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Celebrity Diplomacy: Are they biting a bigger piece than they can chew?

Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and U2 lead singer and ONE co-founder Bono at Milan Expo 2015. WFP/Giulio D'Adamo

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In this book, Andrew Cooper who is a Political Scientist tries to analyses and assesses the role of celebrity into the world of Diplomacy which is changing its course from being state-centric to incorporating transnational and global elements. This book tries to capture the roles played by celebrities like movie stars, musicians, and CEOs who operate across the globe, have grabbed new roles on the world stage, simultaneously levering their access to world leaders and mass audiences by exercising their star power to the world of diplomacy and humanitarian cause, identifying both the benefits and the pitfalls of this thoroughly modern phenomenon. He also talks about how celebrities are constantly under scrutiny and often seen as a frivolous lot around professional diplomats.

The author in the first chapter tries to define what and who comes under the ambit of celebrity diplomat and how they are different from some professional diplomats who also gains the status of celebrity by being under the constant public eye. He highlights how the selection of Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates as Time magazine’s 2005 persons of the year serves as just the most visible measure of how new types of celebrities performing functions of diplomacy and an expanded range of activities are being recognized on the international stage through them.

The current wave of celebrities squarely targets the arenas of global governance, global equity, and global regulatory issues. Efforts to end global poverty, to cancel the debt, to expand pro-grams of official development assistance, and to focus on HIV/AIDS and other pandemic health issues, all of which are heavily concentrated on Africa, would be on the top of most current lists of celebrity activism.

He throughout the book constantly point out the domination of the Anglo-sphere in the world of celebrity diplomacy, giving narrow space to outsiders, thereby keeping them under control.

The authors point out how some celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Danny Kaye tried to capture elements of the engaged public life while working with UNICEF, but the work of diplomacy took a full-fledged shape only after the end of cold-war with a massive surge of technical innovation and expansion. Various celebrities bring their star power to work for the collective good of humanity and enter into the world of diplomacy. Celebrity diplomats comprise of no longer only of the ambassadors chosen for UN but also various free-floaters, such a late Princess Diana, U2 singer Bono whose advocacy work has had impacts on many governments. Philanthropists like Bill Gates, George Soros are also breaking new grounds not only because of the size of their financial contribution but also because of their personal involvement in global public policy debates. Some celebrities provide ground and field which requires celebrities’ attention like Oprah Winfrey.

He uses U2 singer Bono as an epitome of a celebrity diplomat, who navigated the traditional boundaries between diplomacy and policymaking, working through both the International Forum and the corridor of national political power. He continuously changed his tactics as he continued to evolve. Bob Geldof, another celebrity who the author addressed as an anti-diplomat, had the same effect as Bono in the world of diplomacy though his characteristics were contrary to that of a celebrity diplomat.

UN has also revamped itself to include celebrities who were genuinely interested in working for it. It was after a lot of discussions, interviews, and debate that celebrity Angelina Jolie was selected to work with the UN. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan encouraged celebrity involvement in the UN. Celebrities carving a niche for themselves by digressing from the path they have been told to tread on like Princess Diana. Most of the book the author is limited to the English-speaking West who dominated the world of diplomacy.

It is only in the final chapters that he devoted his attention to celebrities from Non-West taking the role of diplomacy offering views countering the Eurocentric part of the world order. He states how celebrity diplomacy has expanded and incorporated fragment from all around the world bringing with them different accents, cultures, and opinions. He highlights how Bob Geldof during the Live 8 concert was responsible for his controversial selection process, as he was accused of reproducing a system of “musical apartheid” in his bias toward featuring older white “gods” of rock over African stars in the concerts under his command.1

