What is strategic intelligence currently used for? First and foremost, for correctly orienting the long sequence of decision makers’ interpretations.
Secondly, for acting as automatic or non-automatic selector of relevant or non-relevant facts and news for those who have access to the intelligence system.
Finally, for correctly connecting intelligence data with the rest of open source news and the various perceptions on a topic.
Intelligence is never just a sequence of data collection. Certainly data is needed to qualify, think, imagine or refuse any Intelligence Service’s operation. What is really needed, however, is never mere data, but the indication of how the opponent secretly thinks and, therefore, what he/she selects as primary concept and, more generally, how the enemy hierarchizes and interprets his/her notions.
The Strategic Intelligence System (SIS) produces the information needed by the most important decision-makers.
Therefore, it must be simple, immediate and clear -considering that very rarely decision-makers have already experience of Intelligence Service -but also new, fresh, reasonable and, above all, capable of being even counterfactual, where needed.
If, as often happens today, even in Italy, the Intelligence Service produces models that confirm the ideas of the most superficial politicians, it is not good.
Not even for the insubstantial careers of the fools who always say yes.
In other words, an analysis that is not obvious, not always inferable from the most well-known facts, not childish and in any case not taken for granted.
Vaste programme, as De Gaulle said when he was proposed the abolition of idiots.
There is, on the one hand, the childish and very “American” fascination for new technologies, which are undoubtedly extraordinary.
Technologies which, like Artificial Intelligence, can expand, automate and make the collection and processing of intelligence data even more refined. But technologies which, each time, must be adapted to a context in which also the enemy uses AI.
Sure, but it is anyway necessary to deal with staff suitable for analysing the data sequence of an AI system and understanding how it relates to the opponent’s decision-making, whether it has to do with AI networks or not.
Either there are technology experts who understand nothing about intelligence, or there are intelligence experts who know nothing about AI technology.
What if the enemy produced – as has already happened – fragments of voluntarily manipulated information so as to later put out of phase the AI machines that interpret government’s choices from outside?
What if decision-making totally hid its operating mechanisms, thus artfully eliminating any signal capable of bringing the analytical system into its decision-making mechanism? It takes so little, indeed.
Hence we need to see how and to what extent the Artificial Intelligence subsets, cloud computing, machine learning, problem solving and robotics are really useful for intelligence operations.
In the U.S. tradition – very much linked to the “machine” myth – AI allows to automate and simplify (and here there is already a danger) data collection and, in particular, the synthesis between geospatial, Signal, HUMINT and even open source data collection.
That is all well and good, but how can we avoid the opponent knowingly “dirtying” the data sequence or developing and processing models in which the various sources contrast dangerously with each other?
Either you give contradictory news, or you put a useful source in a bad light, or you create a “narrative” that you are working for Good and Democracy, and here the Western idiots will not be able to say anything.
Probably, you shall also go back to the old traditional methods: someone who infiltrates into the enemy’s ruling classes, becomes credible and then changes the enemy’s decision-making process in our favour. Or informs us of how it really goes.
In the case of Geointelligence, AI can collect sensor data very well, often very quickly. So far, all is well, but the truth lies in the brain that evaluates, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
AI is also useful in computer vision and sometimes very useful also for electronic intelligence (ELINT), especially for translation between different languages. But, certainly, this is not the whole intelligence process. We are always talking about hardware, not about conceptual software.
This is what I could call “Descartes’ complex”, i.e. the typical idea of the old Western scientific mentality that we always need to see facts and then find the automatic mechanism of a phenomenon.
This is a completely wrong criterion.
In Intelligence Services’ operations the “facts” are usually not seen, if all goes well, and never have a univocal and certain “mechanism”.
Otherwise it would not be an Intelligence Service’s operation, but a simple police action or a completely public and official operation.
The mythical rationalism of the United States and of other similar countries always tends to “automate” intelligence. Hence the more the data collection of an Intelligence Service is automated, the more predictable and useless it is. Predictable especially by the Enemy.
We always need to use “lateral thinking” and serendipity. “Lateral thinking”, based on the observations made by Maltese psychologist De Bono, uses lateral observation points to solve a problem, without using the most obvious and visible “sequential” logic accepted by everybody.
