Foreign Policy Watch: United Nations

Why Brazil always speaks first at the UN General Assembly

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNGA

Mains level : Mandate of the UN General Assembly

Every year since the 10th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1995, Brazil has been the first to address the delegation, followed by the United States.

About UNGA

  • The UNGA is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN), serving as the main deliberative, policymaking, and representative organ of the UN.
  • Its powers, composition, functions, and procedures are set out in Chapter IV of the United Nations Charter.
  • It also establishes numerous subsidiary organs to advance or assist in its broad mandate.
  • The UNGA is the only UN organ wherein all member states have equal representation.

Why does Brazil always get to speak first?

  • Brazil has been the first speaker at the UNGA annual general debate for over six decades now.
  • While some assume that the order is determined alphabetically, this is not the case.
  • This tradition dates back to the early years of the United Nations, following its formation soon after the end of World War II.
  • In those days, most countries were reluctant to be the first to address the chamber.
  • Brazil, at the time, was the only country that volunteered to speak first.

So, why does the US go next?

  • In the list of speakers, the United States always goes second after Brazil as it is the host nation.
  • US President Joe Biden addressed the chamber on Tuesday, detailing his vision for a new era of diplomacy in his first-ever UNGA speech.

How is the order of the remaining speakers determined?

  • After the US and Brazil, the order of speakers depends on a number of factors.
  • Generally the order is determined by the rank of the representative — heads of state, heads of government, crown princes, and foreign ministers would be amongst the initial speakers, followed by deputies and ambassadors.
  • Other criteria like geographic balance also play a role in determining the order.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Why the SAARC meeting was cancelled

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC

Mains level : Success and failures of SAARC

A meeting of foreign ministers from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, which was set to be held in New York has been cancelled.

About SAARC

  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asia.
  • Its member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
  • The SAARC comprises 3% of the world’s area, 21% of the world’s population and 4.21% (US$3.67 trillion) of the global economy, as of 2019.
  • The SAARC was founded in Dhaka on 8 December 1985. Its secretariat is based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • The organization promotes development of economic and regional integration. It launched the South Asian Free Trade Area in 2006.
  • The SAARC maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the United Nations as an observer and has developed links with multilateral entities, including the European Union.

Formation of SAARC

  • After the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the security situation in South Asia rapidly deteriorated. In response, the foreign ministers of the initial seven members met in Colombo in 1981.
  • At the meeting, Bangladesh proposed forming a regional association that would meet to discuss matters such as security and trade.
  • While most of the countries present were in favour of the proposal, India and Pakistan were sceptical.
  • Eventually, both countries relented and in 1983 in Dhaka, joined the other five nations in signing the Declaration.

What has SAARC done so far

  • Despite its lofty ambitions, SAARC has not become a regional association in the mould of the European Union or the African Union.
  • Its member states are plagued by internal divisions, most notably the conflict between India and Pakistan.
  • This in turn has hampered its ability to form comprehensive trade agreements or to meaningfully collaborate on areas such as security, energy and infrastructure.
  • The 18th and last SAARC summit was held in 2014 with Pakistan scheduled to host the 19th summit in 2016.
  • Many nations pulled out of the summit, citing fears of regional insecurity caused by Pakistan and a lack of a conducive environment for the talks.

Limited success to count

  • Despite these setbacks, SAARC has achieved a modicum of success.
  • It has provided a platform for representatives from member countries to meet and discuss important issues, something that may have been challenging through bilateral discussions.
  • India and Pakistan for example would struggle to publicly justify a meeting when tensions between the two are particularly high, but representatives from both countries could come together under the banner of SAARC.
  • The bloc has also made some headway in signing agreements related to climate change, food security and combatting the Covid-19 crisis.
  • It has the potential to do far more but that is contingent upon cooperation on key issues between member states.

Why was the recent meet cancelled?

Ans. Pakistan’s insistence to include the Taliban

  • The member states are unable to agree upon the participation of Afghanistan, with Pakistan and India in particular at loggerheads over the issue.
  • After Pakistan objected to the participation of any official from the previous Ghani administration, SAARC members reportedly agreed to keep an “empty chair” as a symbolic representation of Afghanistan.
  • However, Islamabad later insisted that the Taliban be allowed to send its representative to the summit, a notion that all of the other member states rejected.
  • After no consensus could be formed, Nepal, the ‘host’ of the summit, officially cancelled the meeting.

Why did countries object?

Ans. Taliban is not a legitimate govt

  • The Taliban has not been recognised as the official government of Afghanistan by any SAARC countries barring Pakistan.
  • Several top Taliban leaders are blacklisted by the US and/or designated as international terrorists.
  • Senior leaders who are not blacklisted are known for supporting terrorist activities or affiliating with terrorist organisations.
  • Allowing Taliban to represent Afghanistan in SAARC would legitimise the group and serve as a formal recognition of their right to govern.
  • Apart from Pakistan, which has close ties to the Taliban, particularly its violent subgroup, the Haqqani Network, none of the other SAARC members recognise the Taliban.

Why nations should not recognize the Taliban?

  • PM Modi has referred to the Taliban as a non-inclusive government, warning other nations to think before accepting the regime in Afghanistan.
  • SAARC members are deeply aware of the threat of spillover terrorism from Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, with Bangladesh in particular, concerned with the effect it may have on extremism.
  • Developments in Afghanistan could lead to uncontrolled flow of drugs, illegal weapons and human trafficking.

Conclusion

  • With Pakistan headfast in its support for the Taliban and the rest of SAARC weary to acknowledge the group, any future summit is unlikely until the issue has been resolved.

Contention over South China Sea

The big deal behind the ruckus over AUKUS

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AUKUS, Quad

Mains level : Focus areas and challenges for AUKUS

The announcement of the new Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS) trilateral security pact has naturally generated animated debate in strategic circles, before the QUAD summit.

What is the AUKUS?

  • The first major initiative of AUKUS would be to deliver a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia.
  • The nuclear-powered submarines will give Australia naval heft in the Pacific, where China has been particularly aggressive.
  • While the US and Britain have had the capability for decades, Australia has never had an n-sub.

Motive: To counter China

  • China has nuclear-powered submarines, as well as submarines that can launch nuclear missiles.
  • The three signatories to the AUKUS deal have made it clear though, that their aim is not to arm the new subs with nuclear weapons.
  • China has been one of Australia’s biggest trading partners, but the relationship has soured over the last few years.
  • It was in consideration of Chinese sensibilities that Australia had pulled out of the Malabar Naval Exercise with the US, India, and Japan after participating in the 2007 edition (of which Singapore too, was part).
  • Australia came back to Malabar in 2020, which marked the first time in 13 years that the navies of the four Quad nations war-gamed together.

