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June 2020

India’s Bid to a Permanent Seat at United Nations

India launches campaign brochure for UNSC seat


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNSC

Mains level : Significance of UNSC membership for India

India has launched its campaign brochure ahead of elections for five non-permanent members of UNSC.

Practice question for mains:

Q. By any calculus, India will qualify for UNSC permanent seat. Analyse.

India’s agenda for UNSC

The normal process of international governance has been under increasing strain as frictions have increased. Traditional and non-traditional security challenges continue to grow unchecked. India will highlight:

  • International terrorism
  • UN reforms and Security Council expansion, and
  • Streamlining the world body’s peacekeeping operations
  • Various technological initiatives

India and UNSC

  • India is guaranteed a place in the UNSC as it is the sole candidate for Asia-Pacific but needs two-thirds of the 193-member General Assembly to vote in its favour in a secret ballot scheduled this month in New York.
  • While India is expected to sail through with the 129 votes required for the seat, the government is setting its sights on much higher numbers than that ahead of the election.
  • In 2010, when India stood for the UNSC seat of 2011-2012, it won 187 of the 190 votes polled.

Streamlining new NORMS

  • This will be the eighth time India will occupy a non-permanent UNSC seat, with its last stint in 2011-2012.
  • India’s overall objective during this tenure in the UN Security Council will be the achievement of N.O.R.M.S: a New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System.

Non-permanent membership  isn’t a cup of tea

  • The government launched its plan for the UNSC seat as far back as 2013, officials said, with a keen eye on 2021, and the year that will mark its 75th year of Independence.
  • To our good fortune, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan agreed, in a gesture to our friendship, to step aside for the 2021-22 seats.
  • The next big challenge was to pursue the Asia-Pacific grouping nomination without any last-minute contenders being propped up against India.
  • While diplomacy between capitals certainly helps, the vote had to be tied down by negotiations on the ground.
  • India was able to win a unanimous endorsement from the 55-nation grouping that included both China and Pakistan, in June 2019.

Back2Basics: United Nations Security Council

  • The UNSC is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations and is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security.
  • Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions.
  • It is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states.
  • The Security Council consists of fifteen members. Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, and the United States—serve as the body’s five permanent members.
  • These permanent members can veto any substantive Security Council resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or candidates for Secretary-General.
  • The Security Council also has 10 non-permanent members, elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The body’s presidency rotates monthly among its members.

Also read:

India’s Bid to United Nations Permanent Seat

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Near-Earth Object (NEO) 163348


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NEOs

Mains level : Not Much

NASA announced that a giant asteroid is expected to pass Earth at a safe distance, today.

Do you remember Osiris-Rex spacecraft of NASA? It is the only spacecraft to touch an asteroid called ‘Bennu’. NASA has brought back comet dust and solar wind particles before, but never asteroid samples.

This makes it a landmark feat and thus a hotspot for UPSC prelims.

What are NEOs?

  • NASA defines NEOs as comets and asteroids nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits which allows them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.
  • These objects are composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles.
  • NEOs occasionally approach close to the Earth as they orbit the Sun.
  • NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Study (CNEOS) determines the times and distances of these objects as and when their approach to the Earth is close.

Significances of NEOs

  • The scientific interest in comets and asteroids is largely due to their status as relatively unchanged remnant debris from the solar system formation process over 4.6 billion years ago.
  • Therefore, these NEOs offer scientists clues about the chemical mixture from the planets formed.
  • Significantly, among all the causes that will eventually cause the extinction of life on Earth, an asteroid hit is widely acknowledged as one of the likeliest.
  • Over the years, scientists have suggested different ways to ward off such a hit, such as blowing up the asteroid before it reaches Earth, or deflecting it off its Earth-bound course by hitting it with a spacecraft.

About 163348 (2002 NN4)

  • A Near-Earth Object (NEO), the asteroid is called 163348 (2002 NN4) and is classified as a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA).
  • Asteroids with a minimum orbit intersection distance (MOID) of about 0.05 (AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun and is roughly 150 million km) or less are considered PHAs.
  • This distance is about 7,480,000 km or less and an absolute magnitude (H) of 22 (smaller than about 150 m or 500 feet in diameter).

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

‘Race to Zero’ campaign


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level :  ‘Race to Zero’ campaign, Carbon offset

Mains level : Not Much

The UN has launched the “Race to Zero” campaign ahead of delayed COP 26 Climate Talks.

Possible question for prelims:

The ‘Race to Zero’ campaign often seen in news is related to zeroing: Global Hunger/Carbon Emission/HR violations/None of these.

