict became clear between (the forces of the left and the American right) after the failure of the former President “Trump” in the period of the previous US presidential elections in November 2020, and perhaps this period will be the one (which will establish the next American period and will determine the extent of its democracy globally and even how to deal with rebellious groups and sectors and the opposition of the American people themselves who reject the internal American policies and their undemocratic approach), and it will expose the global American democracy itself to (face difficult tests in front of the minorities who are expected to dominate the American political scene by 2040 according to the expectations of American sociologists, anthropologists and humanists), hence the important question will come, regarding:

  (How will the United States of America present itself to the world less than 20 years from now? Especially, in the presence of a real undeclared internal conflict over the American power and governance circles, which threatens the American concept that promotes the idea of ​​democracy and human rights from the narrow American perspective)?!

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The Turkey and the U.S. Holiday Season

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Guess!  Forty-six million turkeys are eaten in the US over the course of a year, a month or a certain day?  The surprising answer (or maybe not) is the latter … on the Thanksgiving holiday.  It is celebrated in the US on the fourth Thursday in November.  Another 22 million are devoured over Christmas and 19 million perish at Easter.

We are a carnivorous culture.  If 46 million turkeys stand side-by-side, they make a line some 7,000 miles long or about twice the distance between the East and West coasts.  Despite all this, turkey is only the fourth source of protein in the U.S. coming in as it does after chicken, beef and pork.

Nevertheless, almost 1.4 billion pounds of turkey were consumed at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter — to the 46 million Thanksgiving turkeys one can add 22 million for Christmas and 19 million for Easter (2011 figures).  About a third of the turkeys are eaten during the holidays and two-thirds over the rest of the year.  It adds up to about 230,000 birds in total.

That is the front end for turkeys.  But not all the turkey is eaten.  The carcass and some of the meat ends up in trash cans.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates a third of global food is wasted.  That figure coincides with what the US Department of Agriculture projects for turkeys  — 35 percent goes into garbage cans and ends up in landfills.

The average weight of a turkey is 15 lbs. giving us approximately 690 million pounds for the 46 million consumed during Thanksgiving.  It also means 240 million pounds goes to the waste dumps. 

Turkey is not the only waste — Americans throw away 25 percent more waste during the approximately month-long holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year (think of all the gift wraps, Christmas trees, cardboard boxes, ribbons, sticky tape, etc.).  On ribbons also, if people in the U.S. reused just 2 feet of holiday ribbon, it would save 38,000 miles of ribbon.  And if each family wrapped only 3 gifts in re-used Christmas wrapping paper, the saved paper would be enough to cover 4,500 football fields.  All of which might seem to be in the spirit of the grinch that stole Christmas, but the general idea is to think about minimizing waste.

Perhaps all of this is irrelevant in a world in the grip of the covid virus.  The essence of holidays lies in the gatherings of friends and relatives, something frowned upon in the age of covid.  So, a quiet march to the New Year and a muted “Happy New Year” with a ‘beware of the omicron strain’ under one’s breath.

Such is the world of covid with its frustratingly temporary immunity.  Is there a possibility it will eventually become like the common cold, a nuisance with which we learn to live?  As it is the latest version i.e. the omicron variant shares its genetic code with the cold virus and is more easily transmissible. 

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The American Initiative for a “Better World” and its difference with the Chinese Belt and Road

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During their summit held at the end of July 2021 in the city of “Cornwall” in Britain, the leaders of the countries (the Group of Seven major economic leaders “G7” led by Washington) have been announced the launch of an ambitious global initiative called “Rebuilding a Better World”. It is internationally, known as:

Build Back Better World (B3W)

  The “Rebuilding a Better World” initiative aims to (meet the massive financing requirements for infrastructure needs). The most important differences and distinguishes between (the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road and the American initiative to build a better world), are highlighted, through:

1) The intense Chinese interest in doing (development initiatives that are not politically conditional, unlike the American tool that sets political goals and conditions as a condition for the work of projects or the provision of loans, as well as China’s interest in infrastructure and community projects), and this is the most obvious and famous reason for the “Belt and Road” initiative, whereas the maps showed China’s roads, railways, and pipelines networks extending with partner countries, in addition to cooperation in (the field of digital technologies, educational and social institutions, and security services), which creates a network of relations that will continue in the future, in contrast to the US case or initiative.

  2) We find that while (the leaders of the seven major economic countries neglected to develop long-term strategic plans in their initiative for a better world to serve poor and developing peoples), the vision of the “Belt and Road” has been more clearly manifested through the spread of many other developmental initiatives and the other extensions with it, which include the “Silk Road” for its projects, such as: (The Health Silk Road Initiative to combat “Covid-19”, and the launch of the “Digital Silk” initiative, known as (Information Silk Road).

 3) At a time when Washington and its allies ignored the interests of developing countries, China has contributed to (leading the global development initiatives, especially the Healthy Silk Road to help countries affected by the spread of the pandemic), an initiative mentioned for the first time in the (White Book of Chinese Policy in  2015), Chinese President “Xi Jinping” announced officially the “Health Silk Road” that was presented in a 2016 speech delivered by the Chinese President in Uzbekistan, as well as the new road and the most recent Chinese initiative, known as the “Polar Silk Road”, which also known as the “Ice Silk Road”, which stretches across the “North Pole”, it was first highlighted in 2018.