Australia at the Centrestage

  • This is primarily because a nuclear-powered submarine gives a navy the capability to reach far out into the ocean and launch attacks.
  • A nuclear-powered submarine offers long distances dives, at a higher speed, without being detected gives a nation the ability to protect its interests far from its shores.
  • In the context of the AUKUS agreement, nuclear-powered submarines will give the Royal Australian Navy the capability to go into the South China Sea.
  • It conclusively puts to rest a long-standing domestic debate on whether it was time for Australia to assess China through the strategic lens, overcoming the purely mercantile considerations that tended to dominate its China policy.

What makes nuclear submarines so important?

  • A nuclear-powered submarine is classified as an “SSN” under the US Navy hull classification system, wherein ‘SS’ is the symbol for submarine, and ‘N’ stands for nuclear.
  • A nuclear-powered submarine that can launch ballistic missiles is called “SSBN”.
  • Conventional diesel-engine submarines have batteries that keep and propel — though not very fast — the vessel underwater. The life of these batteries can vary from a few hours to a few days.
  • The newer Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) submarines have additional fuel cells that allow them to stay underwater for longer and move faster than the conventional vessels.
  • However, the fuel cells are used only at strategic times, when the endurance to remain submerged is required.
  • Both conventional and AIP subs need to come to the surface to recharge their batteries using the diesel engine.
  • The diesel engine also propels the vessel on the surface. However, the fuel cells of AIP can only be charged at on-land stations, not while at sea.

Why is France unhappy about Australia getting these submarines?

  • The deal has complicated the relations between France and Australia, and also France and the US.
  • France is upset as it has been kept out of the loop. But, with the core objective of pushing back against China’s aggression, all five countries — US, UK, Australia, France and India — are on the same track.
  • The deal between France and Australia had been marked by delays and other issues.
  • The first submarine was expected to be operational around 2034.

Does India have nuclear-powered submarines?

  • Yes, India is among the six nations that have SSNs. The other five are the US, the UK, Russia, France and China.
  • India has had the capacity since it got the Soviet-built K-43 Charlie-class SSN in 1987.
  • Commissioned with the Red Fleet of the USSR in 1967, it was leased to the Indian Navy, and was rechristened INS Chakra. The submarine was decommissioned in 1991.

Indo-Pacific is the core issue

  • France, which like the UK has historically been an Indo-Pacific power with territories and bases across the region.
  • It has participated in a multi-nation naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal with the four Quad nations.
  • There is no gainsaying the fact that rapid accretion in China’s economic and military capacities, but more particularly its belligerence, has led to a tectonic shift in regional security paradigms.
  • Several countries have been obliged to review their defence preparedness in response to China’s rising military power and its adverse impact on regional stability.

A chance for the UK

  • The AUKUS pact is also an emphatic assertion of the relevance of the U.S.-Australia Security Treaty (ANZUS).
  • New Zealand, the outlier, walked away in 1984 from the treaty that ironically still bears its initials.
  • Its “nuclear-free” stance ran counter to the U.S. Navy’s non-disclosure policy in regard to nuclear weapons aboard visiting vessels.
  • Close ties notwithstanding, Australia’s future fleet of nuclear submarines will not be permitted access to New Zealand’s ports or waters, as averred by PM Jacinda Ardern.
  • AUKUS provides a fresh opportunity to the United Kingdom to reinsert itself more directly into the Indo-Pacific.
  • It is already a member of the Five Eyes (FVEY), an intelligence-sharing alliance built on Anglo-Saxon solidarity (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S.).

AUKUS is not a substitute for the Quad

  • It does not erode the Quad’s significance as a platform for consultations and coordination on broader themes of maritime security, free and open trade, health care, critical technologies, supply chains and capacity-building.
  • The AUKUS submarine deal, on the other hand, is an undiluted example of strategic defence collaboration, and a game-changer at that.

Chinese reception of AUKUS

  • China, expectedly, has strongly criticised AUKUS and the submarine deal as promoting instability and stoking an arms race.

The exposed double standards

  • China has the world’s fastest-growing fleet of sub-surface combatants.
  • This includes the Type 093 Shang-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) and the Type 094 nuclear-powered Jin-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).
  • Its nuclear submarines are on the prowl in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Yet, China denies Australia and others the sovereign right to decide on their defence requirements.

What’s in the box of AUKUS?

Ans. Greater role for Australia

  • Australia’s proposed nuclear submarines will give quite a punch in terms of a stand-off capability.
  • The growing focus on anti-submarine warfare across a more expansive region is clearly altering calculations.
  • Australia’s nuclear submarines would help create a new balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, especially in tandem with the U.S. and the U.K.
  • It will now have a more meaningful naval deterrence of its own to protect its sovereign interests.
  • It is set to play a more robust role in ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

Way forward

  • The setback ‘down under’ may spur France to focus afresh on partners such as India.
  • India must strike a balance between continuing imports and implementing the all-important Atmanirbhar Bharat in defence manufacturing.
  • France should take AUKUS as a business deal.
  • Its momentary reaction at the cancellation of the contract by Australia should soon subside.
  • As a major Indo-Pacific power, France is an important part of the regional security calculus.

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Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

Key Findings about the Religious Composition of India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Demographic transition of India

Mains level : Minority population issues

The religious composition of India’s population since Partition has remained largely stable according to a new study published by the Pew Research Centre, a non-profit based in Washington DC.

About the report

  • The study, based on data sourced from India’s decennial census and the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), looked at the three main factors that are known to cause changes in the religious composition of populations — fertility rate, migration, and conversions.
  • Both Hindus and Muslims, the two largest religious groups, shown not only a marked decline but also a convergence in fertility rates.
  • In terms of absolute numbers, every major religion in India saw its numbers rise.

Significance of the report

  • These findings, which come as a complement on religious tolerance and segregation in India.
  • It is significant in the context of two major issues that have occupied centre stage in recent times — the controversy over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
  • This report also gives a strong message to those fundamentalists who perceive India as a living hell for minorities.

Key findings

(a) Fertility Rates are declining

  • With regard to fertility rates, the study found that Muslims, who had the highest fertility rate, also had the sharpest decline in fertility rates.
  • From 1992 to 2015, the total fertility rates of Muslims declined from 4.4 to 2.6, while that of Hindus declined from 3.3 to 2.1.
  • This indicates that the gaps in childbearing between India’s religious groups are much smaller than they used to be.
  • The average fertility rate in India today is 2.2, which is higher than the rates in economically advanced countries such as the U.S. (1.6), but much lower than what it was in 1992 (3.4) or 1951 (5.9).

(b) Marked slowdown

  • Although growth rates have declined for all of India’s major religious groups, the slowdown has been more pronounced among religious minorities, who outpaced Hindus in earlier decades.
  • From 2001 to 2011, the difference in growth between Muslims (24.7%) and Indians overall (17.7%) was 7 percentage points.
  • India’s Christian population grew at the slowest pace of the three largest groups in the most recent census decade — gaining 15.7% between 2001 and 2011, a far lower growth rate than the one recorded in the decade following Partition (29.0%).

