India’s foreign policy towards Israel has undergone a paradigm shift since 1992 in view of the changing global geopolitical dynamics, aggregating transformation in bilateral relations. Present government has brought to it a new energy and clarity of articulation. The official de-hyphenisation of its relations with Israel and Palestine mark a substantial change in its understanding of the Middle Eastern politics.
India and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1992 and since then the bilateral relationship between the two countries has flourished at the economic, military, agricultural and political levels. Both countries see themselves as isolated democracies threatened by neighbors that train, finance and encourage terrorism, therefore both countries also view their cooperative relationship as a strategic imperative.
Relations between Israel and India have not always been warm. Although both the states have a common colonial past, their post-independence course was apparently diverse on account of different factors that kept them apart for a long period. While India led the Non-Aligned Movement and maintained close ties with the Arab world and the Soviet Union, Israel due to circumstantial reasons had to rely on United States and Western Europe. India’s large Muslim population was another major obstacle in building closer relationships with Israel.
However, as soon as India passed recognition to Israel and established diplomatic ties in 1992 the trade and strategic ties between the two states have witnessed an immense growth. The key to the growing India-Israel ties, however, is in the realm of security and defense. With the multi-billion dollars project for the modernization of Indian army India turned into a hot market in the west including Israel. India is the number one export target of Israel’s defense industries. Not only Israel has found a huge market for arms sale in India (about 7.2 billion dollars in 2018) the latter too has benefitted in availing the missiles, sensors, UAV surveillance systems, drones and air defense systems from Israel. Their relations have entered into a new phase and India as officially de-hyphenated its relation with Israel and Palestine marking a significant shift in India’s strategic thinking.
Indian Perspective of Palestine
India’s solidarity with Palestinian people and its support for Palestinian cause took shape during Indian freedom struggle against British colonialism. In 1938, on the proposal to create a homeland for Jews in Palestine, Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “my sympathy for the Jews does not blind me to the requirements of Justice. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs’. In 1947 India voted against the partition of Palestine at the United Nations General Assembly and India was the only non-Arab and Non-Muslim country to do so. Post- Independence Indian foreign policy was based on the principle of “empathy with Palestine”. In 1974, India became the first non-Arab country to recognize Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole representative of the Palestinian.
India recognized the state of Palestine in 1988, when Palestine Authority (PA) a self- government body was created as a result of Oslo Peace accord. India voted in favour of UN Resolution against constructing West Bank wall by Israel in 2003 and voted for accepting Palestine as a full member of UNESCO in 2011. In 2012 India voted in favour of upgrading the status of Palestine to a ‘non-member state’ in United Nations.
Several factors counted for India’s pro-Palestine policy. The Indian leanings towards Palestine in the post-independence era are because of its belief that the Zionist movement is the creation of British and American imperialism which later on played important role in the creation of Israel. Influenced by socialism, Indian leadership during 1930s had an understanding that the Zionist movement is working under the influence of European capitalist ideas of ‘nationalism’ and ‘colonization’ that had made the creation of Israel imminent in the Middle East. In the meantime, a considerable size of Muslim Population of India was always sympathetic to the Muslim population in Palestine. India also did not want to annoy Arab states because of oil imports and the interests of more than 7 million Indians working in Arab world. India’s co-operation with the Soviet Union during cold war era and desire to counter Pakistan with the support of Arab nations was another reason for its pro-Palestine policy.
India-Israel Relations during and After Cold War Period
During cold war period India-Israel relations were marked by a degree of reservation or many times by distant hostility. India’s independence and Israel’s declaration of statehood came in successive years, but both nascent democracies chose divergent foreign policies. While Israel adopted Western-oriented foreign policy, India followed the non-aligned path and forged relations with several Arab states. Israel’s various Western pivots and Arab hostility made Prime Minister Nehru apprehensive of pursuing close diplomatic relations with Israel. Enlisting Arab support for the Kashmir cause was seen as crucial in those days. This, along with Indian sympathy for the Palestinian cause, delayed the establishment of official diplomatic relations between the two countries by almost 45 years till 1992.