You do not dig a mine in the wrong place, but in the right one.
Nevertheless, the thinking that De Bono calls “vertical” always digs in the same place, and the human mind which, like all the other organs, does not want to work too much, is attracted by the most probable, obvious and “visible” solution, i.e. what it defines as “natural”.
Serendipity is the possibility of making accidental discoveries. Indeed, it is never by chance, but it shows the imaginative and necessary potential of those who discover a phenomenon, but who know above all how to use accidental or apparently trivial information.
It is another essential characteristic in intelligence analysis.
Furthermore, some countries think that HUMINT, i.e. intelligence from human sources, can be strengthened by AI systems that collect and select the “sources” always according to predefined patterns.
Whatever is predefined must never be used in an intelligence Service, unless there are temporary guarantees. This is the Number 1 Rule. Instead of the standardization of analysis techniques, the opposite must be done in a world where “third” countries acquire powers that were unimaginable until a few years ago.
Therefore, the predefined mechanism is a severe mistake: the “sources” are trained to avoid precisely these systems.
As was also the case at the time of the Cold War, when many Soviet undercover agents infiltrated in the Western Intelligence Services were even trained to succeed without problems in the analysis with the polygraph, the so-called “lie detector”, and also created a credible, but completely imaginary and in any case unverifiable, personal story.
They indeed used serendipity and lateral thinking. The others, with their naive positivism, let themselves be fooled.
The real problem is therefore the analysis of strategic surprise: September 11 is a case in point, but surprises can be either “widespread” or “specific”.
If you donot know how to analyse surprise, it is difficult that you can really do intelligence.
From what does strategic surprise stem anyway? From the fact that you, the victim, do not know how the strategic formula of the opponent (or friend, which is the same) is composed.
If the United States had not well understood the role played in Saudi Arabia by Prince Turki, Director General of the Saudi intelligence agency from 1973 to 2001, resigning the position only 10 days before the “9/11 attacks”, probably it would have understood that a change was taking place in relations between the Arab-Islamic world and the West.
Moreover, on a private level – which in the U.S. world is always equated to the public one – there was IBM’s near bankruptcy. It was bailed out – with difficulty – with very quick operations connected to confidential information.
Well, but this is not always the case.
Indeed, the intelligence system is not a “support” to managers’ decisions, but it is its essence, regardless of what the aforementioned managers may think.
There are new tasks and functions to be evaluated such as the greater perception State managers (except the Italian ones) have of the strategic importance of their choices.
There is also the study of global trends, a naive construction which, however, serves to outline the potential of a country’s development lines.
Moreover, in the U.S. tradition, adverse transactions have only recently been correctly reported: in the past, financial transactions, the unforeseen and clearly hostile industrial acquisitions – in short, everything in business – used to take place in the global market and therefore were fine and went very well.
There is also the adverse “line” of U.S. intelligence against the policies of central banks and large E.U. and Asian financial companies to leave the dollar area, often as quickly as possible.
This is currently a central theme of the U.S. and neighbouring countries’ counter-espionage.
Therefore, two new classes of intelligence are being developed, namely financial intelligence (FININT) and market intelligence (MARKINT).
FININT resulted from the experience gained by governments in studying some agencies in the evaluation and continuation of money laundering, tax evasion and terror financing.
But there is the danger that often completely incompetent leaders base their choices not only on classified information, but also on what they themselves believe to be the direct perception of facts.
Bravo! Let us recall the analysis made by the U.S. Intelligence Services in January 2019, when they reported to President Trump that Iran was not developing a military nuclear project, and the President told them to “go back to school” and that they were “passive and naive”.
We are coming to the “decline of truth” and the rise of what is currently called “narrative” or storytelling.
Intelligence has always defined itself as “truth to power”.
Certainly there was the neopositivist, naive and often completely silly myth of creating stable and unquestionable truths, as if the Other did not know them, thus forging stable and effective mechanisms for analysing the “enemy”, as if the enemy did not know it.
Probably something changes with non-State actors, but Western intelligence interprets these structures as if they were quasi-States. This is not the case, of course.
Rather, they are ideologically cohesive groups that present themselves as States because they represent territories, albeit only with violence.