(c) ‘No’ Religions group

  • Interestingly, out of India’s total population of 1,200 million, about 8 million did not belong to any of the six major religious groups.
  • Within this category, mostly comprising adivasi people, the largest grouping was of Sarnas (nearly 5 million adherents), followed by Gond (1 million) and Sari Dharma (5,10,000).

(d) Migration

  • The study says that since the 1950s, migration has had only a modest impact on India’s religious composition.
  • More than 99% of people who live in India were also born in India, and migrants leaving India outnumber immigrants three-to-one, with “Muslims more likely than Hindus to leave India”, while “immigrants into India from Muslim-majority counties are disproportionately Hindu.”

(e) Religious conversions

  • Religious conversion has also had a negligible impact on India’s overall composition, with 98% of Indian adults still identifying with the religion in which they were raised.

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Innovation Ecosystem in India

India scores 46th rank in the Global Innovation Index 2021

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Global Innovation Index

Mains level : Innovation ecosystem in India

India has climbed 2 spots and has been ranked 46th by the World Intellectual Property Organization in the Global Innovation Index 2021 rankings.

Global Innovation Index

  • The Global Innovation Index (GII) is an annual ranking of countries by their capacity for, and success in, innovation.
  • It is published by Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization, in partnership with other organizations and institutions.
  • It is based on both subjective and objective data derived from several sources, including the International Telecommunication Union, the World Bank and the World Economic Forum.
  • The index was started in 2007 by INSEAD and World Business, a British magazine. It was created by Prof. Soumitra Dutta.

Components of GII

  • The GII is computed by taking a simple average of the scores in two sub-indices, the Innovation Input Index and Innovation Output Index, which are composed of five and two pillars respectively.

India’s performance

  • India has been on a rising trajectory, over the past several years in the Global Innovation Index (GII), from a rank of 81 in 2015 to 46 in 2021.
  • India attributed its improved performance due to the pivotal role played by the Department of Atomic Energy, the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Biotechnology and the Department of Space.

Global scenario

  • Switzerland topped the league table, followed by Sweden, the US and the UK.
  • Among Asian economies, South Korea jumped to the fifth position, up from 10 last year.
  • China was in the 12th position.

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WTO and India

What is Agreement on Agriculture (AoA)?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : WTO, Agreement on Agriculture

Mains level : Read the attached story

The Agreement on Agriculture at the WTO is riddled with deep imbalances, which favour the developed countries and have tilted the rules against many developing countries, a Union Minister has said.

Agreement on Agriculture

  • The AoA is an international treaty of the World Trade Organization.
  • It was negotiated during the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and entered into force with the establishment of the WTO on January 1, 1995.

Three pillars of AoA

The Agreement on Agriculture consists of three pillars—domestic support, market access, and export subsidies.

(1) Domestic support

  • AoA divides domestic support into two categories: trade-distorting and non-trade-distorting (or minimally trade-distorting).
  • It the classification of subsidies by “boxes” depending on consequences of production and trade:
  1. Amber (most directly linked to production levels)
  2. Blue (production-limiting programs that still distort trade)
  3. Green (minimal distortion)

(2) Market access

  • Market access refers to the reduction of tariff (or non-tariff) barriers to trade by WTO members.
  • The 1995 AoA consists of tariff reductions of:
  1. 36% average reduction – developed countries – with a minimum of 15% per-tariff line reduction in next six years.
  2. 24% average reduction – developing countries – with a minimum of 10% per-tariff line reduction in next ten years.
  • Least developed countries (LDCs) were exempt from tariff reductions, but they either had to convert non-tariff barriers to tariffs—a process called tariffication—or “bind” their tariffs, creating a ceiling that could not be increased in future.

(3) Export subsidies

  • The AoA required developed countries to reduce export subsidies by at least 36% (by value) or by 21% (by volume) over six years.
  • For developing countries, the agreement required cuts were 24% (by value) and 14% (by volume) over ten years.

Criticism of AoA

  • AoA has been criticized for reducing tariff protections for small farmers, a key source of income in developing countries, while simultaneously allowing rich countries to continue subsidizing agriculture at home.
  • In 2017 India and China jointly submitted a proposal to the WTO calling for the elimination – by developed countries – of the most trade-distorting form of farm subsidies,
  • They are known in WTO parlance as Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS) or ‘Amber Box’ support as a prerequisite for consideration of other reforms in domestic support negotiations.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

[pib] Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CTSO, NATO

Mains level : Not Much

The Prime Minister has participated virtually in the Joint SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization)-CSTO Outreach Session on Afghanistan.

What is CSTO?

  • The CSTO is a Russia-led military alliance of seven former Soviet states that was created in 2002.
  • Current CSTO members are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan. Afghanistan and Serbia hold observer status in the CSTO.
  • Its purpose is to ensure the collective defence of any member that faces external aggression.
  • It has been described by political scientists as the Eurasian counterpart of NATO, which has 29 member states, while the CSTO has just six.

Outlined functions of CSTO

  • CSTO supports arms sales and manufacturing as well as military training and exercises, making the CSTO the most important multilateral defence organization in the former Soviet Union.
  • Beyond mutual defence, the CSTO also coordinates efforts in fighting the illegal circulation of weapons among member states and has developed law enforcement training for its members in pursuit of these aims.

What does CSTO membership provide?

  • While CSTO membership means that member states are barred from joining other military alliances, limiting, for example, their relationship with NATO.
  • Its members receive discounts, subsidies, and other incentives to buy Russian arms, facilitating military cooperation.
  • Most importantly, membership presumes certain key security assurances – the most significant of which is deterring military aggression by third countries.
  • In the CSTO, aggression against one signatory is perceived as aggression against all.
  • It however remains unclear whether this feature works in practice.

Back2Basics: NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

  • NATO was found in the aftermath of the Second World War.
  • Its purpose was to secure peace in Europe, to promote cooperation among its members and to guard their freedom – all of this in the context of countering the threat posed at the time by the Soviet Union.
  • It is a military alliance established by the North Atlantic Treaty (also called the Washington Treaty) of April 4, 1949.
  • It sought to create a counterweight to Soviet armies stationed in Central and Eastern Europe after World War II.
  • Its original members were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • NATO has spread a web of partners, namely Egypt, Israel, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and Finland.

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Indian Ocean Power Competition

AUKUS Partnership for Indo-Pacific

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AUKUS, Quad

Mains level : Maritime cooperations for Indo-Pacific

The Biden administration has announced a new trilateral security partnership for the Indo-Pacific, between Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. (AUKUS).

What is AUKUS?

  • AUKUS, as the partnership is being called, will strive over the next 18 months to equip Australia with nuclear propulsion technology.
  • As part of this, Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines with help from the UK and the US.
  • It will also involve a new architecture of meetings and engagements between the three countries, as well as cooperation across emerging technologies (applied AI, quantum technologies and undersea capabilities).
  • Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines, when they deploy, will be armed with conventional weapons only and not nuclear weapons.