Disintegration of the USSR in 1991 brought about a new era in India-Israel relations. During cold war era India was depended heavily on the Soviet Union for arms support and its disintegration posed serious questions to the Indian administration. In the post-cold war era, with the rise of United States as sole super power India turned to Israel, which had developed a competitive advantage in the armaments industry. It must be noted, however, that this change in attitude was influenced by many other reasons.
Firstly, with the fall of Soviet Union, India embarked on a process of economic liberalization that included a drastic reduction in import tariffs and the removal of restrictions on foreign direct investment. India also saw this as an opportunity to reposition itself in a new world order, and in 1992 established formal diplomatic relations with Israel. As its embassy opened in Tel Aviv, India cautiously built its relations with Israel while maintaining its official commitment to the Palestinian cause. Secondly, Israel signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and participated in various bilateral peace negotiations with Palestine under official international auspices in an attempt to resolve the conflict. Thirdly,the deep differences between Arab countries and India’s failure in acquiring Arab support for the Kashmir cause.
The 1980s saw a marked rise in Islamic terrorism in India and Israel. While Israel began to deal with the first Intifada, India faced a vigorous separatist movement in Kashmir, both of which resulted in the loss of numerous lives. The 1970s and 1980s also saw the weakening of the left-leaning parties of both countries – the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Labour Party. However, India-Israel relations have truly taken off with the ascension to power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a right wing leader in 2014. The NDA governement led by Modi developed a close relationaship with his Israeli counterpart and became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel in 2017. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to which PM Modi belongs, enjoys an ideological similarity to the Israeli Likud Party, with a common Islamic antipathy. So there was tectonic shift in the Indian foreign policy after 2014.
The Irreversible Progress
In 1992 when the government established full diplomatic relations, the bilateral relationship between the two countries has blossomed at the economic, military, agricultural, space research and political levels.Israel was one of the rare countries to directly help India during the Kargil War. In 2002 when India was planning to undertake a military strike against Pakistan as part of Operation Parakram(response to Indian Parliament attack), Israel supplied hardware through special planes. Now, India is the world’s largest buyer of Israeli weaponry and in 2013 India was the third largest trading partner of Israel in Asia. Apart from defense cooperation, Israel has intensified its cooperation in agriculture with the adoption of modern agricultural technologies to increase the productivity.
India traditionally believes in the two state solution and supports the establishment of a sovereign independent and a viable state of Palestine. However, over the years, the Indian government has diluted its reaction to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. In 2014 India favoured a UN resolution which established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law in the ‘Occupied Territories’ during ‘Operation Protective Edge’. In 2015 India abstained at the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) on a resolution welcoming the report of the Commission of Inquiry. It was the first time India refused to vote against Israel. But in May 2021 on the current hostilities between two parties, India at the UN Security Council meeting called for an immediate de-escalation of the situation.
India Needs to Balance its Approach
Israel wants India to end its pro-Palestine policy. Keeping in view the advances strategic understanding and the defense and technological ties with Israel, India can’t overlook the Israel’s expectations. However, while going beyond strategic relations with Israel, India cannot afford to ignore its crucial energy ties with Iran and the Gulf countries. Also, it should not be forgotten that India requires the firm endorsement of its candidature from the Arab countries that form a large group in the UN General Assembly. India has been very keen to preserve a pragmatic balancing act between regional players in the West Asian region like Saudi Arabia and Iran. On similar lines, India should be cautious enough while backing Israel and should adopt a more cautious approach while dealing with Israel and Palestine. Today, Israel is second only to Russia as India’s largest weapons supplier. But while Russian supplies fell by 47 percent in 2015-2019, imports from Israel increased by 175 percent and the Indian shares 46 percent of Israel’s exports. Both countries are part of the Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism and have signed agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, cooperation in homeland security, protection of classified material, and cybersecurity. Officially, India now considers Israel a strategic partner as both countries—each under its right-wing leadership—position themselves as bastions of progress and democracy while surrounded by hostile Muslim nations. In this sense, they consider each other to be natural allies, engaged in a historic struggle against terrorism and Islamic fundamentalist forces.
