South Africa

Infighting within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party is expected to intensify through 2017, ahead of the 54th National Conference in December 2017; an electoral summit where a new party leader will be chosen to replace the embattled Jacob Zuma, whose second term in office comes to an end in 2019. Divisions within the ANC have led to two roughly defined factions; a pro-Zuma camp and a pro-ANC camp. The pro-ANC camp includes those who see Zuma as a grave liability to the party and are seeking his exit. The ‘Zuma liability’ became apparent through the August 2016 municipal elections in which total ANC support dropped to 53.9%, from 62.93% in 2011. The main opposition party, the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA) which has governed the Western Cape province since 2009, saw an increase from 24.1% in 2011 to 26.90%, gaining control over the central metropolitan municipalities of Tshwana (Pretoria), Johannesburg, and the symbolically important Nelson Mandela Bay in the process. The radical left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, formed in 2013 by expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, gained 6% of the vote in the 2014 national election and 8.2% in the 2016 municipal polls. The municipal elections are a good indicator of voter support ahead of General elections scheduled for 2019, which suggest that the ANC will retain a small majority, however, factionalism may erode support further, especially if opposition parties are able to win over rural voters, which traditionally make up the bulk of ANC votes.

The pro-Zuma camp will support the president’s endorsement of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (his ex-wife and a former chair of the Africa Union Commission) as his successor as party leader. This loyal faction are eager to protect the lucrative patronage networks established under his tenure and which are expected to continue under hers. Dlamini Zuma also appears to have the support of rural ANC officials, including the powerful “premier league”, consisting of Ace Magashule (Free State), DD Mabuza (Mpumalanga), Supra Mahumapelo (North West) and Sihle Zikalala (KwaZulu-Natal) as well as the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). Dlamini Zuma also appears to be pushing a more-women-in-politics narrative, which may be geared towards encouraging higher levels of female participation in the 2019 general elections.

Despite this hardcore of supporters, Zuma’s influence over the party succession is weakening due to factionalism. In line with ANC tradition, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to succeed Zuma as party leader at the national conference. The pro-ANC camp, who support Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, include Gauteng provincial ANC officials, COSATU (the Congress of South African Trade Unions), and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). The ANC, overall, is likely to agree on Ramaphosa as he is more palatable than the alternative, is considered pro-business (which may assuage investor uncertainty), and with the support of trade unions, may appeal to the urban electorate within Gauteng, and reverse some the ANC’s losses.

It is also unclear whether Zuma will complete his term in office. The possible reinstatement of corruption charges and an investigation into Zuma’s dealings with a prominent business family, as outlined in the Public Prosecutors “state capture” report in November, threaten to further undermine the president’s position within the party; the negative press strengthening the ‘Zuma liability’ factor. Whoever succeeds Zuma as party leader will have much influence over the conduct and outcome of these investigations. There is a possibility that Zuma will be offered an ‘early retirement’ in exchange for charges dropped against him, and immunity once he leaves office.

Populist rhetoric is likely to increase through 2017 and 2018. This has a number of broadly defined objectives designed to reverse ANC electoral losses, including bolstering the party’s socialist credentials and placating left-wing faction and alliance members. This is also an attempt to reduce the appeal of the radical EFF and to recapture votes from its strongholds in the North West and Limpopo provinces. It will also be an attempt to deflect blame away from systemic ANC governance failures, scapegoating minorities through “white monopoly capital” and related narratives. Populist rhetoric will appeal to unemployed voters, who make up approximately 26% of the electorate. These moves further increase expropriation risks, as demonstrated by the new Expropriation Bill passed by the National Assembly in early 2016 which does away with the “willing-buyer-willing-seller” model in favour of expropriation with compensation, determined by a government adjudicator. All in all, political uncertainty will continue to weigh on investor confidence in the year ahead, as the economy struggles with volatile currency fluctuations, stagnant GDP growth and the threat of a ratings downgrade.

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A US drone base in Niger

On 30 September the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) confirmed the construction of a drone base in Agadez, in northern Niger. The base will house unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including the MQ-9 Reaper, for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions over the Sahel, Sahara and Lake Chad area.