Why such an alliance?

  • Tensions have been high between Australia and an increasingly assertive China, its largest trade partner.
  • Australia banned Chinese telecom giant Huawei in 2108 and its PM called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 last year.
  • China retaliated by imposing tariffs on or capping Australian exports.

Not to substitute Quad or others

  • This alliance does not and will not supersede or outrank existing arrangements in the Indo-Pacific region such as the Quad, which the US and Australia form with India and Japan, and ASEAN.
  • AUKUS will complement these groups and others.

Significance

  • There has been only one other time that the US has shared as “extremely sensitive” submarine propulsion technology — more than 60 years ago, back in 1958, with Great Britain.
  • The US is working to move past the 20-year war in Afghanistan and the chaotic U.S. exit from Kabul.
  • The Biden Administration has put countering China at the center of his economic and national security efforts, describing it as the biggest challenge of this era.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-SCO

Can the SCO be the regional body that stabilizes Afghanistan?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SCO

Mains level : Role of SCO in Afghan Peace

On the face of it, the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) this week in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, is well placed to lead the stabilization of Afghanistan after the American retreat.

About SCO

  • After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the then security and economic architecture in the Eurasian region dissolved and new structures had to come up.
  • The original Shanghai Five were China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.
  • The SCO was formed in 2001, with Uzbekistan included. It expanded in 2017 to include India and Pakistan.
  • Since its formation, the SCO has focused on regional non-traditional security, with counter-terrorism as a priority.
  • The fight against the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism and extremism has become its mantra. Today, areas of cooperation include themes such as economics and culture.

India’s and the SCO

  • India and Pakistan both were observer countries.
  • While Central Asian countries and China were not in favor of expansion initially, the main supporter — of India’s entry in particular — was Russia.
  • A widely held view is that Russia’s growing unease about an increasingly powerful China prompted it to push for its expansion.
  • From 2009 onwards, Russia officially supported India’s ambition to join the SCO. China then asked for its all-weather friend Pakistan’s entry.

Afghanistan and SCO

  • Afghanistan has been engaged with the SCO for over 15 years.
  • In 2012, Afghanistan became an observer in the SCO when then-Afghan president Hamid Karzai visited China.
  • In 2015, Kabul applied for full membership in the group.
  • Kabul sought to be a member of the SCO as it believes that it is a natural candidate.
  • Geographically, Afghanistan is a part of the SCO region.

Limited (or No) progress made by SCO

  • For all the political hype, the SCO has not deepened regionalism in Central Asia.
  • Two decades after its formation — it was set up just weeks before the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington — the institutional promise of the SCO remains just that — a promise.
  • Seen from the subcontinent, the SCO certainly looks better than the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
  • That India and Pakistan, whose differences have prevented even regular meetings of SAARC, are actively participating in the SCO, would point to its attractiveness.
  • But then SAARC is such a low bar.

Opportunities for role-play in Afghanistan

The crisis in Afghanistan presents a major opportunity for the SCO to realize its regional ambitions.

  • Involvement of regional superpowers: The SCO’s importance for Afghanistan seems self-evident when you look at its sponsors and members. Its founding leaders are the two great powers of the east — Russia and China.
  • Neighborhood are members: Its other initial members were Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan to the north and northeast of Afghanistan.
  • Observers vested interest: Besides Afghanistan, Iran, Belarus and Mongolia are observers. Iran is said to be on track for full membership.
  • Many dialogue partners: The SCO has a number of “dialogue partners”. They include Armenia and Azerbaijan from the neighboring Caucasus region and Turkey a step further to the West. Nepal and Sri Lanka from the subcontinent and Cambodia from southeast Asia are also dialogue partners.

Issues with SCO

  • China centrism: For an organization that bears the name of Shanghai, but is focused on Central Asia, its associates look disparate.
  • Lack of coherence: The Central Asian members of the SCO have quarrels of their own, and have struggled to develop collective approaches to their common regional security challenges.
  • Dint go beyond dialogues: As it broadened its membership, the SCO has, unsurprisingly, struggled to deepen institutional cooperation.
  • Not comprehensive: There is also one important country missing in the mix. It is Turkmenistan, which shares an 800 km border with Afghanistan and a 1,150 km border with Iran.
  • Neutrality of members: The organizing principle of Turkmenistan rulers is absolute “neutrality” — think of it as an extreme form of “non-alignment”. It refuses to join any regional institution, political or military.
  • Individual interests: Russia’s effort to build a regional institution in its Central Asian periphery ran parallel to its plans for the so-called “strategic triangle” with China and India. India and Pakistan, needless to say, are poles apart on the Taliban.

No common interest in Afghan Peace

  • The US military retreat from Afghanistan has brought cheer to both Moscow and Beijing, although publicly they criticize President Joe Biden’s hasty retreat.
  • The US retreat might weaken the glue that binds Moscow and Beijing in Central Asia or tightens it.
  • Although Russia and China are closer to each other than ever before, their interests are not entirely the same in Central Asia.

Russian alternatives to SCO

(1) Central Security Treaty Organisation

  • While military confidence-building measures have grown under the SCO banner, Russia had its own security organisation for the region, called the Central Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO).
  • Three of the SCO members — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan — along with Armenia and Belarus are members of the CSTO.
  • Russia sees itself as the sole protector of the former Soviet Republics and may not be ready to share that role with China — “yes” to coordination, but “no” to a Sino-Russian security dyarchy.

(2) Eurasian Economic Union

  • Moscow also appears reluctant to back Chinese proposals to promote trade integration under the SCO banner; it prefers the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) under its own leadership.
  • China is not a member of either CSTO or EAEU. This is one reason for the weakness of SCO regionalism.

Other deterrents

(1) Affinity with Taliban

  • China has openly admitted to cooperating with the Taliban by restoring all formal diplomatic ties. It is the first such country to acknowledge the Taliban.
  • Turkmenistan too, which is not part of SCO, has been quite open to engaging the Taliban in sync with its principles of neutrality.
  • Some Russian analysts see Turkmenistan as the potential weak link in the defense against the Taliban’s potential threats to the region.
  • Uzbekistan seems open to a cautious engagement with the Taliban.

(2) Iranian aspirations for unwarranted interference (just like Turkey does regarding Kashmir)

  • Iran, which has ethnic and linguistic links with the Persian-speaking Tajiks, appears equally worried about the Taliban’s policies towards minorities.
  • As Moscow and Beijing, Tehran was happy to see the Americans leave in humiliation and appeared hopeful of a positive engagement with the Taliban.
  • Those hopes may have been suspended for now, if not discarded.

What can the SCO do now?

  • The Afghanistan debacle presents an opportunity for the SCO to play a constructive role in meeting the region’s burgeoning security challenge.
  • Providing humanitarian relief, tending to refugees, facilitating an inclusive dialogue and national reconciliation constitute immediate and long-term goals in which the organization can fill a role.
  • The SCO can also pressure the Taliban to share power with other domestic actors and refrain from providing sanctuary to foreign terror organizations (through foreign funds from Saudi*).
  • It can suspend Afghanistan’s observer status, curtail border traffic or withhold recognition, investments, and aid, should Kabul be found wanting.