Trade, cultural exchange, and strategic partnerships including the arms trade are, of course, the building blocks of international relations. But as India now openly expresses (and celebrates) its support for Israel at international forums and Israel, in return, expresses its support for India’s legal and constitutional initiatives, it is evident that the India-Israel relationship is no longer purely a matter of realpolitik; it is also being strengthened by a shared ideology. It may be too early to assess the long-term impact of such an alliance.
Embarking on Libya’s Noble Foray Into the Future
On Saturday the 22nd of January, activists from across the civil society spectrum in Libya gathered over Zoom with one purpose in mind; publicly declaring their support for the 1951 Libyan Independence Constitution. Despite the political turmoil which has engulfed the country since the Arab Spring began in Tunisia in 2011, a strong civil society movement which supports a return to our historical constitution, has always existed in Libya. These supporters, who represent a significant number of Libyans from across the country, see the restoration of the 1951 constitution as the only way to shape their future.
Libya has been through an immeasurable amount of internationally led initiatives, all aimed at providing Libya with long term “solutions”. Only over the course of the past decade, one can count the UN-brokered Skhirat agreement in December of 2015, the 2017 Paris meeting, the 2018 Palermo conference alongside Mohammed bin Zayed’s Abu Dhabi gathering in February 2019. Followed by Putin and Erdogan’s joint call for a ceasefire in 2020, alongside the first (2020) and second (2021) Berlin conferences alongside UN-sponsored talks in Geneva, each and every one of these efforts amounted to nothing.
The main reason behind these, perhaps well-intentioned but failed attempts, was the simple fact that none of these efforts had any grounding in Libyan history or the support of the Libyan people. Reaching consensus in a society as heavily divided as that of Libya, is a significant challenge. However, placing our faith in our history will undoubtedly provide us with a solution that is closer to the hearts of citizens of our nation and which has the potential to assist in competing factions finally putting their differences aside.
This was the catalyst of Saturday’s meeting which sought to once and for all provide an authentically Libyan solution to the issues which have been plaguing the country for over a decade. The first of these is the preservation of our territorial integrity which has for too long been challenged by foreign actors. It is high time that a long term resolution for our country’s ills is found that ensures the exclusion of foreign elements from shaping the future of our great land.
The second issue the gathering sought to underscore was the need to build an inclusive future for all members of Libyan society. For far too long, our country has excluded citizens of certain political persuasions, cultural backgrounds or those who hold different opinions. Every Libyan deserves equal opportunities, protection of basic rights alongside access to justice. This has been impossible in a country which for so long has lacked a cohesive national identity.
These two issues are indeed intertwined with the third issue which the conference sought to highlight, namely, our demand to return to constitutional legitimacy under the leadership of our Crown Prince Mohammed El Hasan el Rida el Senussi. As the sole heir to the throne of King Idris, passed down through the late Crown Prince Hassan, Prince Mohammad is the leader our country has yearned for.
With leadership claims grounded in historical fact that cannot be upended by foreign or domestic elements, from an ideological standpoint, Prince Mohammad serves as an anchor, offsetting challenges to stability posed by foreign elements. This is strengthened by his position as the scion of a family which has been in Libya for centuries and founded the Senoussia movement, briniging with it Islam, to the country. Furthermore, historical memories of the reign of King Idris, which saw religious tolerance, gender equality and security for its citizens, reflects the future which Libyan’s would like to see for themselves today.
Bringing together journalists, academics, human rights defenders and political activists, Saturday’s gathering was indeed revolutionary. It would have been unimaginable that such a gathering would even have taken place a mere decade ago. Representing not only themselves, but a wide range of segments of Libyan society, those attending over Zoom broadcasted a powerful message; a rejection of foreign attempts top shape the future of the country alongside a return to historical, constitutional, legitimacy under the leadership of the only man who can help Libya exit the current quagmire and begin its noble foray into the future.
“Kurdish Spring”: drawing to a close?