Hence, at least for the time being, strategic intelligence will be put aside by technological development, which will largely occupy only tactical intelligence. In the very short term, there will also be the necessary training – in one way or another – of the elected politicians, which shall learn – for better or for worse – how to do it.
Then there will be the ability of the automated structures to select the malware, the distorted information, the news capable of putting its own algorithm out of phase.
Should Turkey and Azerbaijan Be Worried About Killed Syrian Mercenaries?
Just a few weeks ago many analysts and observers were sceptical about reports of Turkey’s transferring units of its Syrian National Army (SNA) proxies to Nagorno Karabakh, even more so because Turkish officials denied any such claims. However, as evidence of massive casualties among the Syrian mercenaries continues to mount, there is little space left for doubt: SNA fighters have become cannon fodder in the Turkish operation in support of Azerbaijan.
The first batch of bodies of those Syrians who perished in Nagorno Karabakh counted over 50 people, according to messages and videos that went viral on opposition WhatsApp and Telegram channels. Among the dead who were delivered to Syria over Hiwar Kilis border crossing and were given a hasted burial were men from Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and other regions of Syria. Many of their relatives, like families of Muhammad Shaalan from Atareb and Kinan Ferzat from Maarat al-Nuuman, were shocked to learn about their death.
Just like the majority of the Syrians who travelled to Nagorno Karabakh, Muhammad and Firzat were primarily motivated by lucrative rewards of up to 2,000 dollars promised by Turkey. “I came here to make money and have a better life back in Syria where the living conditions are miserable. I consider this a job, nothing else,” a member of Liwa Sultan Murad, one of the first SNA factions to deploy its fighters to the contested region, told Guardian.
The reason behind heavy casualties of the Syrian mercenaries is that they are thrown into action where the clashes are the most violent, including Jabrayil, Terter, Fizulin and Talysh. This move allows Azerbaijan to keep its military, who mainly provide air support including operating Turkey-made Bayraktar TB2 UAVs and coordinate artillery and missile strikes of the Armenian positions, out of direct contact with the enemy.
The estimates of the numbers of the Syrian mercenaries present in Nagorno Karabakh are wildly different. While initial reports put their number at 500 men, it is currently believed that the actual number may be in thousands. This data indicates that at least 10 percent of the fighters were killed during the very first days of the escalation – a serious alarm for the mercenaries as well as their Turkish backers.
These developments must ring a bell for Azerbaijan as well. The longer the conflict protracts, the higher the risk of casualties among the Azeri servicemen becomes, who have already suffered losses in Armenian retaliation strikes. Baku has managed to avoid discontent among the military as well as the civilian populace – not least thanks to the Syrian mercenaries crushed as cannon fodder – but this can not continue for long.
Emerging Multipolarity and its consequences
“Make America great again” a slogan that formed the nucleus of trump’s electoral campaign vividly suggests that America is no more a great country. It is, in fact, an implicit admission that U.S is gradually losing its clout in international politics and hence, its image as a sole superpower of the world has virtually tarnished. Let me rephrase this connotation; it means that the era of unipolar world is over and the world has now transitioned to a multipolarirty.
Currently, new power centers are emerging in transnational political landscape. China, Russia, India and Turkey are excessively engaged to carve a niche for them in evolving international order. Most importantly, with China and Russia’s mushrooming proximity, balance of power is now shifting from west to east. Former United States (US) Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton at her state visit to New Zealand was one of the first to observe “a shifting balance of power to a more multi-polar world as opposed to the Cold War model of a bipolar world”. This conspicuous change in multi-national political setup was also realized by Ban ki Moon, the then secretary- General of United Nations who stated at Stanford University in 2013 that we have begun to “move increasingly and irreversibly to a multi-polar world”. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, also declared at the Russia-China Conference 2016 that “international relations have entered into a conceptually new historical stage that consists in the emergence of a multi-polar world order and reflects the strengthening of new centers of economic development and power”.
These manifestations of political spin doctors have since then revealed a general acceptance of the idea of multi-polar world as a concept that is inescapable political reality in the contemporary international dynamics. However, when it comes to the transitions and inevitability of power structures, there is a little agreement among the international states.