 4) In the belief of China to lead global development efforts, in contrast to ignoring the “Better World Initiative”, it was represented in China’s leadership in the field of “climate and environmental governance”, so the Chinese government initiated the launch of the “Green Silk Road Fund”, which was established by Chinese investors to promote (Chinese projects that take into account environmental standards), and the latest and most advanced here is the Chinese announcement of the “Space Silk Road”, which is the development of the Chinese “Beidou” system for artificial intelligence technology, and others.

5) Here, we find that at a time when China’s desire to support and modernize all African and poor countries is increasing, the American initiative, which is alleged to be an alternative to the Chinese plan, has come to China’s interest in projects (the Chinese satellite navigation system), and it is scheduled to be used and developed China as an alternative to GPS services.

 6) The American President “Joe Biden” adopted the “Building Better for the World” project, stressing that its mainly focus on the (climate, health, digital sector, and combating social inequality), because the “Belt and Road” initiative – as stated by assistants to US President “Biden” – has transformed from a series of unauthorized projects connected to infrastructure, a cornerstone of Beijing’s foreign policy strategy, and the initiative supported China with raw materials, trade links, and geopolitical influence, so the “White House” wants to engage in projects with greater environmental and labor standards than those funded by China, and with complete transparency regarding financial terms. Perhaps that point raised by Washington towards China comes without (the United States of America presenting concrete evidence of the validity of those accusations to China, as well as Washington’s failure to penetrate deep into the African continent compared to the Chinese side).

 7) American reports accuse Beijing of being (the reason for the decline of its influence on the African continent, and the United States faces many obstacles and challenges to regain its influence again in Latin American countries, which considers China as a trading partner and an important and vital investor in the African and Latin region).  For example, bilateral trade between Brazil – the largest economy in South America, and China increased from $2 billion in 2000 to $100 billion in 2020.  Perhaps this in itself (supports China’s credibility with its development projects to serve African and developing peoples, in contrast to African and Latin rejection, for example, of American influence and penetration in their countries).

8) The most important analytical thing for me is that the relationship of the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” with African countries supports “the call of China and Chinese President “Xi Jinping” towards a multilateral and multipolar world”. Therefore, we find that (China’s agreement with these African countries came in their support for multipolarity in the world, which the United States rejects), while African countries and the developing world mainly welcome the “Belt and Road Initiative”, which meets the needs of economic development in their countries, which the alleged American initiative will be unable to meet.

 9) It also represents the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road (a prelude to the China-Pacific cooperation road to link China and Latin America more closely, through the 21st century Maritime Silk Road from China to Latin America, which the United States strongly opposed, which reduces travel time between them, it works on developing infrastructure and connectivity, and investing in port works and ocean corridors between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Which (made the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean consider cooperation with Beijing a huge investment opportunity and a support for economic and social development plans, as well as an improvement in the region’s competitiveness).

 10) It is worth noting that what distinguishes (the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road from the American Better World Initiative, is its “sweeping popularity globally”), especially if we know that more than 100 countries have joined the Beijing initiative, which made it stronger politically and diplomatically. China signed cooperation documents on Belt and Road construction with 171 countries and regions around the world, and the trade value between China and countries along the Belt and Road amounted to about 1.35 trillion dollars in 2020, accounting for 29.1 percent of the total value of China’s foreign trade which (the United States of America will be unable to provide in light of the current economic crisis, unlike China). The investment cooperation between them amounted to about $17.7 billion, and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce stated that the companies of the “Belt and Road” countries have established 4,294 institutions in China, with an investment value of $8.27 billion.

 11) and even came (confessions by well-known American bodies of China’s developmental role in confronting the United States of America), for example, a report by the “American Council on Foreign Relations” confirmed that: “Since the launch of the “Belt and Road” initiative in 2013, Chinese banks and companies have funded and the construction of power stations, railways, highways, and ports, as well as communications infrastructure, fiber-optic cables and smart cities around the world, and if the initiative continues to implement its plans, China will be able to stimulate global economic growth, and meet the needs of developing countries for the long term”.  This is an American testimony and a clear acknowledgment of the strength of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and its development projects around the world.

12) It remains to be noted here that (the American attempts to put forward alternative development initiatives for the Chinese Belt and Road is a kind of American political competition with China, so the question here is: Why did the United States not provide real development projects over the past long years), so we understand that the Belt Initiative  The road is the largest infrastructure program in the world, and indeed it has become an economic and political challenge for Washington.  Experts believe that the preoccupation of the United States with its financial and economic crises has contributed greatly to giving China the opportunity to extend its economic and development influence among the countries of the world. The “Rebuilding a Better World” initiative comes among other US initiatives to try to confront and confront China, such as the Ocos Defense Security Agreement with Britain and Australia, as well as the first meeting of the “Quad Quartet” with the leaders of India, Japan and Australia. The “Biden administration” is also seeking to hold bilateral talks with countries in order to promote the American initiative, and recently talks were held with Indian Prime Minister (Narendra Modi), especially since India has refused to join the Belt and Road Initiative due to border disputes with China.  Therefore, we understand (the targeting of the United States of America to countries with conflict with China to attract them to its alternative initiative, in contrast to the openness of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative to the whole world).

    Accordingly, we arrive at an important analysis that says that the term “rebuilding better in the American sense” ignores and neglects development initiatives to serve the people, a better world, which is (an American political initiative rather than a development one such as the projects of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative). Here it becomes clear to us that the American initiative for a better world appears to be (influenced by the slogans and policies of both US President “Joe Biden” and British Prime Minister “Boris Johnson”), Rebuilding Better is the slogan of the American campaign, but without setting specific agreed plans or a timetable for everyone.

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