On the evening of November 2, on a day dedicated to the commemoration of the dead all over the world, the centre of Vienna was shocked by a terrorist attack that left 4 dead and 17 wounded. Near the synagogue of the Austrian capital city two men armed with rifles and pistols fired on the people crowding the streets, bars and pubs on the last “free” evening before the lockdown and the curfew imposed by the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the attackers was killed by the police, while a large police force is still actively searching for the other, together with possible accomplices. The action has not been claimed, but the authorities are certain that this is yet another Islamist attack, in the wake of the tensions that broke out in France after the beheading of Professor Samuel Paty and the subsequent massacre in Nice.
On October 16 last, the 47-year-old French professor was attacked in the street of a small village 35 kilometres north of Paris by a young Chechen-born, naturalised Frenchman, Abdoullah Anzorov, who, armed with a sharp knife, beheaded him as a professional killer.
The professor was “guilty” of having shown in class the cartoons on Muhammad published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo at the end of 2014. For that reason, it had seen many of his journalists fall under the gunfire of the jihadists on January 7, 2015. Professor Paty wanted to show the cartoons to his pupils to explain that “Freedom” in France also means freedom of satire.
The initiative provoked the reaction of Muslim students and their parents, with protests on Facebook that drew the attention of the French-Chechen Anzorov, also thanks to a young “Judas” (perhaps a pupil of Professor Paty) who for 300 euros (the new “thirty coins” Judas asked to betray Jesus) agreed to point at the professor while walking home after class.
The episode rightly outraged and shocked the whole of France. Although distracted by the pandemic, President Macron did not hesitate to condemn not only the brutal murder but also those who, in the shadow of Muhammad, are blowing on the fire of radical Islamism in France in order to stir the emotions of young Muslims who think they can turn their anger at social and economic marginalisation into religious struggle. Words were followed by deeds: the French security forces started investigations and searches in all the Salafist circles in France, in which three hundred Imams from Turkey dictate the law.
Macron’s words and the reactions of the French security forces unleashed the anger of Turkish President Tayyp Recep Erdogan, who had no hesitation in calling his French colleague “insane” and accusing him of treating Muslims in France the same way Jews were treated in Hitler’s Germany.
If that had been confined to words – though well outside the limits of institutional correctness – the Macron-Erdogan quarrel could have been resolved with diplomatic means, but Erdogan’s words did more than irritate the French President. They sparked and legitimised extremist and jihadist reactions throughout Europe, with further very serious repercussions.
On October 29, in Notre Dame Cathedral, Nice, a young Tunisian from Italy, who had landed as an illegal immigrant on the Sicilian coast a few weeks before, killed three people to the cry of “Allah akhbar”.
It is evident that the Nice massacre, as well as Vienna’s, is due to a form of “induced terrorism” – a phenomenon that, in the past, always saw individuals or micro-groups turn into terrorists “by induction”, i.e. on the push of economic tensions or calls for mobilization, interpreted as calls for action.
How can we not see in Erdogan the moral instigator of the massacres in Nice and Vienna?
After France had recalled its ambassador to Turkey as a reaction to Erdogan’s insults and threats, the spokesman of the Turkish President issued an official note in which he defended the “Muslims in Europe” with these words: “We Muslims will not go away because you do not want us. We will not turn the other cheek when you insult us. We will defend ourselves and our own brothers at all costs”. Words that did not appear on Islamist social media, but were spread in an official communiqué of the Turkish Republic’s Presidency.
After the Nice massacre, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a communiqué condemning the attack and expressing solidarity with France.
Not a word from Erdogan.
Yet the Turkish President knows the value of words very well. At the beginning of his dazzling political career, as the first Islamist mayor of Istanbul, he immediately distinguished himself with the prohibition of alcohol sales in all public places in the city.
To emphasize the concept – in what was, at the time, still the secular Parliamentary Republic of Turkey – the then mayor of Istanbul published a poem which read as follows: “The minarets are our bayonets, the mosques are our barracks, the believers are our soldiers”.
Those words cost Erdogan dearly: accused of infringing the laws on secular State and inciting religious violence, he was forced to resign as mayor of the capital city and was sentenced to a ban from public office and four months in prison (without parole).
As can be seen, the authorities of the secular and enlightened Turkey built by Kemal Ataturk, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, were able to react harshly to the Islamist impulses of a public figure.