A much stronger resistance to forego unipolarity remains embedded in the Trump administration vision to “make America great again”. Political pundits such as Robert Kaplan continue to question, whether there is an overlap of unipolar and multi-polar world realities; where US continues to retain the supremacy in military realm of affairs and is anticipated to remain so for a considerable future time, whereby China leads in the economic realm. Additionally nations in the former Third World are acquiring status as rising powers, notably India who have over the years with smart diplomacy have acquired global outreach to shape international agenda.
Chronologically, After World War II, the U.S. became the undisputed and unchallenged global superpower. It was the only country, equipped with nuclear warheads and was one of the few countries involved in the war that came away from it relatively unscathed at home. The U.S. underwent a meager loss of approximately 400,000 soldiers and a fractional amount of civilians in the war. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, incurred a gigantic loss of around 11 million soldiers and some 7 million to 10 million civilians. While Soviet and European cities were undergoing the process of rehabilitation, American cities flourished. It seemed clear to all that the future belonged to the United States.
But it didn’t take long for the luster of unrivaled power to tarnish. The U.S. military machine relaxed as quickly as it had mobilized, and wartime unity gave way to peacetime political debates over government spending and entitlement programs. Within five years, a bipolar world emerged: The Soviets attained an atomic bomb, and the U.S. was caught flat-footed in a war on the Korean Peninsula that ended in a stalemate. Soon thereafter, the U.S. was withdrawing from Vietnam and rioting at home. In 1971, then-President Richard Nixon predicted a world that he said would soon emerge in which the U.S. was “no longer in the position of complete pre-eminence.” Within 26 years of the end of World War II, Nixon’s prediction saw the light of the day and the U.S. had to resign to its fate.
Theoretically, multipolarity refers to a distribution of power in which more than two states have nearly equal amounts of military, cultural, financial and economic influence.
If we look at the contemporary world, we find that with the rise of like China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil, global power will spread across a wider range of countries, hence, a new world order with multipolar outlook is likely to emerge .
Realistically speaking, several revisionist powers are and will shaking up their regions. For instance, Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 – annexing Crimea, over which it has fought several wars throughout history (mainly with Turkey). In turn, Turkey is asserting its sovereignty over the eastern Mediterranean to the frustration of countries like Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and Israel. Meanwhile, India has upped its aggression in its border dispute with Pakistan as Modi began a process to revoke the autonomous status of the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir.
Notably, after the age of city-states and nation-states, we are now entering the age of continental politics. The most powerful countries of the 21st century (the U.S., China, Russia India, Indonesia, and Brazil) are the size of continents. They have broad economic bases and their digital economies potentially have hundreds of millions of users. Internationally, their scale requires them to seek broad spheres of influence in order to protect their security.
Here the question arises what will be the impact of growing multipolarity in the world? First of all, revisionist powers will increasingly ignite tensions. The growing assertiveness of countries like Russia, Turkey and India is the new normal. As they grow more powerful, these countries will seek to revise arrangements in order to reflect the new realities of power. Because these (continental) states seek broad spheres of influence, many places are at risk of destabilization.
Second, one of the biggest risks is the growing paranoia of the hegemon (the U.S.). The current trade war has shown how destabilizing the policy of the (financial) hegemon becomes as it feels threatened by the rise of a rival. Historically, this has been the most important source of violent conflicts. Indeed, the biggest source of uncertainty in the coming years is how the U.S. will react to the rise of China.
Third, the world order will become more ambiguous. Two developments deserve our attention. First, the growing use of shadow power will make conflict more unpredictable. With digital tools, states (and non-state actors) are manipulating each other in subtle ways. For example, Russian hackers posed as Iranians to hit dozens of countries and Americans blamed Russia for tampering with American elections. Second, alliances will also become more ambiguous. With ever changing dynamics of world economy, new alliances, motivated by the concept of triangulation (to keep balance in relation with the US and China, the trade warriors) will form and such alliances, as predicted by spin doctors; will be less stable than the blocs, formed in 20th century.