For decades, the Kurdish problem was overshadowed by the Palestinian one, occasionally popping up in international media reports following the much-publicized arrest of the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the genocide of Iraqi Kurds and the scandalous referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. A few years ago, the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds’ opposition to the “Islamic State” (banned in Russia) pushed them to the forefront of global politics with the media now talking about the so-called “Kurdish Spring.”
In short, the Kurdish problem boils down not only to the absence of independent statehood for 40 million people, who account for approximately 20 percent of the population of Turkey and Iraq, and between eight and 15 percent of Iran and Syria, but also to the refusal by Ankara, Tehran and Damascus to discuss the possibility of an autonomous status for the Kurds. Today, the very issue of Kurdish independence is being hushed up, at least in public.
The first example of Kurdish statehood in modern history was in Iran: in 1946, the Kurdish Autonomous Republic was proclaimed in the city of Mahabad, only to survive less than a year. Since then, the Iranian authorities have spared no effort to make sure the name of one of the country’s provinces (Kurdistan Ostan) is the only remainder of the Kurds’ presence in the Islamic Republic. The situation is further aggravated by the fact that the Kurds, most of whom happen to be Sunnis, are a hurdle on Tehran’s official course to achieve the religious unity of the Iranian people.
Since all Kurdish organizations, let alone political parties, are outlawed, most of them are based in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan. For most Kurdish organizations, the original goal of gaining independence has increasingly been transformed into a demand for autonomy for Kurds inside Iran.
The other “pole” of Kurdish nationalism is Iraqi Kurdistan. The history of the region’s autonomy goes back to 1970, and since the 90s, it has been sponsored by the Americans, who needed a ground base for the “Gulf War.” In 2003, the Iraqi Peshmerga helped the Anglo-American troops to topple the country’s ruling Ba’athist regime.
Under the current Iraqi constitution, Kurdistan enjoys broad autonomy, bordering on the status of an independent state with nearly 40 foreign consulates general, including a Russian one, officially operating in the regional capital Erbil, and in Sulaymaniyah.
Following the referendum on independence (2017), which was not recognized by either Baghdad or the world community (except Israel), Baghdad sent troops into the region, forcing the resignation of the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the founder of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Massoud Barzani. He has maintained a close presence though, with both the current president and the prime minister bearing the same surname.
According to various sources, the armed forces of the Iraqi Kurds number between 80,000 to 120,000, armed with heavy weapons, armored vehicles and tanks, and their number keeps growing. Who are they going to fight? Erbil is on fairly good terms with Turkey and Iran, the autonomy’s two “windows to the world,” and you don’t need a huge army to keep the remnants of jihadist forces in check, do you? Iraq? Iraq is a different matter though, given the presence of disputed territories, the unsettled issue of distribution of oil export revenues, and a deep-seated rejection of the 2017 Iraqi military invasion.
However, the political ambitions of the Barzani and Talabani clans, who divided Iraqi Kurdistan into zones of influence back in the 70s, are obviously offset by oil revenues, and are unlikely to extend beyond the “return” of the territories lost to Baghdad in 2017.
The Turkish factor is a major factor in the life of Iraqi Kurdistan: several thousand Turkish military personnel are deployed there, checking the activity of mountains-based armed units of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is branded by Ankara as a “terrorist” organization. Baghdad is unhappy about their presence, while Erbil, rather, pretends to be unhappy as it is in a state of undeclared war with the PKK itself. At the same time, Turkish soldiers are standing by to nip in the bud any further attempts by the region’s Kurdish authorities to gain sovereignty as Ankara fears that an independent Kurdish state will set a “bad example” for Kurds living in Turkey proper.
During the 1980s, several regions in southeastern Turkey declared themselves “liberated” from Ankara. In 1984, the “Marxist-Leninist” PKK (created in 1978) prevailed over all the other local Kurdish groups and declared war on the Turkish authorities. Following the arrest of their leader in 1999, the PKK militants were squeezed out of the country into Syria and Iraq, despite the fact that discarding the slogan of creating a “united and independent” Kurdistan, the party had already settled for a demand for Kurdish autonomy within Turkish borders.
