Although both philosophies of Machiavellianism and Fascism are almost 400 years apart, there is no doubt that the theories of Machiavelli regarding realism and power can be found in the theories of Giovanni Gentile. How much of an influence was Niccoló Machiavelli for the father of fascism, Giovanni Gentile and was Mussolini the actual prince that Machiavelli was dreaming of? Why does Machiavelli have a special place at the pantheon of fascism and how relative are those theories in the 21st century?
Political profiles of Machiavelli and Gentile
Nicolló Machiavelli was born in 1469, in Florence of Italy. He was the son of a wealthy lawyer and he studied at the University of Florence. He was mostly known after 1498 where he first served as a government official in the government of the Republic of Florence.
Apart from a government official, Machiavelli was a well-known diplomat, philosopher, and writer. Some of his key works are The Discourses on Livy (1517), The Art of War (1519-1521) but the most notable of them is The Prince (1513). Based on Machiavelli’s works and theories, the modern term Machiavellian was born which is mostly connected with acts of political deceit.
On the other hand, Giovanni Gentile was born in Castelvetrano, Sicily in 1875. At a young age after finishing high school, he studied philosophy focusing on the idealist tradition in Italy and Neo-Hegelian idealism. His works such as The Doctrine of Fascism (1932) and The Philosophy of Fascism (1928), were essential foundations for what would be known as the Fascist movement.
In that respect, Giovanni Gentile is considered to be the father of fascism, who gave birth to the iconic figure of the Duce, Benito Mussolini. He served under Mussolini’s regime as the Minister of Education and later as the president of the Academy of Italy. In 1944 he was captured and executed by Italian partisans.
Understanding the realist approach in Machiavelli’s works
To completely understand how Machiavelli influenced one of the most successful ideologies of the 20th century, there has to be in-depth research regarding the theories of Machiavelli. One of his most remarkable works was with no doubt The Prince.
Written in 1513, his work is focused and addressed to young princes that are willing to become successful rulers. Machiavelli is trying to imply the concept of realism by directly implying the truth rather than imagining it. Unlike other political thinkers, he does not see the state as a mechanism to nurture the morality of its citizens but as an ensuring concept that will protect their wellbeing. To have a strong state, you need to have a strong leader that will be able to ensure the wellbeing of his subjects by using any means possible, even deception or intrigue.
“In judging policies, we should consider the results that have been achieved through them rather than the means by which they have been executed”
Machiavelli considered the idea of the end justifies the means as the only way to ensure stability and prosperity for the state. The success of a prince should be judged by the consequences of his actions and never by his morality or ideology. This idea is perfectly described in The Prince.
“ In the actions of all men, especially princes, where there is no resource to justice, the end is all that counts. A prince should only be concerned with conquering or maintaining a state, for the means will always be judged to be honorable and praiseworthy by each and every person because the masses always follow appearances and the outcomes of affairs, and the world is nothing other than the masses”
Regarding his views about religion and the state, although he was a devoted catholic, he did oppose the interference of church to political life. According to one of his books, the Discourses on Livy, the vision that he has for the perfect form of government is modeled on the Roman Republic, with a mixed constitution and participation by its citizens. However, he stresses out that for such a republic to exist, it needs a strong leader that will allow specific laws about the social organization that will allow this ideal republic to be born.
Gentile’s idea of the fascist state
Similar to Machiavelli’s ideas about the ideal leader and republic were the theories of Giovanni Gentile. As the father of fascism, Gentile was essential to establish the foundations and the pillars to promote Benito Mussolini and the Duce of the people that will lead them to the resurrection of the Roman Republic.
Gentile’s ideas are perfectly described in one of his early works, The Philosophy of Fascism which was written in 1928. Based on his book, we can get a clear understanding of his constructive ideas. To get the support of the masses, Gentile focused on more nationalistic elements combined with a more radical form of social organization that will be based around the fascist state.
The philosophy that he wanted to impose was one of unity through collectivism. In this idea, he promotes the fascist conception of the state as an attitude towards life in which individuals are bound together by a higher law and will, the law and will of the nation. However, to fully understand the principles behind fascism, one has to follow the guidelines that he mentions in The Doctrine of Fascism which he co-wrote with Benito Mussolini.
Written in 1932, The Doctrine of Fascism, focuses on the ideas that can be promoted to achieve the goal of the fascist state. Gentile rejected the idea of individualism and thought that the answer to the needs of people for security and prosperity was in the idea of collectivism.
Although it might sound very familiar with what Karl Marx was advocating, Gentile did not agree with him on the idea of a divided society into social classes and a historical struggle between classes. He also was against any form of democracy that indicated the majority rule, which sees the will of the nation underneath the will of the majority.