Thus, the interference of people from the Anglo-sphere dominating and speaking about issues centered around Africa and Africans started hinting at the new parentalism or an expression of benign neocolonialism. There have been a few celebrities from the African continent like great Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour, Maal but it was only later in the 21st century that various non-west celebrities started entering and bringing their localism with cosmopolitanism in the arena of diplomacy. Various Japanese celebrities like Misako Konno, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, and so on not only entered into the world of diplomacy but played their own game by being non-conformists. The author further spoke about how the need to have a democratic government is necessary for various non-state actors or various activism to flourish outside the state purview otherwise entertainment or celebrity diplomats are left with no choice but to balance between their loyalty for the government or help in accommodating the government in power. Various celebrities like Imran Khan. Pakistani cricketer, George Weah and others used activism as a means to get hold of political positions and power. Instead of continuing to act as a force of moderation and tolerance, Imran began to pander to a domestic constituency after becoming a candidate in national elections, most notably siding with minority obscurantist voices over unsubstantiated news reports in 2005 regarding.2 This led to considerable damage to his reputation across the globe.

India has also entered into the world of diplomacy through people like Arundhati Roy, Shabana Azmi, and Amitabh Bachchan who have not only offered their fresh perspective but also reciprocated in the fashion and technique similar to North. However, the biggest problem that non-Anglo-sphere celebrities faced was to attract the same level of publicity as their counter-parts from the U.S. /UK hubs. The celebrity diplomats in the North should embrace their south-ern counterpart is the way forward, humanity should be the underlying principle in the diplo-matic world.

Diplomacy is a complex activity with a vast array of actors.

The authors draw our attention to the fact that the celebrities bring an added value to the repertoire of diplomacy and global affairs as they operate beyond intergovernmental processes. Celebrities provide a convenient surrogate for, and a conduit in response to, the traditional bonds that hold society together, performing mobilizing, interpreting, and, most importantly, mediating functions that have been eroded within traditional institutions.“When a celebrity talks, people listen; there is no better messenger.”3 It is thus, important to accept that importance and role of celebrity diplomats, as keeping them away from scrutiny will propel them to become ‘loose canons’ who are not accountable to anyone.

Thus, we need to accept that the sheer scale, intensity, and resilience of celebrities have been successful in imparting both a buzz and a bite. Celebrities are better placed than politicians to convey important messages. We need to bifurcate the celebrities who use diplomacy as career enhancement from the sincerely working ones, and for that, we need to understand that celebrity diplomacy is not a mere fad. They can focus the entire world’s attention on a problem, and they can help build a groundswell of public support for the work that the professionals are doing. Celebrities not only blur but effectively break down the barriers between domestic and international politics. their presence as participants who look, behave, and speak very differently than those actors who traditionally occupy the elevated space on global affairs says much about how these orthodox assumptions are no longer valid.

The only problem with this book is its limitation and biases towards the Global North which the author has accepted himself. Otherwise, it is an interesting read for someone who wants to read about soft power exerted by celebrities in today’s globalized world and its effects on the national and global levels.

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Diplomacy

Afghanistan: Centre stage of the UN General Assembly

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President Joseph R. Biden Jr. of the United States of America addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session. UN Photo/Cia Pak

As each September, except last year’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of heads of government and state arrived in New York City to deliver grandiloquent speeches at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

And although this year some decided to stay at home and sent pre-recorded statements, almost a hundred world leaders met in the huge UNGA Chamber to dissect the planet’s most pressing challenges and threats.

Afghanistan itself did not take the podium, as the representative of the former government of Ashraf Ghani, who still holds Afghanistan UN seat, withdrew his name just before he was scheduled to speak.

Since the ‘World Cup of Diplomacy’ took place only weeks after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, and as the Spanish Prime Minister put it, “all eyes [were] focused, obviously, on Afghanistan.”

The gathering, held between the 21 to the 27 of September, provides a great deal of insight about what key global leaders think, intend and seek out of this new chapter in Afghanistan’s troubled history.  

President of the United States, Joe Biden

For starters, Mr. Biden did little to hide his satisfaction for having led the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. “We have ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan … we’ve turned the page,” boasted the American president.  

After that moment of pride, he acknowledged the humanitarian agony endured by millions of Afghans, indicating Washington’s and its allies’ intention to relief it, with a caveat. “The UN Security Council adopted a resolution outlining how we will support the people of Afghanistan, laying out the expectations to which we will hold the Taliban when it comes to respecting universal human rights,” reminded the 78-year resident of the White House.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov

Mr. Lavrov used his address to denounce what, on his view, are the West’s disastrous state building enterprises. “The chaos that accompanied [the US’ hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan] is a further demonstration of the rules [with which] the West is going to build its world order,” mocked the Russian Foreign Minister.