The US has operated from Base Aerienne 101 at Diori Hamani International Airport outside Niamey since 2013, which it shares with French forces supporting Operation Barkhane, France’s 3,000 man strong regional counter-terrorism operation. France, which also has a base at Madama, operates a number of UAVs from Niamey. General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers will be based at the new Agadez base, which will be large enough for a Boeing C-17 Globemaster to operate from, and will reportedly be operational in 2017. The drones will initially be used for aerial reconnaissance missions over the Sahel-Sahara and Lake Chad regions, including over Libya, Nigeria, and Mali, tracking the “broad patterns of human activity and are not aimed at hunting individuals” said a senior U.S. official in 2013. The drones may be armed in the future. Germany also announced the building of a military base outside Niamey, on 5 October, to support the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali.

Niger faces a number of security threats which it cannot afford to address without international support; Boko Haram factions continue to mount attacks on Nigerien forces along the poorly protected border with Nigeria. The country faces ongoing threats from militant groups, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al Mourabitoun. Over 20 Nigerien soldiers were killed in a militant attack upon a Malian refugee camp at Tazalit on 6 October; the militants reportedly arrived from and fled back to the Malian border in a dozen ATV’s. The latent threat of separatist insurgencies by marginalised ethnic groups, such as the Tuareg, also threaten the security environment; on 7 September, the Mouvement pour la justice et la réhabilitation du Niger (MJRN), an ethnic-Toubou armed group threatened to launch attacks on mining and oil sites in Niger in response to economic and environmental grievances.

Regional militant groups may escalate retaliatory attacks due to Niger’s increasing involvement in counter-terrorism operations with international partners. Attacks on military personnel linked to the base would likely be in the form of IED roadside bombs aimed at vehicles operating in the region, VBIED attacks at the base entrance and associated checkpoints and opportunistic small arms fire. A more pressing concern is the fate of western nationals operating in Niger, who may be targeted, as the high-profile attacks in the regional capitals of Bamako, Ouagadougou, and Abidjan since 2015 demonstrate. Foreign nationals will also be at elevated risk of kidnapping; a US aid worker was recently kidnapped in the Tahoua region in mid-October by militants, likely by Jamaat At Tawhid Wal Jihad Fi Gharb Afriqqiya (MUJAO) who then fled to Mali, according to statements by the Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum. Foreign nationals in the mining industry are also likely to be affected by attacks and KRE, due to the risks associated with operations in remote locations compounded by generally insufficient levels of government security. This threat was aptly demonstrated with the kidnapping of four French nationals working for the French energy firm Areva in 2008 by Tuareg militia, and released in 2013.

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West Africa and the Sahel-Sahara region

West Africa faces a range of security threats that have the potential to impact foreign nationals operating in the region over the short- to medium-term. Structural risks, as well as the threat posed by militant and insurgent groups, may impact existing or planned business operations in both urban areas and remote sites, such as mining operations. Poor governance, weak state institutions and widespread poverty characterise many countries in the region. Elevated levels of civil unrest, driven by political instability and widespread poverty, pose a significant risk insofar as popular protests in major urban areas may descend into violent riots, posing a physical, but often incidental, threat to foreign nationals. Long-term investors and travellers need to be especially aware of political risk; the states of West Africa, with the exception of Senegal, have all experienced military coups at some point since their independence. Since 2000, for example, coups or military government takeovers have occurred in Mali, Guinea, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Niger, Equatorial Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire. As the recent failed coup in Burkina Faso in September 2015 demonstrates, military interference shows no sign of abating. In addition, a number of Sahelian states face north-south geopolitical splits, which often exacerbate security conditions. Long-term demographic trends may also undermine the security environment, as increasing numbers of unemployed youth may be forced to join illicit groupings, such as criminal networks or local militias, and may engage in rural banditry; factors that may well aggravate an already uncertain outlook in the decades ahead.

