The United States have quickly “returned” to Europe after the Russian annexation of Crimea and East Ukraine, the lawfulness of which is still to be assessed. Previously the U.S. interpretation of NATO within the EU was optimistic and such as to predict a slow decommissioning, but today it is certainly not.
Nevertheless, in a context of partial return to the “Cold War”, such as the one which is emerging at the moment in which Russia is beginning its “hybrid warfare” in Ukraine and in Crimea, also the configuration of the Western strategic response to Russia’s new actions changes.
In the first phase of the “Cold War”, which ended in 1989, the centre of gravity of the NATO response to a possible attack by the Warsaw Pact or, anyway, by the USSR alone, was inevitably Germany.
Russia launched its strike, while the Warsaw Pact Member States covered the strike and the flanks of the operation.
Therefore, now that the Warsaw Pact is annihilated and much of it has even entered the West, the centre of gravity of a Western countermove against the Russian Federation – now isolated from the context of the old Warsaw Pact – can only be Poland.
The large base of U.S. material in Poland, created in Powidz in March 2019,marked this new condition.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that while West Germany was the axis of German reunification, as well as the tip of West’s possible attack-response against a conventional or non-conventional aggression from the East, now Germany’s role is inevitably more nuanced. Germany has become a rearguard, not the tip of the Western counterattack.
There is currently no German national interest that could support a possible Western reaction against Russia.
Quite the reverse. Germany has obviously every interest in establishing a special relationship with the Russian Federation, even on its own, as seen with the issue of the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines.
On the other hand, we can currently perceive Poland’s considerable coldness towards the EU, to which it had enthusiastically adhered on May 1, 2004.
Poland is the sixth largest economy in the EU.
Moreover, during the first years of European unification, Poland was the great operational “source” for the geopolitical changes in the Russian Federation and in the rest of the old “Warsaw Pact”.
It should be noted that only Poland was not directly affected by the economic crisis following the Wall Street collapse in 2008 – a crisis that, as usual, spread throughout Europe.
It should also be noted that the EU is still regarded as an inevitable point of reference for most Polish citizens, regardless of their party preferences – not to mention the 16.3 billion Euros allocated by the various European funds to Poland (2018 data).
The greater the coldness between the EU and Poland – not so much politically but strategically – the greater the link between the United States and Poland.
It is almost a law of the pendulum which, due to the lack of a European strategy, cannot but keep on applying.
President Trump visited Poland in July 2017 and one of his goals was the U.S. participation in the Three Seas Initiative.
This initiative is an extraordinary strategic asset: it entails a correlation between the countries on the Baltic, the Black Sea and the Adriatic, which creates a stable dialogue of Intermarium – especially at energy, but also at strategic levels – between Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The strategic link between these countries was officially established in 2016, but the geopolitical significance is clear: the Three Seas network largely replaces the terrestrial limes of the old “Cold War”. It strengthens it and then excludes the old countries that, in the first version of the “Cold Car”, were the real limes, i.e Italy, inter alia.
If all these countries were to redefine a NATO first defence line, as in the times of the first “Cold War”, they would develop it well before the Italian “threshold of Gorizia”, or also the old line of defence in Austria – which, indeed, was not designed to resist – or even the internal defence threshold between the two Germanies.
In other words, Poland is the new global coverage against the Russian Federation which was previously focused on West Germany.
We saw it also with the agreement reached in September 2019 between Poland and the United States on 5G, an essential issue for the latter, not to mention the bilateral Summit on nuclear safety in 2018. However, many significant agreements were reached between the United States and Poland: the “Declaration on the new U.S. posture in the Republic of Poland” in June 2019 or the agreement on the prevention of severe crimes, again in 2019, and some other agreements.
Again in June 2019, a new really essential agreement was reached between the United States and Poland, a bilateral treaty on the civilian use of nuclear energy, as well as a treaty for the supply of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).
The U.S. exports are worth 5.96 billion U.S. dollars, while Polish imports have risen by 4.3% on a yearly basis.
Poland is the ninth most important partner and the fourth economic partner of the United States among the non-EU countries, after China, Russia and Great Britain.