“In Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and in other hotbeds, all external actors must show an understanding of the cultural and civilisational specifics of society, reject politicisation of humanitarian aid, and assist in the creation of broadly representative bodies of authority that would involve all major ethnic, religious and political forces of the relevant countries,” warned Mr. Lavrov.

President of the European Council; representing the European Union (EU), Charles Michel

The former Prime Minister of Belgium voiced a degree of mea culpa on behalf of the EU.“The new situation in Afghanistan is a failure for the international community. And lessons must be learned from it. But one thing is certain: the end of military operations is not the end of Europe’s commitment to the Afghan people.”

“We want to avoid a humanitarian disaster and to preserve as many of the gains of the past 20 years as possible, in particular the rights of women and girls,” emphasized the Brussels diplomat, stressing the EU hopes for the future of Afghanistan.

President of China, Xi Jinping

In a pre-recorded video message, and without referring to Afghanistan once, the Chinese leader rejected state building adventurism. ”Recent developments in the international situation show, once again, that military intervention from the outside and so-called democratic transformation entail nothing but harm,” pointed Mr. Xi Jinping.

“We need to advocate peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom which are the common values of humanity,” he went on to say, using again the term democracy, a concept that the Chinese President would certain define differently that most dignitaries at the UNGA Chamber. 

Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan

As the country with more at stake of developments in Kabul, Afghanistan’s uncertain future was also one of the central pieces of Mr. Khan’s UNGA speech. “There are two paths that we can take. If we neglect Afghanistan […] this will have serious repercussions not just for the neighbors of Afghanistan but everywhere. A destabilized, chaotic Afghanistan will again become a safe haven for international terrorists – the reason why the US came to Afghanistan in the first place,” stated the former cricket star.

In his address, the Prime Minister of Pakistan showed a considerable degree of trust on the pledges made by the Taliban since coming back to power. “What have the Taliban promised? They will respect human rights. They will have an inclusive government. They will not allow their soil to be used by terrorists. And they have given amnesty,” said Mr. Khan, even if in many instances the Taliban have not lived up to their word.

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi

On his first speech to the UN, Mr. Raisi told Western powers away from foreign adventurism.“What is seen in our region today proves that not only the hegemonist and the idea of hegemony, but also the project of imposing a Westernized identity have failed miserably. The result of seeking hegemony has been blood-spilling and instability and, ultimately, defeat and escape. Today, the US does not get to exit Iraq and Afghanistan but is expelled,” vented Iran’s new president.

But the Iranian leader also exhibited scepticism and concern about the new Afghan rulers. “If an inclusive government having an effective participation of all ethnicities does not emerge to run Afghanistan, security will not be restored to the country,” said Mr Raisi referring to the country’s third larger ethnic group, the Hazaras, a mostly Shia minority in Afghanistan long persecuted by radical elements of the Sunni majority.  

India Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi

Mr. Modi sent several indirect messages to Islamabad, a common neighbour of India and Afghanistan. “Countries that are using terrorism as a political tool have to understand that terrorism is an equally big threat to them. It is very important to ensure that the soil of Afghanistan is not used for spreading terrorism and terrorist attacks,” said Mr. Modi.

The Indian Prime Minister urged action to tackle the lamentable humanitarian situation in the embattled country: “the people of Afghanistan, the women and children there, the minorities there, need help, and we have to discharge our responsibility.”

President of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

As most of his non-Western counterparts did, Mr. Erdoğan used the UNGA podium to scold the countries involved in the Afghan invasion and its ill-fated outcome.

“We witnessed in Afghanistan that problems cannot be solved by imposing methods that do not take into account the realities and the social fabric on the ground. The people of Afghanistan have been left alone, abandoned to the consequences of instability and conflicts that last more than four decades,” vented the Turkish President.