 ‘Race to Zero’ campaign

  • The campaign aims to codify commitments made via the Climate Ambition Alliance (CAA), which launched ahead of last year’s COP25 in Madrid.
  • It encourages countries, companies, and other entities to deliver structured net-zero greenhouse-gas emission pledges by the time the talks begin.
  • This messaging for the campaign — carried out under the aegis of the UNFCCC— seeks to emphasise the potential for non-state actors to raise climate ambition.
  • The campaign refers to these as ‘real economy actors’, noting they “cover just over half the gross domestic product, a quarter of global CO2 emissions and over 2.6 billion people”.

About the Climate Ambition Alliance

  • The CAA currently includes 120 nations and several other private players that have committed to achieving zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • Signatories are responsible for 23 per cent of current greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide and 53 per cent of global GDP.

What Are the Criteria?

  • The minimum criteria for establishing a recognized pledge were developed through dialogues coordinated by Oxford University.
  • The pledges must include a clear net-zero target date no later than 2050, they must also begin immediately and include interim targets.
  • Much like the Paris Agreement itself, the criteria are designed to strengthen over time, but they begin at a level that reflects current best practices.

Issue over offsetting

  • Offsets are emission-reductions generated outside a company’s own operations, and they are used in both compliance programs to meet mandated emission caps (“cap and trade”) and involuntary programs to reduce a company’s overall impact (voluntary carbon markets).
  • The Race to Zero criteria emphasizes that if offsets are ultimately recognized, they must only be used to neutralize residual emissions that can’t be eliminated internally – at least not immediately.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

The China conundrum


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BPTA 1993

Mains level : Paper 2- India-China relations

India-China border issue and the latest standoff in Ladakh has forced India to consider the lasting solution to the problem. This article explains China’s anti-India strategy. And options available with India in the face of aggression are also considered.

LAC: the reason for frequent face-offs

  • The debate has persisted whether it was China’s National Highway 219 cutting across Aksai Chin or Nehru’s “forward policy” which constituted the actual reason for the Sino-Indian border-conflict of 1962.
  • After declaring a unilateral ceasefire on November 20, troops of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) withdrew 20 kms behind what China described as the “line of actual control” (LAC).
  • The LAC generally conformed to the British-negotiated McMahon Line.
  • In the west, the Chinese stuck to their 1959 claim-line in Ladakh, retaining physical control of the 14,700 sq km Aksai Chin.
  • The 1962 ceasefire line became the de facto Sino-Indian border.
  • But in a bizarre reality, both sides visualised their own version of the LAC, but neither marked it on the ground; nor were maps exchanged.
  • This has inevitably led to frequent face-offs.

So, what were the steps taken the resolve the border issue after 1962?

  • Post-conflict, it is customary for belligerents to undertake early negotiations, in order to establish stable peace and eliminate the casus belli.
  • Strangely, in the Sino-Indian context, it took 25 years and a serious military confrontation in 1987 to trigger a dialogue.
  • The dialogue led the two countries to sign the first-ever Sino-Indian Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement (BPTA) in 1993.
  • Indian diplomats claim that this has helped maintain “mutual and equal security”, while the bilateral relationship has progressed in other spheres.
  • And yet, the failure to negotiate a boundary settlement after 22 meetings of special representatives of the two countries cannot be seen as anything but a failure of statesmanship and diplomacy.

Now, let’s analyse China’s anti-India strategy and how LAC and Pakistan problem fits into it

  • China’s post-civil war leadership had conceived an early vision of the country’s future.
  • Ambitious and realist in scope, this strategy visualised China attaining, in the fullness of time, great-power status and acquiring a nuclear-arsenal.
  • Since the vision saw no room for an Asian rival, neutralising India became a priority.
  • It was for this specific purpose, that Pakistan was enlisted in 1963 as a partner.
  • In China’s anti-India strategy, Pakistan has played an invaluable role by sustaining a “hot” border and holding out the threat of a two-front war.
  • In China’s grand-strategy, an undefined LAC has become a vital instrumentality to embarrass and keep India off-balance through periodic transgressions.
  • These pre-meditated “land-grabs”, blunt messages of intimidation and dominance, also constitute a political “pressure-point” for New Delhi.

Possibility of escalation into shooting war

  • While Indian troops have, so far, shown courage and restraint in these ridiculous brawls with the PLA.
  • But there is no guarantee that in a future melee, a punch on the nose will not invite a bullet in response.
  • In such circumstances, rapid escalation into a “shooting-war” cannot be ruled out.
  • Thereafter, should either side face a major military set-back, resort to nuclear “first-use” would pose a serious temptation.

What are the options available with India?

  • For reasons of national security as well as self-respect, India cannot continue to remain in a “reactive mode” to Chinese provocations and it is time to respond in kind.
  • Since India’s choices vis-à-vis China are circumscribed by the asymmetry in comprehensive national power, resort must be sought in realpolitik.
  • According to theorist Kenneth Waltz, just as nature abhors a vacuum, international politics abhors an imbalance of power, and when faced with hegemonic threats, states must seek security in one of three options: 1) Increase their own strength, 2) ally with others to restore power-balance, 3) as a last resort, jump on the hegemon’s bandwagon.