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Unrest in Mauritania

Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz allegedly wants to revise the Constitution, allowing him to run for a third term in office, as well as abolish the Senate, to mininise opposition within government. Opposition parties have warned the president to refrain from such action. Initial indicators of unrest are an uptick in demonstrations, in Nouakchott mainly, but if the public response to third term ambitions elsewhere on the African continent are anything to go by, Mauritania is likely to see a period of elevated civil unrest in the lead up to the presidential elections scheduled for 2019, or until President Aziz heeds the calls by the opposition to better manage his political ambitions.

The constitutional amendment to abolish the upper house of Mauritania’s Parliament  in favour of new regional councils appears designed to remove an obstacle to his third term ambitions. Aziz says the Senate hinders the legislative process. The opposition claim the move would consolidate power in the presidency, which would make it easier for Aziz to remove term limits. Referendums on the issues are likely to be held sometime in 2016.

When Aziz who leads the the ruling Union pour la République (UPR) party, took office in 2014, he promised to avoid any amendments to constitutional term limits. Now his justification appears to be, in the words of his supporters,  “so that he can accomplish the projects he started”. Two of the main opposition parties are the Tawassoul party, led by Mohammed Jemil Ould Mansour and the Forum National pour la Democratie et l’Unite (FNDU) led by chairman Saleh Ould Hanenna. Another powerful figure is Ahmed Ould Daddah, leader of the largest opposition party, the Rally of Democratic Forces (RFD). The FNDU, a coalition of opposition parties, trade unions and civil society bodies led protest action in Nouakchott on 9 May, which attended by thousands of people but concluded peacefully.

President Aziz has called for a political dialogue ahead of the referendum, but opposition figures have rejected this; “We are marching today to tell the president that the Constitution is a red line” said Saleh Ould Hanenna, adding that “The opposition will not accept entering into a dialogue when Ould Abdel Aziz has already defined the themes, but only to a process of consultation that would include guarantees and subjects that have been adopted by consensus.”

Henenna stated further that “The opposition will stand firm against any attempt by the regime to amend the national charter” and that “The president’s true intention is to remain in power by eliminating [constitutional] articles that bar him from standing for a third term in office”

A escalation of protest action centered on Nouakchott is likely in the coming months as the government continues with the referendum. Opposition parties are seeing a confluence of interests in their opposition to Aziz and the UPR, and if they don’t get their way, will probably end up boycotting parliamentary elections in 2018, which is what the FNDU did in 2013.

Senior military officials have not yet expressed opposition to these issues, probably due to the nexus between the military and presidency following the 2008 coup, and ‘la politique commercial’ – real power “firmly in the hands of an élite made up of ‘Big Tent’ families, cartels of merchants, and military personnel” according to Robin Selly in the New Internationalist.

By R Haussmann, Cesar Hidalgo, et. al. - Electronic Complexity Observatory, MIT Media Lab and the Center for International Development at Harvard University., CC BY-SA 3.0, commodity prices in recent years have hit Mauritania’s economy due to its over-reliance on metals and hydrocarbons. The EIU forecast’s GDP growth at 1.5% in 2016. Iron ore income has been particularly affected, with prices currently hovering around $55 a tonne compared to $190 a tonne in 2011. Things may improve in the medium term as the National Industrial and Mining Company of Mauritania (SNIM) pushes for higher ore output. In November 2015, the Guelb II expansion project in Zerouate was inaugurated, which will add over 4 million tonnes a year, and employ over 6,000 more people, once fully operational. Kinross Gold Corporation recently confirmed an expansion of the Tasiast gold mine, which could increase output to over 50% by 2018, from 8,000 to 12,000 tonnes of ore per day.

Featured image: A photo of the capital, Nouakchott. By William Darcy Hall – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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Brazil: the mighty Lava Jato

The civil unrest that was sparked by a modest bus fare increase in 2013 culminated in the suspension of Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff on 12 May as opposition figures took advantage of popular grievances to oust the president in what Rousseff calls a “coup”. Millions of people took to the streets of Sao Paulo, Brasilia, and Rio de Janeiro in recent years, as well as in smaller cities throughout the country, to protest against a range of issues, including most recently, the president herself. Recent polls indicate that almost 70% of Brazilians support the impeachment proceedings against Rousseff; her recent approval ratings hovered near single digit figures compared to a high of 79% in March 2013 .

