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On the morning of 14 March 2023, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet intercepted and downed an American MQ-9 Reaper drone into the Black Sea. This became the first direct contact between the Russian and United States Air Forces since the Cold War.
The response of some American leaders to the downing of an American drone by Russian jets in the Black Sea, coupled with the ICC’s arrest warrant of Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, is alarming. They threaten a direct US-Russian confrontation and deepen the global divide at a time a new international order is being shaped.
The arrest warrant for Putin is toothless since Russia is not a party to the Rome convention, as are, among other countries, China, India, USA, Israel, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Despite being indicted by ICC in 2009 and 2010, Sudanese president Bashir shuttled freely around the world. He was internally ousted from power in 2019.
The ICC decision clearly targets for the first time the leader of a permanent member of the UNSC with the objective of highlighting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s crimes and isolating him. This is grand naivety. No non-Western country will arrest Putin, non-Western leaders will rally around Putin, and almost all will emphasize the ICC’s double standard. Foreign leaders are asking why President George Bush was not indicted for unlawfully invading Iraq in 2003. But the strategic blunder of this decision lies in deepening the global divide between the West and the rest of the world at a time a new world order is being shaped. Since the eruption of the Ukraine crisis, many countries led by China and Russia have been endeavoring to shape a new international order based on multi-polarity. This will impact American economy and dollar as many authoritarian and quasi-democratic leaders will try to reduce their reliance on American economy and currency, fearing under certain circumstances being indicted or their assets frozen. Needless to say, this will push China and Russia (plus many countries) to deepen their strategic alliance (and cooperation).
At the same time, the response of some American leaders to the downing of the American reaper drone was ill-advised and perilous. They called for more drones escorted by American jets to fly over Black Sea international water and shooting down Russian jets should they intercept the drones. Some has raised the question what would President Ronald Reagan have done?
This stance disregards the context in which NATO and Russia have operated in the Black Sea and make a confrontation between the two a matter of when not if. Since 2014 NATO has dramatically increased its naval presence in the Black sea and military presence in Bulgaria and Romania. In 2016, NATO created Tailored Forward Presence (TFP) to enhance cooperation and bolster NATO’s presence in the Black Sea region “on land, at sea and in the air.” Romania has become home to the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense site in Deveselu, and Novo Selo, a US military base in Bulgaria, was enlarged and upgraded to host more American and NATO troops and equipment.
This followed back-to-back NATO drills in the Black sea, Baltic Sea and North Sea (Iron Wolf 2017, Aurora 17, Defender Europe 20, Sea Breeze 2021, Formidable Shield 2021). Russia responded by carrying out military drills with Belarus and China and placing Iskandar tactical ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad, and S400 SAMs and Iskandar in Crimea, as well as moved nuclear submarines to Crimea.
This has heightened tension especially in the Black Sea, Russia’s warm water strategic depth. Close encounters with NATO took place when Russian jets buzzed NATO ships navigating the Black Sea. Today, Russia is doubly worried about US/NATO military presence in the Black Sea. Although not weaponized, the American drone is for surveillance and reconnoitering Russian military assets and deployments. Moscow fears that Washington will pass intelligence gathered by the American drone on to Ukraine to target Russian assets by NATO weapons. This is tantamount to Washington getting directly involved in the war. The United States had previously done that during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) by providing Iraq with Iranian military coordinates for Baghdad to strike. Nuclear Russia is not Iran!
No less significant, invoking President Reagan’s policy towards the Soviet Union is misguided. The Reagan administration was divided into two camps: The dovish Schultz State Department camp and the hawkish Weinberger Defense Department camp. This allowed the president to pursue a firm yet calibrated approach towards Moscow. Today, there is only one camp in the Biden administration, a hawkish camp supported by hawkish media and officials.
Washington should create a US-Russian de-conflicting commission to prevent any direct confrontation! Otherwise, US/NATO is moving headlong towards a confrontation, potentially including the use of nuclear weapons, with Russia! Something that’s unacceptable and globally catastrophic. What’s shocking is that many are clamoring for war from their safe refuge awfully oblivious to the intended and unintended catastrophes of war!
- Dr. Robert G. Rabil is a professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University. He is the author of highly commended peer-reviewed articles and books including: Embattled Neighbors: Syria, Israel and Lebanon (2003); Syria, the United States and the War on Terror in the Middle East (2006); Religion, National Identity and Confessional Politics in Lebanon (2011); Salafism in Lebanon: From Apoliticism to Transnational Jihadism (2014); The Syrian Refugee Crisis in Lebanon: The Double Tragedy of Refugees and Impacted Host Communities (2016, 2018); and White Heart (2018). He has a forthcoming book on Lebanon-Turkey Relations (Summer 2023). He was the project manager of the U.S. State Department-funded Iraq Research and Documentation Project. He was awarded the LLS Distinguished Faculty Award, the LLS Distinguished Professorship of Current Affairs, and FAU Scholar of the Year. He was also awarded an honorary Ph.D. in Humanities from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
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