India’s decision-makers can start by posing this question to the military: “For how long do you have the wherewithal to sustain a combat against two adversaries simultaneously?” Depending on the response, they can consider the following 2 options.

1. Alliance with the USA

  • Nehru, when faced with an aggressive China in 1962, asked support from the USA.
  •  Indira Gandhi in the run-up to the 1971 war with Pakistan asked support from the USSR.
  • Both had no qualms of jettisoning the shibboleth of “non-alignment” and seeking support from the USA and USSR respectively.
  • Today, India has greater freedom of action and many options to restore the balance of power vis-à-vis China.
  • Xi Jinping has opened multiple fronts — apart from the COVID-19 controversy — across the South China Sea, South East Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Asia.
  • Donald Trump is burning his bridges with China.
  • In the world of realpolitik, self-interest trumps all and India must find friends where it can.
  • Given China’s vulnerabilities in the Indian Ocean and the real possibility of America losing its strategic foothold in Diego Garcia, India has a great deal to offer as a friend, partner or even an ally; with or without the Quad.

2. Accommodation with China

  •  If ideological or other reasons preclude the building of a power-balancing alliance, coming to an honourable accommodation with China remains a pragmatic option.
  • Zhou Enlai’s proposal of 1960 — repeated by Deng Xiaoping in 1982 — is worth re-examining in the harsh light of reality.
  • The price of finding a modus vivendi [an arrangement or agreement allowing conflicting parties to coexist peacefully]for the Sino-Indian border dispute may be worth paying if it neutralises two adversaries at one stroke and buys lasting peace.

Consider the question “In the harsh light of reality and faced with aggression from its neighbour, India has to ally with other powers to restore the balance of power. Examine.”


Neither option will be easy to “sell”. However, India cannot afford to continue with the current situation for long and must choose one of the options to end the to find the solution.

Innovations in Sciences, IT, Computers, Robotics and Nanotechnology

Electrolytic splitting of Water


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Electrolytic splitting of Water

Mains level : Hydrogen as a clean fuel

Scientists from The Centre for Nano and Soft Matter Sciences (CeNS), an autonomous institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), have found out a low cost and efficient way to generate hydrogen from water using Molybdenum dioxide as a catalyst.

Practice question for mains:

Q. Hydrogen is the future of clean and sustainable energy. Discuss.

Electrolytic splitting of water

  • Electrolysis of water is the decomposition of water into oxygen and hydrogen gas due to the passage of an electric current.
  • This technique can be used to make hydrogen gas, the main component of hydrogen fuel, and breathable oxygen gas, or can mix the two into oxyhydrogen, which is also usable as fuel, though more volatile and dangerous.
  • It is a promising method to generate hydrogen but requires energy input that can be brought down in the presence of a catalyst.

Using Molybdenum Catalyst

  • The scientists have shown that Molybdenum dioxide (MoO2) nanomaterials annealed in hydrogen atmosphere can act as efficient catalysts to reduce the energy input to bring about water splitting into Hydrogen.
  • Molybdenum dioxide has the potential to replace the currently employed catalyst platinum, which is expensive and has limited resources.
  • MoO2 is a conducting metal oxide that is one of the low-cost catalysts with good efficiency and stability for hydrogen evolution.
  • The catalyst is highly stable for a longer duration of reaction with sustained hydrogen evolution from water.
  • About 80 % efficient conversion of electrical energy into hydrogen has been achieved using this catalyst.


  • Hydrogen is considered as the future of clean and sustainable energy as it can be generated from water and produces water on energy generation without any carbon footprint.
  • Hydrogen can be directly used as a fuel similar to natural gas or as input for fuel cells to generate electricity.
  • It is the future energy for a clean environment and an alternative to fossil fuels, underlining the necessity of low-cost catalysts for its production.

Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Nagar Van (Urban Forest) Scheme


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Urban Forest Scheme

Mains level : NA

On the occasion of World Environment Day (5th June), the union govt has announced the implementation of the Nagar Van Scheme to develop 200 Urban Forests across the country in the next five years.

Do you know?

India has 8 per cent of world’s biodiversity, despite having many constraints like only 2.5 % of the world’s landmass, has to carry 16% of human population and having only 4% of freshwater sources.

Urban Forest Scheme

  • The scheme will be implemented with people’s participation and collaboration between the Forest Department, Municipal bodies, NGOs and corporates.
  • These forests will work as lungs of the cities and will primarily be on the forest land or any other vacant land offered by local urban local bodies.
  • This urban area rejuvenation scheme is based on the Smriti Van in the Warje area of Pune City
  • This forest now hosts rich biodiversity with 23 plant species, 29 bird species, 15 butterfly species, 10 reptiles and 3 mammal species.
  • This Urban Forest project is now helping maintain ecological balance, serving both environmental and social needs.