At this point, with public confidence in the government at all time lows, and the governing coalition divided and dysfunctional (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB), the largest coalition partner to Rousseff’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT), announced it was quitting on March 29), it is highly unlikely that President Dilma Rousseff will complete the remainder of her term, due to the likelihood of a successful impeachment in the coming months. If the Senate votes by 2/3rds majority to convict Rousseff, Michel Temer will serve out her term until 2018. A provisional presidency under Michel Temur may fare no better – he will inherit a range of challenges, including Brazil’s worst recession since the 1930’s, a political system which limits effective governance, and may find himself under investigation for corruption – fresh elections would then follow.

The bus fare protests -“movimento passe livre” – which began in 2013, followed widespread dissatisfaction with the government channeling tax revenues into stadiums and other football World Cup expenses, at the expense of  education, transportation, and health care, which are of an obvious higher priority to the majority of people, namely the poor and middle classes.When the masses took to the streets, political paraphernalia was burnt, including the starry red flag of Rousseff’s Workers Party, by a mixture of demonstrators including supporters of the Workers Party. Flags and other symbols belonging to opposition parties were torched too – government incompetence and corruption was the issue, not the politics of who was in office.

Activists demonstrate in front of riot police outside the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia June 15, 2013. Protests continued in Brasilia over the government's economic policies and the hosting of major sporting events as Brazil's national soccer team prepared to play Japan in the Confederations Cup opening match. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino (BRAZIL - Tags: SPORT SOCCER CIVIL UNREST) - RTX10OWU

Activists demonstrate in front of riot police outside the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia June 15, 2013. Protests continued in Brasilia over the government’s economic policies and the hosting of major sporting events as Brazil’s national soccer team prepared to play Japan in the Confederations Cup opening match. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino (BRAZIL – Tags: SPORT SOCCER CIVIL UNREST) – RTX10OWU

Part of the story of those who ruffled the streets of Latin America’s largest nation, is the rise of millions of people from below, to above, the poverty line: according to a report from the Getulio Vargas Foundation, FGV, in 2011, over 40 million Brazilians rose to the level of middle class between 2003 and 2011. These people demand services commensurate with taxation levels – comprising 36% compared to the United State’s 25% for example, but getting little in return. Anderson Antunes writes that the “poorest citizens are the ones paying the biggest share of their income in tax and also the ones getting the least back from government spending.” 


Compounding discontentment related to service delivery failure was the government-toppling issue of corruption – a matter of existential seriousness amid rising levels of unemployment, a drop in living standards due to economic slowdown and rising inflation. In March 2014, Brazil, which enjoys a bit of drama, reeled following revelations of a massive corruption scandal involving politicians, billions of dollars, kickback and bribery schemes, and the state owned oil company, Petrobras.  The scandal is known as ‘Lava Jato’, or Operation Car Wash. In addition, Rousseff, who has been accused of involvement in the Petrobras scandal due to her position in the company as chairwoman from 2003-2010, stands accused of illegally manipulating finances to obscure public deficit figures prior to her re-election in 2014 – the main item on the current impeachment menu – although not an issue which many pro-impeachment politicians and senators  raised in their denouncement of Rousseff, giving weight to her statements of a political ‘coup’ in motion.

Corruption is a serious matter in Brazil: massive protests saw Brazil’s’ first democratically elected president, Mr Fernando Collor de Mello resign following impeachment proceedings on corruption charges in 1992. In recent years, the mood on the street in Brazil has been souring following the optimism of the boom years, such as 2010 when the economy grew at more than 7%, and inclusion in the BRICS seemed to confirm Brazil’s elevated global status. Corruption allegations was the right ammo for the right war at the right time, so reasoned the opposition, successfully. Mrs Rousseff has vowed to fight on however, and so have her millions of followers. The protests that began in 2013 continued through to 2016, although interestingly, the socioeconomic composition of the protesters was changing as anti-government protesters outnumbered pro-Rousseff supporters.