Here again we can easily see the U.S. very strong interest in the “Three Seas Initiative”: a project that is carried out through all reliable and friendly countries for the United States, unlike in the phases of the first “Cold War”. It is a project that makes the major EU countries alien to it – countries which now have autonomous strategic interests (except for Italy, of course). It is a project that strictly contains the EU relations with Russia and creates a belt of pro-USA countries in a new context of U.S. relative abandonment of Western Europe which, however, can no longer be fully supported in its entirety.
President Trump participated in the Three Seas Initiative Summit held in Warsaw in 2017.
It is not the alternative option to NATO-Europe, but it much looks like it.
The first U.S. availability was shown for the energy projects in Trimarium, as the authors of Limes currently call it.
The Polish bank BGK is the main instrument of the Three Seas Investment Fund, with the relationship – with the United States – between Trimarium and P-TEC, Transatlantic Energy Cooperation.
In essence, the United States is selling its shale LNG to particularly friendly countries, such as Poland, to isolate the E.U. countries that, instead, buy gas and oil from the East.
This adds to a stable relationship between the United States and Poland for civilian nuclear power.
In the military field, bilateral treaties are even more significant: Poznan is the new HQ of the U.S. forces’ Advanced Division; in Dravsko Pomorske there will be a centre for military training used by both U.S. and Polish Armed Forces; the central base of the U.S. Air Force will be established in Wroclaw-Strachowice; Lask will be the base of the squadron for drones and Powidtz will be the base of a series of U.S. special forces.
The U.S. soldiers currently in Poland amount to 4,500 and the armed units to 2,000.
The Operation Defender Europe 2020 -involving 37,000 Alliance soldiers, albeit with the limitations resulting from Covid-19 – was an extremely significant operation, capable of sending a clear message to the Russian Federation and to Germany.
A message from “Trimarium”, not from the old border of the “Cold War”, but above all a message from the U.S. new reliable allies, which also buy its LNG, to Old Europe’s unruly and quarrelsome allies, now possibly very untrustworthy, treacherous and unreliable.
Poland has also bought 32 F-35 missiles. The air system is largely interoperable with the Patriot framework, bought by it in 2018, but we must not neglect Poland’s role in diplomacy.
Since February 2019, in fact, there has been the “Warsaw Process” for the Middle East with 60 participating countries. An operation that serves to divert the great policy line of Middle East peace negotiation from the increasingly evident and, in any case, ambiguous E.U. pressures on Israel.
A series of Closure Options by the United States, which can use Poland and Trimarium as a form of pressure on the old EU allies of the equally old “Cold War”.
As is easy to predict, all this results from President Trump’s choice to reduce U.S. Forces in Germany from 52,000 to 25,000 units.
A very strong signal sent to Russia, but also a still weak signal of maximum coldness towards the relationship between the United States and Germany, which is not reliable for gas relations with Russia, but above all not reliable for United States’ international trade: Germany has a current account surplus of 261.1 billion Euros, with 7.6% more GDP exported than imported.
The other issues that the United States wants to harshly discuss with Germany include its particular policy of economic relations with China.
Volskwagen accounts for 40% of the Chinese car market, but German companies also operate under a quasi-monopoly regime. What is the German strategy? Simply making huge profit in China and then play the card of this global primacy in the EU.
The United States does not like it very much, as can be easily imagined.
In Hong Kong there are still 2,200 European companies, with their branches and subsidiaries. The Euro area is Hong Kong’s second largest trading partner, but it is Germany that dominates trade with its 14 billion Euros.
Hence, hit the EU to hit Germany, Trump’s first objective, as well as support the Trimarium network to avoid the old Atlantic relationship with old friends that are now untrustworthy and unreliable. And also hit the Russian Federation hard, defuse and weaken the NATO network in Europe without harming the U.S. interests in the region.
All these are the reasons for a new relationship between the United States and Poland.
Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections
The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.
In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.
Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.
Small numbers, big changes
The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.
This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.
In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.
Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists
On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.
The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.
The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.
Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.
Coronavirus, climate & economy
Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.
Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.
The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.
The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.
New (old) government?
The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.
Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.
Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.
The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.
The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.
From our partner RIAC
EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession
On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.
During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.
However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.
Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”
While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.
The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.
This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”
Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.
In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.
German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy
In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.
The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.
Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.
Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.
According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.
To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.
For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.
As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.
The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.
|Issues Coalitions||Trafic Light||Grand Coalition||Jamaica|
1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.
In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.
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