For many decades, the Turkish authorities denied the very existence of Kurds as an ethnic group. During the 2000s, in a bid to sweeten the pill for the Kurds, and meeting the requirements of the European Union, the Turkish government came up with the so-called “Kurdish initiative,” lifting the ban on the use of the Kurdish language, returning Kurdish names to a number of settlements, etc.
Legal organizations and parties, advocating the rights of the Kurds, were granted greater freedom of action. However, this did not prevent the authorities from banning such parties for “connections with terrorists” and “separatism.” The current Kurdish party (creation of any associations on a national basis is prohibited) – the Peoples’ Democracy Party – is also under serious pressure with some of its leading members currently behind bars.
However, the apparent defeat in the military conflict with NATO’s second largest army is forcing Turkey’s Kurdish nationalists to focus on a legal political struggle.
During the past few years the main attention of the international community has for obvious reasons been focused on the Syrian Kurds, who for many decades remained “second-class citizens” or even stateless persons in their own country. Any manifestations of discontent, which occasionally boiled over into uprisings, was severely suppressed by the authorities.
With the outbreak of the civil war, the Kurds assumed the position of armed neutrality, and in 2012, announced the creation of their own statehood with the capital in El Qamishli. Six years later, the name of the quasi-state was changed from a “democratic federation” to an “autonomous administration,” meant to demonstrate the refusal by the authorities of Syrian Kurdistan to pursue their initial demand for independence.
Needless to say, that change of priorities was prompted by the occupation by Turkish troops and their proxies of parts of the Kurdish territories. In 2019, Ankara halted its military advance only after the Kurds had allowed Syrian troops into the areas under their control, and international players “dissuaded” Ankara from any further expansion.
In addition to the Turkish factor, another important factor with a serious bearing on the situation are US troops and members of American military companies who remain in northeastern Syria without any legal grounds for their presence. Back when the current US President was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he promoted the idea of creating a Kurdish state in Iraq and Syria. The Kurds have long lost their faith in Washington’s desire to grant them independence, but in bargaining with Damascus for the delimitation of powers, they never miss a chance to refer to US support.
However, in recent years, the Syrian Kurds (and not only them) have had ample opportunity to feel the results of Washington’s unreliability as a partner.
A lack of trust in the Americans, on the one hand, and the constant threat from Turkey, on the other, are forcing the Kurdish leaders to ramp up the negotiation process with the leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic. Moreover, the Kurds are pinning their hopes for the success of the negotiations primarily on the mediation of Russia, given Moscow’s allied relations with the Syrian authorities. Besides, Moscow maintains working ties with the leadership of the self-proclaimed autonomy, and with the leaders of the opposition Kurdish parties.
Meanwhile, the negotiations are stalling with Damascus opposed to the idea of either autonomy or the preservation of the Kurdish armed forces’ organizational independence. It is still imperative, however, for the sides to agree on certain conditions. The “return” of the Kurds can become a turning point in the intra-Syrian confrontation as the Americans will feel too “uncomfortable” in a united Syria, and the Turks will lose the main argument for their continued occupation of the border zone, which will now be controlled not by “terrorists,” but by the central government. Which, by the way, is gaining more and more legitimacy even in the eyes of yesterday’s irreconcilable opponents.
From our partner International Affairs
UAE schoolbooks earn high marks for cultural tolerance, even if that means praising China
An Israeli NGO gives the United Arab Emirates high marks for mandating schoolbooks that teach tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and engagement with non-Muslims.
“The Emirati curriculum generally meets international standards for peace and tolerance. Textbooks are free of hate and incitement against others. The curriculum teaches students to value the principle of respect for other cultures and encourages curiosity and dialogue. It praises love, affection, and family ties with non-Muslims,” the 128-page study by The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) concluded.
However, at the same time, the report appeared in its evaluation of Emirati textbooks to hue closely to Israeli policy towards the UAE and, more generally, most states that populate the Middle East.
As a result, the report, like Israel that seemingly sees autocracy rather than greater freedoms as a stabilizing factor in the Middle East, skirts the issue of the weaving of the principle of uncritical obedience to authority into the fabric of Emirati education.