Amir of the State of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani

Given the oversized role of the tiny but affluent State of Qatar in Afghanistan, the UNGA speech of the Amir generated a substantial amount of attention. And similarly to the Turkish leader, Mr. Al-Thani sent an unambiguous message to the US and its allies: “Afghanistan is not a matter of victory or defeat but rather an issue of failure to impose a political system from outside. Regardless of intentions, efforts made, and money invested, this experience in Afghanistan has collapsed after twenty years.”

On the human rights-humanitarian aid question, the Emir encouraged the world to hurry up, no matter what. “We emphasize the importance of the international community’s continued support to Afghanistan at this critical stage and to separate humanitarian aid from political differences,” warned the ruler of Qatar.

During his speech, UK’s Boris Johnson did not refer to developments in Afghanistan, as his talk was entirely devoted to global warming and the November COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow.  

Yet, the Italian-led G20 virtual meeting of foreign ministers about Afghanistan in the sidelines of the UNGA showed that the perilous humanitarian and human rights situation in the country, as well as Kabul diplomatic limbo, are today one of the top geopolitical priorities for leaders worldwide.   

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International Relations Amid the Pandemic

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We could rest assured that COVID-19 will be defeated, sooner rather than later. The excessive angst and fear we currently feel will gradually subside, while our science will find effective antidotes so that people could look back on the pandemic years as a ghastly dream.

At the same time, it is also clear that a post-pandemic world will be quite different to the world we knew before. The argument that the world needs a massive shake-up to move to the next stage of its development has been quite popular ever since the end of the Cold War. Some prophesied that this would come as a result of a profound economic crisis, while others argued that a large-scale war may well be on the cards. As often happens, though, what turned the world on its head came as if out of nowhere. Within a short span of just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic shed a light on all the many contradictions and setbacks of our age. It went on to outline the trajectory for economic prosperity, scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements going forward, opening up new opportunities for self-realization and fulfilment. The question pertinent today is: Who will be able to best exploit the new reality and take advantage of the opportunities that are opening up? And how?

COVID-19 has also left its mark on the current architecture of international relations.

At the turn of the century, it was mired in crisis. The end of the Cold War towards the late 20th century effectively signaled the beginning of the transition from the bipolar world order established in the wake of the Second World War to a model that had yet to be created. A bitter struggle would unfold as to what the new world order had to be, with the issue still unsettled today. A number of states, as well as non-state actors, willing to take advantage of this uncertainty in global affairs and redistribute the spheres of influence in the world is what it ultimately boils down to. In a sense, such a scenario should have come as no surprise since the contradictions between the profound changes encompassing the public domain and the rigid model of international relations established in the mid-20th century by the powers victorious in the Second World War had continued to grow in recent decades.

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a stern and unprecedented test of strength that has revealed the limits of the current architecture of international relations. Previous crises—be they financial turmoil, struggle against terrorism, regional conflicts or something else—were, in fact, temporary and rather limited in their implications, however severe they were. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected each and every country in the world, regardless of their political regimes and social conventions, economic prosperity and military might. The pandemic has exposed the fragility of the modern world as well as the growing risks and challenges; and if ignored, they could plunge the world into a descending spiral of self-destruction.

The pandemic continues, which means we are yet to draw a final conclusion on its consequences for the system of international relations. That being said, a number of tentative conclusions are already taking shape.

Point 1. Globalization, despite its obvious side effects, has already changed the face of our world, irreversibly making it truly interdependent. This has been said before; however, the opponents of globalization have tried—and continue to try—to downplay its consequences for modern society. As it happens, they would like to think of globalization as little more than an episode in international life. Although it has been going on for quite some time now, it is nevertheless incapable of changing the familiar landscape of the world. The pandemic has lifted the curtain on what the modern world truly looks like. Here, state borders are nothing more than an administrative and bureaucratic construct as they are powerless to prevent active communication among people, whether spiritual, scientific, informational or of any other kind. Likewise, official borders are not an obstacle to the modern security threats proliferating among states. The waves of COVID-19 have wreaked havoc on all countries. No nation has been able to escape this fate. The same will also happen time and again with other challenges unless we recognize this obvious reality to start thinking about how states should act amid the new circumstances.