According to media reports in March 2016; “At the largest anti-Rousseff protest, in Sao Paulo, 77 percent of the demonstrators self-identified as white, and 77 percent were university graduates, according to polling firm Datafolha. Nationwide, those figures are 48 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Half the protesters in Sao Paulo last weekend earned between five and 20 times the minimum wage.”

The massive anti-government demonstrations on 13 March, attended by between one and five million people “were led by middle-class Brazilians angry over growing allegations of corruption in Rousseff’s administration. ” wrote Daniel Flynn and Alonso Soto in Reuters on 14 March.  

In other words, recent anti-Rousseff demonstrations were whiter, wealthier and better educated than those who took to the streets a few years back – despite dissatisfaction with the government being “more or less evenly distributed across the social spectrum”. What had changed and why were the plebs staying at home?

Rodrigo Nunes warns us against thinking along the lines of upper-class revolt vs. protests are by the majority, the truth he says lies somewhere in between.

Nunes writes of a “new silent majority in Brazilian politics: neither with the government nor actively against it”.  These are the millions of people who benefited from the social policies implemented by the PT during its 12 years in power. He writes that many now worry about “post-PT scenarios that for the poor are even worse than the present state of things”. These were the people who had previously taken to the streets to protest against the PT dominated government policies, but were now  present in diminishing numbers because the alternative – the opposition – was not seen as a solution.size_810_16_9_petro

Nunes writes that “the poor are more interested in better transport and health than impeaching the president” and if Mrs Rousseff and her left wing-leaning Workers Party lose power, what will become of social welfare programs like Bolsa Familia, which includes cash handouts to over 12 million Brazilians, and have played an important role in alleviating poverty, as well as contributing to the aforementioned tax base increase by getting people educated and working? (For an excellent overview of the success of Bolsa Familia, see the recent Foreign Affairs article on the matter.)

The poor, he writes, do not identify with the opposition, nor with a post-PT future, regardless of grand statements to the effect that a Brazil without Rousseff will be a great and prosperous one. It is no secret that a majority of the big players in the Brazilian political arena have been implicated in corruption scandals – indicted/mentioned/supreme court. The silent majority do not see the removal of Rousseff as being a solution to corruption in any meaningful way. It is political warfare by an equally corrupt opposition, that much is certain. Nunes writes that the poor view politics “as an exclusive sport for a self-serving elite”. This view applied in equal measure to the PT in recent years, which is of course guilty of corruption, and wasteful public spending. The silent majority appear to dis-identify with both the PT as well as with the opposition, including the large PMDB and PSDB parties. The reason, Nune writes, is a “a crisis of representation”. The left wing-Workers Party indulged in the usual graft at the expense of the economy and social services, and the liberal opposition, many fear are likely to be anti-poor as far as social spending goes. Nunes writes of a disconnect between the “politics of society and the politics of politicians”.

What began as a healthy broad based opposition to governmental incompetence and corruption led to the apparent seizure of power of a rival political faction, using popular grievances to maneuver the incumbent Rousseff out of office. Machiavelli would have been proud.

Header image by Isaac Ribeiro at

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The Logic of American Geopolitics

The Dutch born geopolitical thinker and founder of the Institute for International Affairs at Yale, Nicholas J. Spykman, offers a clear description of American geopolitical imperatives.

If the United States had stayed out of the Second World War and allowed events to play out on their own – and if, as some thinkers speculate, Germany had ended up conquering Europe, and Japan had consolidated huge swathes of East Asia into its “Greater East Asian Coprosperity Sphere” then at a geopolitical level the United States,

“would then be surrounded by two gigantic empires controlling huge war potentials….the balance of power across the ocean [would be] destroyed, and the relative power potential of the two great land masses would then turn the geographic embrace of the Western Hemisphere by the Old World into political strangulation.”