A figure who has always managed to rise again and to obtain a resounding victory in 2002 in the general election with the AKP, the “Justice and Development Party”, he had founded in 2001, with the aim of bringing Turkey back on the right path of an Islamic Republic, thus abandoning Kemalist secularism which, inter alia, had seen Turkey as the first (and, for many years, the only) State with a Muslim majority to recognize the State of Israel as early as 1949.
Prime Minister for three consecutive terms, Erdogan distinguished himself for his increasingly authoritarian attitude and unscrupulous activism in foreign policy:
At the beginning of the uprising in Syria and the subsequent civil war in 2011, Erdogan played unscrupulously on the misfortunes of the Syrian government, by financing and supplying weapons to both the Syrian Liberation Army groups and the Caliphate militia. Only the intervention by Putin’s Russia in 2013 did prevent the victory of Isis and the Islamist militias against Assad’s forces and thwart Erdogan’s dream of becoming the kingmaker in the region.
The dream still lasts.
Having escaped a clumsy and disorganised coup in 2016, he immediately took advantage of it to throw hundreds of political opponents and journalists into prison and to promote a constitutional reform that turned the Turkish Parliamentary Republic into a Presidential Republic with a strong authoritarian imprint and governed by tailor-made rules that ensure him the possibility of remaining in power for the next fifteen years.
Since he decided to intervene in Syria, under the pretext of containing the Kurdish militias that alone courageously fought against the Islamic State, Erdogan’s international activism has had no longer limits.
Although the Syrian adventure did not end well – Turkey had to be satisfied with keeping control of a buffer zone on the border – Erdogan launched a series of unscrupulous and potentially dangerous initiatives for international stability.
He attempted to ship weapons to Hamas Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. He has maintained contacts with the Islamists of the Syrian Liberation Army and the ISIS survivors who, with Turkish help, still occupy the Syrian enclave of Idlib, by recruiting hundreds of them as mercenaries to be sent to the hot areas of his geopolitical and strategic interest. He intervened heavily in Libya in support of Tripoli’s weak government and the openly Islamist Misratamilitias, in opposition to General Haftar and the Tobruk government supported by France, Egypt and Russia. He has revived – for no apparent reason – the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, by convincing the Azerbaijani Muslims to attack – last September – the Armenian Christians in the region, supported by Russia and the West. He is sending military ships off Cyprus, claiming its possession thanks to the local Turkish micro-republic, and claims control of the continental shelf occupied also by Greek islands, which are potentially rich in gas.
It should be noted that all these are initiatives of a Member State of the Atlantic Alliance.
Although NATO has visibly lost its vigour and importance in recent years, the “Special NATO Committee” is active within it. It is a silent and efficient body to which the Intelligence Services of all NATO Member States adhere, which operates as a centre for the exchange and dissemination of sensitive information in the field of counter-espionage and counter-terrorism.
MIT, the Turkish intelligence service, is a traditional and efficient member of the “Special Committee” and automatically receives all information shared by the Member States’ Intelligence Services. This despite the fact that the Turkish government has proven and well-known links with jihadists from Isis and Jabhat Al Nusra, the most dangerous unit of the “Syrian Liberation Army”.
How much NATO intelligence currently ends up to jihadists, through MIT?
Are we currently sure of the wisdom to maintain such sensitive relations with the Intelligence Service of a country which, pushed by its leader, seems to be prey to an unstoppable Islamist drift?
Does the outdated value of the Incirlik air base justify the surrender of the West in the face of Erdogan’s increasingly unscrupulous and aggressive moves?
These seem to be rhetorical questions, the answer to which should be a peremptory series of “No”.
Yet NATO and Europe (not to mention Italy, which is silent and absent), probably distracted by the pandemic, do not seem willing to oppose a man that the then Turkish President Demirel defined “capable of anything”.
President Macron recalled the Ambassador from Turkey after Erdogan’s ill-considered words about the “persecution” of Muslims in France.
Not a whisper from Europe, NATO and Italy.
Surely the times of Fanfani, Mattei, Andreotti and other giants of European politics and business are far away, when with an efficient “back bench diplomacy” Italy played with intelligence on all the Mediterranean areas.
Currently there seem to be the times of embarrassed silence.
While Erdogan is taking advantage of our weaknesses.
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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