Point 2. The international system withstood the initial onslaught in spite of the incessant fearmongers prophesying its impending collapse. Following a rather brief period of confusion and helplessness, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, G20 and other global and regional organizations got their act together (albeit some better than others), taking urgent action to contain the pandemic. This proves that the system of international relations that was constructed after the Second World War still functions, although it is far from perfect or devoid of shortcomings.

In a similar vein, the fight against the pandemic has demonstrated that many international structures are increasingly out of step with the modern reality, proving incapable of mobilizing quickly enough to make a difference in our ever-changing world. This, once again, pushes to the fore the issue of a reformed United Nations system (and other international institutions), while the issue is progressively getting even more urgent. Moving forward, the international community will likely have to face challenges no less dangerous than the current pandemic. We have to be prepared for this.

Point 3. As the role of international institutions in global affairs weakens, centrifugal tendencies gain momentum, with countries—for the most part, global leaders—starting to put their national interests first. The global information war surrounding various anti-COVID-19 vaccines is a prime example of this. Not only has it seriously upset successes in the fight against the pandemic, but it has also added a new dimension to mutual distrust and rivalry. The world has effectively fallen back to the “rules” of the Cold War era, when countries with different socio-political systems were desperate to prove their superiority, with little regard for common interests such as security and development.

Pursuing such a policy today is fraught with grave consequences for every nation, since new security threats care little for borders. The recent events in Afghanistan should serve as a lesson for us all, showing that any serious regional crisis, even in a most remote corner of the world, will inevitably have global implications. Therefore, we are all facing a stark choice: either unite against these new challenges or become hostage to the various extremists and adventurers.

Point 4. Some political leaders have been quick to use the challenges of the pandemic as a pretext to strengthen the role of the state at the expense of fundamental democratic principles and binding international obligations. This may be justified or even necessitated at a time of the most acute phases of a severe crisis, when all available resources need to be mobilized to repel the threat.

However, one gets the impression that some politicians are increasingly in the groove for these extended powers and would very much like to hold onto them, using the likelihood of new crises as a justification. This line of thinking could prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to a new model of international relations to be established in accordance with the modern reality, where states would be expected to pool their efforts in the interests of global security and development.

Point 5. As always happens in times of profound crises, the international community is looking to major powers and their leadership for guidance. The future course of history in all realms of life, naturally including international relations, will hinge on what these countries choose to do, deciding whether solidarity prevails over national egoism. President Putin’s initiative to hold a meeting of the heads of state of the permanent UN Security Council members could be a good starting point to foster understanding and seek new ways of moving forward. We cannot keep putting off a frank and thorough conversation about the future world order, as the costs of new delays could be too grave for everyone to handle.

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Diplomacy

Relevance of the Soft Power in Modern World

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In modern days, the relevance of Soft Power has increased manifolds. At times, the COIVD-19 has hooked the whole human race; this concept has further come into the limelight. The term, Soft Power was coined by the American Scientist Joseph Nye. Soft Power is the ability of a country to get what it wants through attraction rather than coercion. By tapping the tool of Soft Power, a country can earn respect and elevate its global position. Hard Power cannot be exercised exceeding a territory, and if any country follows this suit, its image is tarnished globally. However, it is Soft Power that can boost the perception and create a niche of a nation. Soft Power is regarded as the essential factor of the overall strength of a country. It can increase the adhesion and the determination of the people in a realm to shape the foreign relations of any nation. Nye held that the Soft Power arsenal would include culture, political values, and foreign policy.