Way forward

  • While the SCO is not an impressive regional institution, it remains an important diplomatic forum.
  • India has sought to make full use of the SCO’s diplomatic possibilities without any illusions about its effectiveness.
  • At the SCO summit this week, PM Modi would remind other leaders of the “three evils” that the SCO set out to defeat — terrorism, extremism, and separatism.
  • Few would disagree that the Taliban embodied all the three sins in the past. Today, the Taliban and its mentor Pakistan say the sinner wants to become a saint.
  • India must focus on finding common ground with those members of the SCO who do share India’s concerns about Afghanistan.

Conclusion

  • Given this divergence, it is unlikely that the SCO can come up with a “regional solution” for the Afghan crisis.
  • The only real Afghan convergence today is between Pakistan and China.
  • Expect them to try and nudge the SCO towards a positive engagement with the Taliban.

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

Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue (CAFMD)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CAFMD

Mains level : Not Much

India and the US has together launched the “Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue (CAFMD)”.

What is CAFMD?

  • The CAFMD is one of the two tracks of the India-U.S. Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 partnership launched at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate in April 2021, by PM Modi and US President Mr. Biden.
  • The dialogue will strengthen India-US bilateral cooperation on climate and environment.
  • It will also help to demonstrate how the world can align swift climate action with inclusive and resilient economic development, taking into account national circumstances and sustainable development priorities.

Key agendas

  • The US will collaborate with India to work towards installing 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030.
  • Currently, India’s installed power capacity is projected to be 476 GW by 2021-22 and is expected to rise to at least 817 GW by 2030.

CAFMD would have three pillars:

  1. Climate Action Pillar: which would have joint proposals looking at ways in emissions could be reduced in the next decade.
  2. Setting out a Roadmap: to achieving the 450GW in transportation, buildings and industry.
  3. Finance Pillar: would involve collaborating on attracting finance to deploy 450 GW of renewable energy and demonstrate at scale clean energy technologies.

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G20 : Economic Cooperation ahead

India appoints Sherpa for G20 Summit

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : G20, G7 and its members

Mains level : G20

The government has appointed a union minister as Sherpa for the G20 summit.

Who is a Sherpa (in IR context)?

  • A sherpa is the personal representative of a head of state or government who prepares an international summit, particularly the annual G7 and G20 summits.
  • Between the G7 summits, there are multiple sherpa conferences where possible agreements are laid out.
  • This reduces the amount of time and resources required at the negotiations of the heads of state at the final summit.
  • The name sherpa—without further context—refers to sherpas for the G7 summit, but the designation can be extended to different regular conferences where the participation of the head of state is required.
  • The sherpa is generally quite influential, although they do not have the authority to make a final decision about any given agreement.
  • The name is derived from the Sherpa people, a Nepalese ethnic group, who serve as guides and porters in the Himalayas, a reference to the fact that the sherpa clears the way for a head of state at a major summit.

About G20

  • Formed in 1999, the G20 is an international forum of the governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies.
  • Collectively, the G20 economies account for around 85 percent of the Gross World Product (GWP), 80 percent of world trade.
  • To tackle the problems or address issues that plague the world, the heads of governments of the G20 nations periodically participate in summits.
  • In addition to it, the group also hosts separate meetings of the finance ministers and foreign ministers.
  • The G20 has no permanent staff of its own and its chairmanship rotates annually between nations divided into regional groupings.

Aims and objectives

  • The Group was formed with the aim of studying, reviewing, and promoting high-level discussion of policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability.
  • The forum aims to pre-empt the balance of payments problems and turmoil on financial markets by improved coordination of monetary, fiscal, and financial policies.
  • It seeks to address issues that go beyond the responsibilities of any one organization.

Members of G20

The members of the G20 consist of 19 individual countries plus the European Union (EU).

  • The 19 member countries of the forum are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States.
  • The European Union is represented by the European Commission and by the European Central Bank.

Its significance

  • G20 is a major international grouping that brings together 19 of the world’s major economies and the European Union.
  • Its members account for more than 80% of global GDP, 75% of trade and 60% of population.

India and G20

  • India has been a member of the G20 since its inception in 1999.

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Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

India &Arctic ocean

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Arctic Council

Mains level : Geopolitics of the Arctic

It is tempting to view the current geopolitics of the Arctic through the lenses of the ‘great power competition’ and inevitable conflict of interests.

Current geopolitical scenario in the Arctic: US-Russia Spat

  • It is mainly viewed as the growing tensions between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and Russia.
  • By the end of the Cold War, the geopolitical tensions and security concerns in the Arctic were almost forgotten.
  • The perceived ‘harmony’ was broken in 2007, when the Russian explorers planted their flag on the seabed 4,200m (13,779ft) below the North Pole to articulate Moscow’s claims in the Arctic.
  • This move was certainly viewed as provocative by other Arctic State.
  • The regional tension increased after the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2014.
  • Consequently, relations between the U.S. and Russia reached their lowest point again.

Note: Five Arctic littoral states — Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the USA (Alaska) — and three other Arctic nations — Finland, Sweden and Iceland — form the Arctic Council (estd. 1996).

Try mapping them.

Caution: India became an Observer in the Arctic Council for the first time in 2013. And, India isn’t a full-time observer.

China’s vested interests in Arctic

  • China, for example, with its self-proclaimed status of a ‘near Arctic state’, has been actively engaged in various projects across the region.
  • The importance of the Arctic region for China mostly stems from its energy security issues and the need to diversify shipping lanes.

Why China focuses on Arctic?

  • Transport routes from China to Europe through the Arctic are not only much shorter but also free from the challenges associated with the Malacca Strait and South China Sea.
  • In the latter case, China will continue facing a backlash from many Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, supported by US forces and Quad.

Impact of Climate change on Arctic

  • The Arctic is warming nearly twice as fast as the rest of the planet with consecutive record-breaking warm years since 2014.
  • The Arctic is likely to begin experiencing ice-free summers within the next decade, with summers likely to be completely free of sea ice by mid-century.

Conclusion

  • Given the significance of the region, the Arctic will continue to draw increased attention.
  • Hence, countries should refrain from mutual provocations, excessive militarisation, and quid pro quo tactics.
  • All Arctic actors should have a long-term vision and strategic goals as compared to immediate short-term gains.
  • Instead of creating a potential battleground that is reminiscent of the Cold War, the parties concerned should utilise their expertise and create the required synergy to achieve shared goals.
  • Climate change and its dramatic consequences must be a catalyst for Arctic cooperation.