The logic of American geopolitics is dictated by the necessity of maintaining a favourable “balance of power in the transatlantic and transpacific zones”. In other words, the United States needs to make sure that the great states of Europe and Asia do not grow unchecked, but are influenced by American diplomacy and security initiatives designed to prevent them from ever seeing the United States as a primary enemy.

Europe and Asia are two main regions of the globe with the power potential to challenge American power, or at least pose a potential threat to its security. Both regions rival or outclass the U.S. in population, and both have economy’s that are larger, both have a history of great power ambitions, and both regions have enormous armament industries. Luckily for the United States, these are politically disunited states – they lack the efficient accumulation of power found in large federations and end up directing their political grievances towards each other at the expense of their potential for global power projection.

While Europe – the region which was powerful enough to create the United States in the first place – is placated via its integration into NATO, it is now the trans-Pacific zone that is experiencing enormous economic growth with a corresponding naval build-up. Asia (in the process of weakening America through deindustrialisation) presents itself as the new challenge to world order.

Spykman wrote that a favorable balance “is an absolute prerequisite for the independence of the New World and the preservation of the power position of the United States.”


Above image:Map of the Rimland by Nicholas Spykman

Header image: Crew of M24 along Naktong River front Korean war 17 Aug 1950


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Russia: the unsustainable Enigma

Russian activities in Ukraine and Syria not only raise questions about Russia’s intentions in these conflict zones, but also about the country’s ability to sustain these interventions. Already suffering from the effects of economic sanctions, low oil prices, diplomatic isolation and a tarnished international image as a result of Putin’s imperial ventures, many wonder if the potential strategic gains are worth the cost.

Russia under Putin clearly has great power ambitions. Despite Putin’s efforts to promote Russia as a global power, which are mainly exercised at the UN through the fine skills of Mr. Lavrov, strategically, Russia remains primarily engaged throughout Eurasia, for obvious geopolitical reassons. The Russian Federation, with an economy smaller than California and a population lower than Pakistan, is continental power, not a global one, even though it stretches across 11 time zones and possesses an impressive military & armaments industry.

The country has immense hydrocarbon resources which Putin attempts to leverage for strategic and political gain – but this may not work in the long run as its main European market works towards energy diversification. Threatening to send gas East instead of West also rings hollow owing to the raw deals that China offers Russia. Putin may well sacrifice economic gain for strategic gain – as the cost vs. benefits of his Ukrainian and now Syrian operations reveal: the acquisition of Crimea, hybrid warfare in Donbass, and now military intervention in Syria have come at a cost seen as unacceptable, and unsustainable.

Of course, states pursue geopolitical strategies with the knowledge that the results may be economically detrimental – America’s wars in the Muslim world have cost trillions, producing arguably little in the way of strategic gain. What is Putin trying to achieve?

Expert consensus notes that Russian aims in Syria are

  • shore up the Allawite regime of Assad, Russia’s last remaining ally in the region
  • fight militants from the Caucasus on Syrian soil rather than on Russian soil later
  • to break out of western attempts to isolate Russia by proving its too important to ignore

In Ukraine, Russia aims to

  • discipline Kiev by demonstrating that its internal stability to hostage to Moscow
  • dissuade NATO expansion by showing that admission of the country poses too high a security risk
  • force a new security architecture upon Europe where Russian interests are taken seriously & reveal the limits of EU power

It is likely that Russia’s current geopolitical outlook will prove sustainable. The main reason is that the Russian economy has been crippled by the sharp fall in oil prices” and Western sanctions. In the long run, the country’s bleak demographic outlook – projected to decline to around 110 million by 2050 if fertility remained constant – means a decline in the number of males of military service age with the result that Russia will struggle to maintain large armed forces. This is compounded by a high mortality rate and high levels of immigration by the well educated.

The logical thing would be for Putin to seek a rapprochement with the west, to ease tensions and attract investment to offset economic woes which if continues will only exasperate demographic decline, further weakening the state. Putin’s thinking may well resonate with the words of the Poet Robert Browning who wrote that A man’s reach should extend his grasp, or else what’s a heaven for?

states pursue geopolitical strategies with the knowledge that the results may be economically detrimental

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