After the Cold War, many nations pumped billions of dollars into Soft Power initiatives, and the US mastered this concept. The US has sailed on the waters of Soft Power by harnessing the tool of media, politics, and economic aid. The US boasts globally recognized brands and companies, Hollywood, and its quest for democratic evangelization. Through movies, the US has disseminated its culture worldwide. American movies are viewed by a massive audience worldwide. The promotion of the US culture through films is a phenomenon (culture imperialism) where the US subtly wants to dominate the world by spreading its culture. Through Hollywood films, the US has an aspiration to influence the world by using Soft Power tools. Hollywood is considered as the pioneer of fashion, and people across the globe imitate and adopt things from Hollywood to their daily life. Such cultural export lure foreign nations to fantasize about the US as a pillar of Soft Power. Educational exchange programs, earthquake relief in Japan and Haiti, famine relief in Africa stand as the best example of the US initiatives of Soft Power. Now, the American political and cultural appeal is so extensive that the majority of international institutions reflect US interests. The US, however, witnessed a drop from 1st place to 6th on the Global Soft Power Index. This wane can be attributed to the attack on the US Capitol Hill sparked by former US President Donald Trump. In addition, his dubious decisions also hold responsibilities that curtailed the US soft power image, that is, particularly the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Beijing is leaving no stone unturned to ace this area. China, rich in culture and traditional philosophy, boasts abundant sources of Soft Power. China is contemplating and exploring an innovative strategy in its rise in international politics. There have been notable elements in the Chinese diplomatic practice, including softer rhetoric, promotion of its culture abroad, economic diplomacy, and image building. Beijing, amid an ongoing pandemic, has extended vaccine help to 80 countries. Such initiative taken by China has elevated its worth globally during difficult times of the pandemic. According to the Global Soft Power index 2021, China stands in the 8th slot. China is an old civilization with a rich culture. China has stressed culture as a crucial source of Soft Power. In a bid to enhance its cultural dominance, Beijing has built many Confucius Institutes overseas. However, this has not been whole-heartedly embraced by the Chinese neighbors due to territorial disputes on the South China Sea. Moreover, International Order, dominated by the West, is wary of Beijing. China’s authoritarian political system is not welcomed in Western democracies. Therefore, China finds it hard to generate Soft Power in democracies. In recent times, Beijing has witnessed tremendous extension in its economy; thus, it focuses on harnessing economic tools to advance its Soft Power. Consequently, Beijing has driven its focus on geoeconomics to accelerate its Soft Power.

Unfortunately, Pakistan, in this sphere, finds itself in a very infirm position -securing 63rd position in the Global Soft Power Index. In comparison with Pakistan, India boasts a lot of Soft Power by achieving the 36th position in the Global Soft Power Index. Its movies, yoga, and classical and popular dance and music have uplifted the Indian soft image. In the promotion of the Indian Soft Power Image, Bollywood plays a leading role and it stretches beyond India. Bollywood has been projected as a great Soft Power tool for India. Bollywood stars are admired globally. For instance, Shahrukh Khan, known as Baadshah of Bollywood, has a fan following across the world. Through its Cinema, India has attracted the attention of the world. Indian movies have recognition in the world and helped India earn billions of dollars. However, the Modi government has curtailed the freedom of Bollywood. Filmmakers claim that their movies are victim of censorship. Moreover, the anti-Muslim narrative has triggered in India, which has tarnished the Indian image of secular country and eventually splashing the Indian Soft image. Protests of farmers, revocation of article 370 in Kashmir, and the controversial Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) have degraded the Indian Soft Power.

Pakistan is not in the tier of the countries acing the Soft Power notion. In Pakistan, expressions of Soft Power, like spiritualism, tourism, cinema, literature, cricket, and handicrafts, are untapped. Pakistan is on the list of those countries having immense tourism potential and its culture is its strength. Unfortunately, no concrete steps are taken to promote the Pakistani culture and tourism. The Pakistani movies are stuck in advancing Pakistan’s narrative worldwide due to lack of the interest of successive governments in this sphere. In addition, these movies lack suitable content, that’s why people prefer watching Bollywood or Hollywood movies. It is the job of the government to harness the expressions of Soft Power. Through movies and soap operas, we can disseminate our culture, push our narrative, and promote our tourism. Government-sponsored campaigns on electronic media can help greatly in this sphere. Apart from the role of government, this necessitates the involvement of all stakeholders, including artists, entrepreneurs, academics, policymakers, and civil society.

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