To sum it up, before we reach a multipolar world order, we will see a period of growing uncertainty based on the rise of revisionist powers, the paranoia of the U.S. and growing ambiguity of conflict and cooperation. Moreover, the political pundits are divided in opinion that whether multi-polarity is unstable than unipolarity or bipolarity. Kenneth Waltz strongly was in favor of “bipolar order as stable”. On the other side, Karl Deutsch and David Singer saw multi-polarity as guaranteeing a greater degree of stability in an article published in 1964, “Multipolar Systems and International Stability”. Simon Reich and Richard Ned Lebow in “Goodbye Hegemony” (2014), question the belief whether a global system without a hegemon would be unstable and more war prone. However, whatever the system the world is likely to witness in the days to come, let’s hope that this should be in the best interest of humanity and it should make the lives of the inhabitants of this planet peaceful and prosperous.
The future of strategic intelligence
There are currently three types of intelligence transformations, namely conceptual, technological and operational.
In the first case, we are dealing with a new and original intelligence paradigm.
From a mechanism based on the identification of the need for information-research-processing and analysis-dissemination-feedback, we are shifting to what some people already call “position intelligence”.
In other words, we are coming to an information mechanism that continuously perceives data and processes it, and then spreads it permanently and continuously to those who have to use it.
While the old intelligence model was “positivist”, i.e it concerned single objective and empirical data to be included in a decision-making process that is not determined by intelligence, currently it is instead a matter of building acontinuous follow-up not of data, but of political behaviours, perceptions of reality by the enemy-opponent, as well as complex phenomena that constantly reach the intelligence matrix from different parts and areas.
While in the past intelligence was rhapsodic and temporary, à la carte of politicians, and sometimes even unsolicited and not requested, it currently becomes the stable core of political, strategic, economic and industrial decisions.
This obviously results in a new relationship between politicians and Intelligence Services.
While, in an era we have already defined as “positivist”, facts, news and the unknown novelties of the enemy-opponent counted, what currently matters is the ever more evident integration between the intelligence system and politicians.
There is obviously a danger not to be overlooked, i.e. the danger that – without even realizing it – the Intelligence Services take on responsibilities which must be typical of elective bodies only.
But certainly intelligence currently plays a much greater role than in the past.
Another key element of the conceptual transformation of intelligence is the use not only of highly advanced and powerful information technologies, but also of scientific paradigms which were unknown to us only a few years ago.
Just think about Artificial Intelligence, but also cloud computing, algorithm theory and Markov chains – and here we confine ourselves to the mathematics that sustains current IT and computing.
But there is also human ethology, an extraordinary evolution of Konrad Lorenz’s animal ethology, as well as social psychology, sociological analysis and scientific depth psychology.
A whole universe of theories that, in Kant’s words, have recently shifted from metaphysics to science.
It must certainly be used to analyse, for example, mass behaviours that seem unpredictable, as well as the psychological reactions of both the ruling classes and the crowds, and the interactions between the various group behaviours of a country.
Nothing to do with the old Habsburg Evidenzbureau, which informed the General Staff of enemy troops’ movements or of the various generals’ lovers.
We here witness a substantial union between intelligence and political decision-making or, rather, between the thought produced by intelligence and the foundations of political decision-making.
CIA has often tried to poison Fidel Castro’s beard.
Today, apart from the doubtful rationality of that operation, it would be a matter of using – for example – advertising, TV series, Hollywood movies, the sugar, tourist or tobacco market cycles, not to poison late Fidel’s beard, but to put the Cuban economy and decision-making system into structural crisis.
The typical idea of Anglo-Saxon political culture –whereby, once the “tyrant” is eliminated, everything can be fine and back in place – has been largely denied by facts.
All this obviously without being noticed, as far as the operations for disrupting a country are concerned.
Another factor of the conceptual transformation of intelligence is speed: currently the IT networks are such as to allow data collection in real time with respect to facts and hence favour wide-ranging decisions.
As far as technology is concerned, it is well known that both the AI networks, the new calculation structures, and the networks for listening and manipulating the enemy-opponent data are such as to allow operations which were previously not even imaginable.
At this juncture, however, there are two problems: everybody has all the same tools available and hence the danger of not “successfully completing” the operation is great, unlike when the Intelligence Services’ operations were based on the skills, role and dissimulation abilities of some operatives – or on confidential and restricted technologies.