That principle is embedded in the teaching of “patriotism” and “commitment to defending the homeland,” two concepts highlighted in the report. The principle is also central to the notion of leadership, defined in the report as a pillar of national identity.
Ryan Bohl, an American who taught in an Emirati public school a decade ago, could have told Impact-se about the unwritten authoritarian principles embedded in the country’s education system.
There is little reason to believe that much has changed since Mr. Bohl’s experience and every reason to assume that those principles have since been reinforced.
One of a number of Westerners hired by the UAE to replace Arab teachers suspected of sympathising with the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Bohl described in an interview teaching in Emirati classrooms as “following the autocratic method, very similar to the ruler and the ruled.”
It’s in classrooms, Mr. Bohl said, “where those political attitudes get formed, reinforced, enforced in some cases if kids like they do, decide to deviate outside the line. They understand what the consequences are long before they can become a political threat or an activist threat to the regime. It’s all about creating a chill effect.”
Seemingly to avoid discussion of the notion of critical thinking, the IMPACT-se report notes that students “prepare for a highly competitive world; they are taught positive thinking and well-being.”
The report’s failure to discuss the limits of critical thinking and attitudes towards authority that may be embedded in the framing of education rather than in textbooks raises the question of whether textbook analysis is sufficient to evaluate attitudes that education systems groom in their tutoring of successive generations.
It also opens to debate whether notions of peace and cultural tolerance can be isolated from degrees of social and political tolerance and pluriformity.
The report notes positively that the textbooks “offer a realistic approach to peace and security,” a reference to the UAE’s recognition of Israel in 2020, its downplaying of efforts to address Palestinian aspirations, and its visceral opposition to any form of political Islam with debilitating consequences in countries like Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.
It would be hard to argue that intervention by the UAE and others, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, and Russia, in whatever form contributed to peace and security.
The report notes that “support for the Palestinian cause continues but no longer (is) seen as key to solving the broader range of regional challenges. Radicalism and hate are the chief threat. Iranian expansionism is a threat.”
This is not to suggest that IMPACT-se’s evaluation of textbooks should judge Emirati policies but to argue that rather than uncritically legitimising them, it should explicitly instead of implicitly acknowledge that the country’s next generation is being shaped by a top-down, government-spun version of what the meaning is of lofty principles proclaimed by Emirati leaders.
To its credit, the report implicitly states that Emirati concepts of tolerance are not universal but subject to what the country’s rulers define as its national interests.
As a result, it points out that “the People’s Republic of China is surprisingly described as a tolerant, multicultural society, which respects religions” despite the brutal crackdown on religious and ethnic expressions of Turkic Muslim identity in the north-western province of Xinjiang.
IMPACT-se further notes that the textbooks fail to teach the Middle East’s history of slavery. The report insists that the Holocaust and the history of Jews, particularly in the Middle East, should be taught but makes no similar demand for multiple other minorities, including those accused of being heretics.
The NGO suggests that the UAE could also improve its educational references to Israel. The report takes note that “anti-Israeli material has been moderated” in textbooks that teach “cooperating with allies” and “peacemaking” as priorities.
However, UAE recognition of Israel does not mean that a map of Israel is included in the teaching of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
To be fair, Israel may not yet feature on Emirati maps, but Jewish life is increasingly part of public life in the UAE. Kosher restaurants are open for business, as is a Jewish cultural center. Large menorahs were lit in city squares to celebrate the Jewish feast of Hanukkah in December, and a government-funded synagogue is scheduled to open later this year.
Meanwhile, Arab Jews who once fled to Israel and the West are settling in the UAE, partly attracted by financial incentives.
Striking a mildly critical note, IMPACT-se research director Eldad J. Pardo suggested that Emirati students, who were well served by the curriculum’s “pursuit of peace and tolerance,” would benefit from courses that are “equally unrelenting” in providing “students with unbiased information in all fields.”
Mr. Pardo was referring to not only to China but also the curriculum’s endorsement of traditional gender roles even if it anticipates the integration of women into the economy and public life, and what the report described as an “unbalanced” depiction of the history of the Ottoman Empire.
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