Above all, the idea of fascism sets in three major ideas. That the law and will of the nation must take precedence over the individual will and that all human values lie within the state. Moreover, all individual actions serve to preserve and expand the state.
In addition to his philosophy, it needs to be mentioned his ideas regarding other forms of political theory or even the aspect of peace. For Gentile, any form of economic or political liberalism would only result in an unstable political system that is bound to fail.
His views about the failure of liberalism came right after the end of WWI, where Italy ended up in a state of social and political unrest.
Politicians that were promoting these ideas were not able to provide sustainable answers to Italy’s increasing unemployment rate and social unrest.
Gentile also believed that the aspiration of permanent peace could not be implemented because of the conflicting interests of all the nations that in the end made conflict completely inevitable.
A comparative study of both philosophies
After carefully reviewing both theories, it is safe to say that there are quite a few similarities that can be found. Firstly, there is a clear sense of contempt for the idea of moral progress.
In terms of politics, both Machiavelli and Gentile’s ideal leader, Benito Mussolini always considered themselves realists that were willing to sacrifice anything for their nation.
Mussolini himself even claimed that Niccoló Machiavelli and his realist approach were an inspiration to him and that his book The Prince had an influence on him since he aspired of being the great leader for Italy that would restore the glory of the Roman Empire.
Secondly the idea of the state’s wellbeing being above any form of individualism. In that sense, the famous quote of Machiavelli “the end justifies the means”, can be found in the fascist doctrine.
The belief that the end justifies the means, as a pure struggle for power is the defining characteristics of fascism.
Finally, both of the theories can be traced down to the single concept of the sheepdog and the sheep.
An effective leader can and will harness the weaker traits of humanity in his people to great effect, in the same way, a sheepdog can manipulate to his will a herd of sheep. Not to mention that both Machiavelli and Mussolini thought that the idea of ensuring the wellbeing of a state and its citizens can be effectively achieved by using deceit, treachery, and secrecy whenever it is necessary.
Was Benito Mussolini a real Machiavellian Prince?
With all these similarities, wouldn’t all the scholars agree that through Gentile’s intellectual foundations to the fascist movement, Benito Mussolini can be considered the ideal prince according to Machiavelli?
However, he might be far from being the ideal leader. Machiavelli himself would have found the idea of Mussolini being a prince obscure.
Firstly, the radical ideas that Mussolini had and the way he imposed them on the people through a dictatorship did not comply with the concept of virtues that Machiavelli suggested.
Secondly, Machiavelli specifically said and made it very clear that this is only a matter of expediency and not a model for social behavior, something that Mussolini tried to impose through his blackshirts movement. The aspect of totalitarian regimes was not what Machiavelli had in his mind.
Mussolini also failed to protect and ensure the wellbeing of his citizens and the state. His radical views and clear lack of understanding of what was happening around him made him more of a joker rather than a prince.
An excellent example is his will to enter WWII with the Axis, something that completely crippled the Italian people.
Machiavelli was not an advocate of war and he believed that being ruthless should only last until peace and prosperity are achieved, not to mention that his ideal ruler will establish the ideal republic where there will be a mixed constitution and participation by the citizens.
In that sense, Mussolini was not willing to let his people have any sort of power. In the end for many historians and political thinkers. Mussolini was not in power for the benefit of his people but for the benefit of his ego and his idea that he was the chosen one to restore the glory of ancient Rome.
Implementing the political philosophies in the 21st century
In conclusion, can these two theories be implemented in today’s society? Certainly, fascism has left a bitter taste in Europe and around the world and no government in the world wants to hold the title of a fascist state.
However, fascism has not disappeared rather it has silently moved towards right-wing groups that promote the idea of nationalism.
On the other hand, the theories of Machiavelli regarding realism can be found around the world and some may argue that leaders like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping are the modern princes that put the interests of the state above individualism. With that being said, it would be impossible to compare any world leader to the ideal prince of Machiavelli, simply because it is hard to understand the notion of a paternalistic society that Machiavelli wanted to be created through the perfect leader. Instead in this day and age authoritarian regimes have replaced this notion and most of the time they leave a negative global opinion.
Today it is important for everyone to remember our world’s history in order not to allow ourselves to fall for the same mistakes of our past. The mistakes that brought misery for the whole world with catastrophic wars and misleading ideologies that pretend to be closer to the citizens but in reality they serve their own authoritarian goals. All in all, when we approach such theories we have to remember the words of the revolutionary Leon Trotsky:
“If the end justifies the means, what justifies the end?”
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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