The other problem is intelligence manipulation: a country that thinks to be a target can spread – in ad hoc networks – manipulated news, malware, data and information which are completely false, but plausible, and can modify the whole information system of the country under attack.
Another problem of current intelligence technologies is their distance from the “traditional” political decision-making centres.
A politician, a Minister, a Premier must know what comes out of the intelligence system. Nevertheless, it is so specialised and sectorial that the distance between technical data processing and the “natural language” of politics is likely to make data ambiguous or unclear and of little use.
Moreover, there is a purely conceptual factor to be noted: if we put together the analysis of financial cycles, of technology change, of public finance and of political and military systems, we must connect systems that operate relatively autonomously from each other.
In other words, there is no “science of the whole” that can significantly connect such different sectors.
Therefore, there is the danger of projecting the effects of one sector onto another that is only slightly influenced by it, or of believing that, possibly, if the economy goes well, also the public debt – for example -will go well.
The room for political decision-making is therefore much wider than modern intelligence analysts believe.
Political decision-making is still made up of history, political-cultural traditions and of perceptions of reality which are shaped by many years of psychological and conceptual training.
With specific reference to operativity, once again we are dealing with radical changes.
Years ago, there was the single “operative” who had to decide alone – or with very little support from the “Centre” – what to do on the spot and with whom to deal.
Today, obviously, there is still the individual operative, but he/she is connected to the “Centre” in a different way and, in any case, imagines his/her role differently.
On the level of political decision-making, intelligence is always operative, because reality is so complex and technically subtle that it no longer enables even the most experienced statesman to “follow their nose”.
The primary paradox of the issue, however, is that intelligence cannot take on political roles that imply a choice between equivalent options.
This is inevitably the sphere of politics.
Another factor of the operational transformation is the inevitable presence of intelligence operatives in finance, in the scientific world, in high-level business consulting, in advertising, communication and media.
Intelligence has therefore progressively demilitarised itself and is increasingly operating in sectors that we would have previously thought to be completely alien to Intelligence Services. Instead, they are currently the central ones.
Moreover, we are currently witnessing a particular mix of strategic intelligence, geopolitics and financial analysis.
Why finance? Because it is the most mobile and widespread economic function.
We are witnessing the birth of a new profession, namely currency geopolitics.
Hence we are also witnessing the evolution of two new types of intelligence, namely market intelligence (MARKINT) and financial intelligence (FININT).
An old and new problem is secrecy. The greater the extent to which old and new intelligence is used, the less it can keep secrecy, which is essential now as it was in the past.
What has always been the aim of strategic intelligence? To predict phenomena starting from a given context.
Contexts, however, change quickly and the interaction between sectors is such as to change the effect of forecasts.
The formalised techniques for analysis-decision making are manifold: intelligence data mining, “grid technologies”, knowledge creation and sharing, semantic analysis, key intelligence needs (KINS) and many others.
All operations which are often necessary, but currently we need to highlight two factors typical of the North American intelligence culture which, unfortunately, also negatively affects the models used by U.S. allies.
The first aspect is that, strangely enough, the same formal models are proposed for both companies and States.
A State does not have to maximize profits, while a corporation does, at least on a level playing field with its competitors.
A State is not a “competitor” of the others and ultimately a State has no specific “comparative advantage” but, on the contrary, some of its companies have, if this happens.
Therefore, the overlap between business intelligence, which is currently necessary, and States’ intelligence is a conceptual bias, typical of those who believe that a State is, as Von Mises said, “the joint stock company of those who pay taxes to it”.
For companies, it is obvious that all specific and original intelligence operations must be known to the State apparata, which may coordinate them or not, considering that they inevitably have additional data.
On the other hand, some business operations can become very useful for intelligence.
Hence a structure would be needed to put the two “lines” of operations together, and above all, a new intelligence concept is needed.
In the past, the Intelligence Services’ operations were largely defensive: to know something just before it happened, to avoid the adverse operations of a State hitting its own resources, but all with often minimal time limits.
Now we need expressly offensive intelligence which can hit the opponents’ (commercial, economic and strategic) networks before they move and in good time.
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