Back2Basics: Arctic Council

  • It is an advisory body that promotes cooperation among member nations and indigenous groups as per the Ottawa Declaration of 1996.
  • Its focus is on sustainable development and environmental protection of the Arctic.
  • The Arctic Council consists of the eight Arctic States: Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
  • In 2013, six Observers joined the Arctic Council, including China, Japan, India, Italy, South Korea, and Singapore, bringing their total number to 13.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

What is Shariah Law?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Taliban seize of Afghanistan

The Taliban have pledged that women in Afghanistan will have rights “within the bounds of Islamic law,” or Shariah, under their newly established rule.

What is Shariah?

  • Shariah is based on the Quran, stories of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, and the rulings of religious scholars, forming the moral and legal framework of Islam.
  • The Quran details a path to a moral life, but not a specific set of laws.

Interpreting Shariah

  • The interpretations of Shariah are a matter of debate across the Muslim world, and all groups and governments that base their legal systems on Shariah have done so differently.
  • One interpretation of Shariah could afford women extensive rights, while another could leave women with few.
  • Critics have said that some of the Taliban restrictions on women under the guise of Islamic law actually went beyond the bounds of Shariah.
  • When the Taliban say they are instituting Shariah law, that does not mean they are doing so in ways that Islamic scholars or other Islamic authorities would agree with.

What does Shariah prescribe?

  • Shariah lists some specific crimes, such as theft and adultery, and punishments if accusations meet a standard of proof.
  • It also offers moral and spiritual guidance, such as when and how to pray, or how to marry and divorce.
  • It does not forbid women to leave home without a male escort or bar them from working in most jobs.

How has the Taliban previously interpreted Shariah?

  • When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they banned television and most musical instruments.
  • They established a department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice based on a Saudi model.

Restrictions imposed on Women

  • Restrictions on behavior, dress, and movement were enforced by morality police officers, who drove around in pickup trucks, publicly humiliating and whipping women who did not adhere to their rules.
  • In 1996, a woman in Kabul, Afghanistan, had the end of her thumb cut off for wearing nail polish, according to Amnesty International.
  • Other restrictions include a ban on schooling for girls, and publicly bashing people who violated the group’s morality code.
  • Women accused of adultery are stoned to death.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

Abraham Accords as India’s West Asia bridge

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Abraham Accord

Mains level : India's West-Asia plan

The recent visit by the Indian Air Force chief to Israel offers a window to study how New Delhi is taking advantage of the Abraham Accords deal signed between Israel and a consortium of Arab States.

Try this question:

What are Abraham Accords? Discuss how the Israel-Gulf synergy could impact India’s relations with Israel.

What are Abraham Accords?

  • The Israel–UAE normalization agreement is officially called the Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.
  • It was initially agreed to in a joint statement by the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on August 13, 2020.
  • The UAE thus became the third Arab country, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, to agree to formally normalize its relationship with Israel as well as the first Persian Gulf country to do so.
  • Concurrently, Israel agreed to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank. The agreement normalized what had long been informal but robust foreign relations between the two countries.

Do you know?

Abraham was the first of the Hebrew patriarchs and a figure revered by the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

New friendships

  • For common enemy: Externally, Israel, the UAE and Bahrain share the common threat perception of Iran.
  • Upholding modern values: They are relatively more modern societies that share the overarching and immediate priority of post-pandemic economic resuscitation.
  • Extended cooperation: They have lost no time to set up logistics such as Internet connectivity and direct flights to pave the way for more active economic engagement.

India and the Gulf

  • Now India has stronger, multifaceted and growing socioeconomic engagements with Israel and the Gulf countries.
  • With over eight million Indian diasporas in the Gulf remitting annually nearly $50 billion, annual merchandise trade of over $150 billion.
  • It sources nearly two-thirds of India’s hydrocarbon imports, major investments, etc. Hence it is natural to ask how the new regional dynamic would affect India.
  • India has acquired a large and rewarding regional footprint, particularly as the preferred source of manpower, food products, pharmaceuticals, gem and jewellery, light engineering items, etc.
  • Indians are also the biggest stakeholders in Dubai’s real estate, tourism, and Free Economic Zones.
  • In the evolving scenario, there may be scope for a profitable trilateral synergy, but India cannot take its preponderance as a given.

The Israel-GCC synergy

  • Culture: Even the Israeli Arabs may find career opportunities to bridge the cultural divide. Israel is known as the start-up nation and its stakeholders could easily fit in the various duty-free incubators in the UAE.
  • Tourism: Tourism, real estate and financial service sectors on both sides have suffered due to the pandemic and hope for a positive spin-off from the peer-to-peer interactions.
  • Defense: Israel has niche strengths in defence, security and surveillance equipment, arid farming, solar power, horticultural products, high-tech, gem and jewellery, and pharmaceuticals.
  • Technology: Further, Israel has the potential to supply skilled and semi-skilled manpower to the GCC states, particularly from the Sephardim and Mizrahim ethnicities, many of whom speak Arabic.

The Iran link

  • Iran, as part of India’s ‘West Asia’ construct, will also play a significant part in India’s outreach in the months to come as the crisis in Afghanistan deepens.
  • The fact that New Delhi used Iranian airspace and facilities when evacuating its diplomatic staff from Kandahar in July showcases a level of strategic commonality.
  • Keeping this in mind, connectivity projects such as Chabahar Port and Chabahar-Zahedan rail project (project discussions are still on) amongst others remain critical.

Conclusion

  • India’s strategic play in West Asia will be reflective of its economic growth, and by association, an increasingly important place in the global order.

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

[pib] India ratifies Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kigali Agreement

Mains level : Ozone depletion and its threat

The Union Cabinet has given its approval for ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer for phase down of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by India.

What is Montreal Protocol?

  • The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is an international agreement made in 1987.
  • It was designed to stop the production and import of ozone-depleting substances and reduce their concentration in the atmosphere to help protect the earth’s ozone layer.
  • It sits under the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.

Objectives

  • The convention was adopted in 1985 and has highlighted the adverse effect of human activity on ozone levels in the stratosphere and the discovery of the ‘ozone hole’.
  • Its objectives are to promote cooperation on the adverse effects of human activities on the ozone layer.
  • It has since undergone nine revisions, in 1990 (London), 1991 (Nairobi), 1992 (Copenhagen), 1993 (Bangkok), 1995 (Vienna), 1997 (Montreal), 1998 (Australia), 1999 (Beijing) and 2016 (Kigali).

India and the Protocol

  • India became a Party to the Protocol on 19 June 1992 and since then has ratified the amendments.

What is the Kigali Amendment?

  • It is an international agreement to gradually reduce the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
  • It is a legally binding agreement designed to create rights and obligations in international law.
  • While HFCs do not deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, they have high global warming potential ranging from 12 to 14,000, which has an adverse impact on climate.

What are the Ozone Depleting Substances?

Ozone-depleting substances are chemicals that destroy the earth’s protective ozone layer. They include:

  • chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • halons
  • carbon tetrachloride (CCl4)
  • methyl chloroform (CH3CCl3)
  • hydro Bromo fluorocarbons (HBFCs)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • methyl bromide (CH3Br)
  • bromochloromethane (CH2BrCl)

Where are they used?

The main uses of ozone-depleting substances include:

  • CFCs and HCFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners,
  • HCFCs and halons in fire extinguishers,
  • CFCs and HCFCs in foam,
  • CFCs and HCFCs as aerosol propellants, and
  • Methyl bromide for fumigation of soil, structures and goods to be imported or exported.

Now answer this PYQ:

Q.Consider the following statements:

Chlorofluorocarbons, known as ozone-depleting substances are used:

  1. In the production of plastic foams
  2. In the production of tubeless tyres
  3. In cleaning certain electronic components
  4. As pressurizing agents in aerosol cans

Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (CSP 2012)

(a) 1, 2 and 3 only

(b) 4 only

(c) 1, 3 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

Post your answers here.

Why phase them out?

Implementation strategy and targets:

  • India will complete its phase-down of HFCs in 4 steps from 2032 onwards with a cumulative reduction of 10% in 2032, 20% in 2037, 30% in 2042, and 80% in 2047.

Major Impact

  • HFCs phasedown is expected to prevent the emission of up to 105 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of GHGs, helping to avoid up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global temperature rise by 2100, while continuing to protect the ozone layer.
  • It will achieve energy efficiency gains^ and carbon dioxide emissions reduction – a “climate co-benefit,”
  • HFCs phrase-down implementation will involve synergies to maximize the economic arid social co-benefits, besides environmental gains.
  • There would be scope for domestic manufacturing of equipment as well as alternative non-HFC and low-global warming potential chemicals to enable the industry to transition to the low global warming potential alternatives as per the agreed HFC phase-down schedule.
  • In addition, there would be opportunities to promote domestic innovation for new generation alternative refrigerants and related technologies.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[pib] Forum of the Election Management Bodies of South Asia (FEMBoSA)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FEMBoSA

Mains level : Not Much

The Election Commission of India has handed over the Chair of FEMBoSA to the Election Commission of Bhutan for 2021-22.

What is FEMBoSA?

  • Forum of the Election Management Bodies of South Asia (FEMBoSA) was established at the 3rd Conference of Heads of Election Management Bodies (EMBs) of SAARC Countries in 2012.
  • The forum aims to increase mutual cooperation with respect to the common interests of the SAARC’s EMBs.
  • The Forum has eight Member Election Management Bodies from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
  • The Election Commission of India was the latest Chair of the Forum (now Bhutan).

Its establishment

  • The first meeting of the representatives of Election Management Bodies of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan was held in Dhaka, Bangladesh in the year 2010.
  • It was then decided at the conclusion that an organization representing those countries should be established.
  • Consequently, annual meets were held in the member countries and the charter for the organization also was adopted with the aim of fulfilling the objectives of the organization.
  • Since the creation of FEMBoSA, Annual Meetings were held in Pakistan (2011), in India (2012), in Bhutan (2013), in Nepal (2014),  in Sri Lanka (2015), in Maldives (2016), in Afghanistan (2017) and in Bangladesh(2018).

Objectives of FEMBOSA

  • Promote contact among the Election Management Bodies of SAARC countries
  • Facilitate the appropriate exchange of experience and expertise among members
  • Share experiences with a view to learning from each other
  • Foster efficiency and effectiveness in conducting the free, fair, transparent, and participative election

Significant activities under FEMBoSA

  • Member organizations celebrate National Voter’s Day in a calendar year in their respective countries
  • An initiative of establishing South Asia Institute for Democracy and Electoral Studies (SAIDES) in Nepal
  • In order to increase knowledge related to elections, take initiatives to include voter education in the school-level textbooks of their respective countries
  • Implementation of recommendations of South Asian Disabilities Organizations for the inclusion of disabled people in the electoral system and the creation of a suitable election environment

Back2Basics: SAARC

  •  In 1985, at the height of the Cold War, leaders of South Asian nations — namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka — created a regional forum.
  • The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established with the goal of contributing “to mutual trust, understanding, and appreciation of one another’s problems.”
  • Afghanistan was admitted as a member in 2007.

Indian Ocean Power Competition

Five-point Framework for Maritime Security

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Need for maritime cooperation

 

A week into India’s United Nations Security Council (UNSC) presidency, PM Modi has outlined a five-point framework for maritime security debate at UNSC.

Maritime Security

  • Maritime security is one of the latest buzzwords of international relations.
  • Major actors in maritime policy, ocean governance and international security have in the past decade started to include maritime security in their mandate or reframed their work in such terms.
  • Core dimensions of maritime security involves the concept of blue economy, food security and the resilience of coastal populations.
  • A secure maritime environment provides the precondition for managing marine resources.

Threats to maritime security

Need for an agenda

  • In today’s economy, the oceans have an increased importance, allowing all countries to participate in the global marketplace.
  • More than 80 percent of the world’s trade travels by water and forges a global maritime link.
  • About half the world’s trade by value, and 90 percent of the general cargo, are transported in containers.
  • Many countries have invested significant resources in maritime infrastructure, trade, energy supply chains, cargo movements and processes.
  • China, undeniably a continental country, claims sovereignty over all of the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters.

5-point agenda for enhancing maritime cooperation

[1] Removal of barriers to legitimate maritime trade:

  • Global prosperity depends on the active flow of maritime trade. Any hindrance in maritime trade can threaten the global economy, PM said.
  • Maritime trade has always been part of the civilizational ethos of India.
  • PM termed this principle as ‘SAGAR’ Security and Growth for All in the Region.

[2] Resolution of maritime disputes peacefully in accordance with international law:

[3] Fight threats from natural disasters, non-state actors:

  • PM said the Indian Navy has been patrolling to counter piracy in the Indian Ocean since 2008.
  • It is enhancing the common maritime domain awareness of the region through our White Shipping Information Fusion Centre.
  • India has provided support for hydrographic surveying and training of maritime security personnel to several countries.

[4] Conservation of marine resources:

  • Our oceans directly impact our climate. Hence, it is very important that we keep our maritime environment free of pollutants like plastic waste and oil spills.
  • We also need to take joint steps against over-fishing and marine poaching, PM said.
  • He also emphasized the need for increased mutual cooperation in Ocean Science research.

[5] Promoting responsible maritime connectivity:

  • PM said it is well understood that the creation of infrastructure is necessary to boost maritime trade.
  • He advocated for appropriate global norms and standards to ensure that such infrastructure projects are carried out as per the fiscal sustainability and absorption capacity of the host countries.

India’s Bid to a Permanent Seat at United Nations

India set to take over as President of the UNSC

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : United Nations Security Council

Mains level : UNSC reforms

India will take over the Presidency of the UN Security Council on August 1 and is set to host signature events in three major areas of maritime security, peacekeeping, and counterterrorism during the month.

Key agendas on the table

During its Presidency, India will be organizing high-level signature events in three major areas:

  • Maritime security
  • Peacekeeping and
  • Counterterrorism

About 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 (P5).
  • 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.

Issues with UNSC

(1) Non-representative

  • UNSC in its current form is not representative of the developing world and global needs — with the primacy of policy being a political tool in hands of P5.
  • By 1992, India, Brazil, Germany, and Japan (referred as G4) had put up their claims and logic for demanding inclusion as permanent members.
  • India has been part of UN since its inception and has contributed maximum peacekeepers to UN so far, has a strong case.
  • Brazil is the largest country in Latin America (unrepresented continent) and fifth-largest in the world. Japan and Germany are one of the largest financial donors to UN.

(2) Rivalry with G4

  • The pitch for reforms of G4 was lowered by their regional rivals like Italy, Pakistan, Mexico and Egypt.
  • They started formulation of another interest group, known to be “Uniting for Consensus” opposing G4 becoming permanent members with veto power.

(3) Rigid framework

  • Reforms in the UNSC also require an amendment to the UN charter, in accordance with Article 108.
  • This highlights that any reform of the Security Council not only requires the support of at least two-thirds of UN member states but also all the permanent members.

(4) Veto power

  • The stance of P5 members to expansion has been varying as per their national interest, like most P5 members agree to Indian inclusion, except China.
  • It becomes obvious that even if one member of P5 doesn’t agree to any reform, the UNSC cannot be reformed.
  • There have been many proposals since its inception from totally abolishing veto power to selectively using it for vital national security issues.

(5) No consensus

  • It has been seen in past that the UNSC, in some of the major global security issues, could not arrive at a consensus and interventions that happened by countries mainly from P5 without UNSC resolution.
  • US entry in Iraq war or Warsaw Pact war in Afghanistan are few cases in point.
  • The UNSC has thus become an organization, which can pass strong resolutions against weak countries, weak resolutions against strong countries and no resolution against P5 countries.

Suggested reforms

  • Expansion: Besides the existing P5 members, an expansion of UNSC from five to 10 permanent members, with the addition of G4 and South Africa. This will provide equitable regional representation besides balancing the developing and developed world to meet the aspirations of humanity.
  • Abolition of veto: The expansion of P5 without veto power makes very little impact on the problems, because of which the reforms are required. Ideally the veto power should be abolished.

Will UNSC reforms ever happen?

  • Under the given charter, articles and structures, there is very little hope for UNSC reforms in near future.
  • The lack of reforms can push the credibility crisis of UN to a degree that it becomes unsustainable for it to function, or incidences of side-lining the UN increase manifold.
  • If the UNSC does not appoint new permanent members then its primacy may be challenged by some of the new emerging countries.
  • There is also a possibility that if UN doesn’t reform itself, it may lose relevance and alternate global and regional groupings may assume greater importance.
  • No P5 member is likely to compromise this power in its own national interest, which is generally prioritized before global interest, thus making the reformation process a mirage.

Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

[pib] India improves score in Ease of Cross-Border Trade

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNESCAP

Mains level : Ease of Cross-Border Trade

As per the latest UN Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation, India’s rank moved up from 78.49% in 2019 to 90.32% in 2021.

About the Survey

  • The Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation is conducted every two years by UNESCAP.
  • The 2021 Survey includes an assessment of 58 trade facilitation measures covered by the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement.
  • The Survey is keenly awaited globally as it evidences whether or not the trade facilitation measures being taken have the desired impact and helps draw comparison amongst countries.
  • A higher score for a country also helps businesses in their investment decisions.

Global performance

  • Among developed countries, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Japan, and Belgium have scored more than 93%.
  • In South Asia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were behind India with a score of 64.5% and 60.2%, the survey showed.

India’s improvement

  • India has scored 90.32% in United Nation’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia Pacific’s (UNESCAP) latest Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation.
  • The Survey hails this as a remarkable jump from 78.49% in 2019.

India’s significant improvement in the scores on all 5 key indicators, as follows:

  1. Transparency:100% in 2021 (from 93.33% in 2019)
  2. Formalities: 95.83% in 2021 (from 87.5% in 2019)
  3. Institutional Arrangement and Cooperation: 88.89% in 2021 (from 66.67% in 2019)
  4. Paperless Trade: 96.3% in 2021 (from 81.48% in 2019)
  5. Cross-Border Paperless Trade: 66.67% in 2021 (from 55.56% in 2019)
  • The Survey notes that India is the best-performing country when compared to the South and southwest Asia region (63.12%) and the Asia Pacific region (65.85%).
  • The overall score of India has also been found to be greater than many OECD countries including France, UK, Canada, Norway, Finland etc. and the overall score is greater than the average score of EU.
  • India has achieved a 100% score for the Transparency index and 66% in the “Women in trade” component.

Child Rights – POSCO, Child Labour Laws, NAPC, etc.

US puts Pakistan, Turkey on Child Soldier Recruiter List

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CRC treaty

Mains level : Child rights abuse

The US has added Pakistan and 14 other countries to a Child Soldier Recruiter List that identifies foreign governments having government-supported armed groups that recruit or use child soldiers.

Who is a child soldier?

  • The recruitment or use of children below the age of 15 as soldiers is prohibited by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
  • Currently, 193 countries have ratified the CRC.
  • The CRC requires state parties to “take all feasible measures” to ensure that children under 18 are not engaged in direct hostilities.
  • It further prohibits the state parties from recruiting children under 15 into the armed forces.
  • It is considered a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
  • In addition, the Optional Protocol to the CRC further prohibits kids under the age 18 from being compulsorily recruited into state or non-state armed forces or directly engaging in hostilities.
  • The United States is a party to the Optional Protocol.

What is US law?

  • The US adopted the Child Soldiers Prevention Act (CSPA) in 2008.
  • The CSPA prohibits the US government from providing military assistance, including money, military education and training, or direct sales of military equipment, to alleged countries.

What is prohibited for countries on the list?

The following types of security assistance are prohibited for countries that are on the list:

  • Licenses for direct commercial sales of military equipment
  • Foreign military financing for the purchase of defence articles and services, as well as design and construction services
  • International military education and training
  • Excess defence articles
  • Peacekeeping operations

Criticism of the treaty

  • International treaties like CRS are valuable and necessary tools to establish international norms as they raise awareness regarding human rights abuses.
  • However, these treaties are limited in scope and nature, and they tend to be idealistic rather than practicable.
  • The UN’s mechanisms only bind state parties that ratify the treaties.
  • It, therefore, has no authority over countries that are not parties to the convention or are non-state entities, such as rebel militias recruiting child soldiers.
  • While the UN views its treaties and conventions as binding on state parties, it has no police power mechanism to enforce its decisions.
  • Therefore, the CRC and its Optional Protocol are limited by the signatories’ willingness to comply. Somalia, for example, is a signatory but it hasn’t ratified the convention.