Editorial Simplified: Down to Earth on the ASAT Test| GS – III


Relevance :  GS Paper III


Why has this Issue been Raised?

On March 27, India carried out a successful test of an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapon, launching an interceptor missile from the Balasore range in Odisha to hit a live satellite in Low Earth Orbit. It thus became the fourth country in the world to develop an ASAT capability.


About the ASAT Test

  • India’s demonstration of ASAT capability comes a little more than a decade after China’s, and nearly six decades after that of the U.S. and Russia.
  • The test shows that India is not averse to weaponisation of outer space.
  • India has sought to reassure the global community that it has not violated any international treaty or understanding with this test.
  • India has also taken great pains to advertise the fact that the international community, especially the U.S., had not faulted India for carrying out this test, in marked contrast to what had happened when China had carried out an ASAT test in 2007.
  • It would be facile to think that the world endorses India’s claims regarding its peaceful intentions.

Weaponization of Outer Space

  • ASAT capabilities are generally perceived as integral to ballistic missile defence programmes. This clearly identifies an ASAT test as a military programme. In turn, it implies an intention to embark on weaponisation of outer space. It is, perhaps, for this reason that countries such as Israel and France, which are believed to have this capability, have so far refrained from carrying out such tests
  • Why India chose to test an ASAT weapon at this juncture is likely to cause consternation among many, given the tacit agreement among nations not to weaponise outer space.
  • The international community cannot be faulted if it were to think that India had deliberately breached an unwritten convention against weaponisation or militarisation of outer space.

Relevance of ASAT

  • ASAT was essentially a Cold War phenomenon whose strategic importance has declined over the years.
  • Currently, none of the other three countries which possess an ASAT capability extol its strategic value and importance.
  • The U.S., Russia and China, all seem to demonstrate less and less interest in pursuing ASAT weaponry.
  • These countries are increasingly focussing on laser and cyber capabilities to achieve the objective of neutralising killer satellites.
  • Countries are experimenting with directed-energy weapons, radio frequency weapons, etc. rather than concentrating on shooting down satellites in space.
  • Thus, it is a moot point whether India’s ASAT test, and its positioning as a critical element in India’s strategic defence capability, will have the desired impact that the nation’s leaders hope for.

Pak-China Angle

  • It is almost certain, as was the case with India’s nuclear test, that Pakistan will immediately try to acquire the same capability, in all likelihood with generous assistance from China.
  • China can also be expected to become increasingly wary of India’s intentions in space, and take appropriate counter-measures. The bottom line is that by carrying out the March 27 test, India has neither achieved a higher level of deterrence nor is it likely to lead to a more stable strategic security environment.

Way forward for India

  • India should play down the military objective of its ASAT test.
  • India needs to convince other nations that space is not part of India’s overt defence calculations.
  • India should highlight the fact that its enormously successful space programme, unlike those of many other countries, is notable for being conceived and implemented as a civilian programme, quite distinct and separate from any military programme or objective.

Conclusion

There is little strategic advantage accruing from an ASAT test; on the other hand the damage that could be caused to India’s image as a peaceful and responsible nation intent on, and committed to, peaceful uses of space could be immense.


Gist of Editorials: Alliances and Strategic Autonomy (Indian Express )|GS – II

India, which had refused to join the West in isolating communist China and sought to befriend it, ended up in a conflict with Beijing.

Relevance : GS Paper II 

   (International Relations and Internal Security)


Introduction

Is “non-alignment” a special attribute of Indian foreign policy? Given Delhi’s continuing preoccupation with the idea of non-alignment, most visible recently at last week’s Raisina Dialogue in Delhi, it seems it is.

The present situation of NAM

  • More than a hundred countries are members of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
  • They swear, at least formally, by the idea of non-alignment and show up at the triennial NAM summits.
  • But few of them think of non-alignment as the defining idea of their foreign policies.
  • Even fewer believe it is worth debating on a perennial basis.
  • India has certainly moved away from the straitjacket of non-alignment — in practice if not in theory.

Non-alignment belongs to the past, is “strategic autonomy” something unique to India?

  • All countries, big and small, try to maximise their freedom of action.
  • And the autonomy that a nation can exercise depends on its specific circumstances such as size, location, comprehensive national power, and the nature of the threats among many other things.

India’s trouble with alliances

  • Indian foreign policy community continues to be troubled by the question of alliances and autonomy when it comes to dealing with China and the US.
  • Delhi’s traditional fear of alliances is based on a profound misreading of what they might mean.

What do alliances actually mean?

  • Alliances are not a “permanent wedlock” or some kind of a “bondage”.
  • They are a political/military arrangement to cope with a common threat.
  • When the shared understanding of the threat breaks down, so does the alliance.
  • For example, to cope with the American threat Mao Zedong aligned with Soviet Russia in 1950. Two decades later, he moved closer to America to counter Russia. Now China is once again buddies with Russia in trying to limit American influence in Eurasia.

Present situation of international alliances

  • Not many countries in the world today are members of alliances.
  • The few alliances that have survived since the Second World War are undergoing stress on the supply as well as demand side.
  • In America, President Donald Trump is questioning the costs and benefits of these alliances.
  • Presidents Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Moon Jae-in of South Korea, both treaty allies of the US, hardly share American perceptions on the regional threat in the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula respectively.

Conclusion

India is a large and globalised economy with big stakes in all parts of the world.  It should  focus on a pragmatic assessment of India’s interests and the best means to secure them — including partnerships and coalitions — against current and potential threats.


 

Gist of Editorials: Integrating The Island (Indian Express )|GS – II

The PM’s immediate political motivation may be seen as part of the BJP’s strategy to claim the non-Nehruvian legacy of the Indian National Congress.

Relevance : GS Paper II 

   (International Relations and Internal Security)


Recently, PM visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Historical significance of Andaman Islands

  • They were the site of contestation between European colonial powers.
  • Britain occupied the islands at the end of the 18th century.
  • After the Second World War, the Andamans became marginal to the new geopolitics.

Present geopolitical significance of Andaman Islands

Today as a rising China projects its power into the Indian Ocean, regional balance would necessarily involve the development of the Andamans.

 

  • Cooperation between India and its major strategic partners required over Andamans.
  • Promoting economic development, integration with the mainland, strengthening military infrastructure, regional connectivity of Andamans.
  • Preserving the pristine environment of the Andamans and protecting its vulnerable indigenous populations.

Editorial Simplified: Not A Zero-Sum Deal | GS – II

Relevance : GS Paper II (International Relations)


Theme of the article

India and China can work together, bilaterally and in multilateral groupings, to build a secure Afghanistan.


Why has this issue cropped up?

The likelihood of an American pull-out from Afghanistan raises the spectre of instability in Afghanistan, South and Central Asia. If this happens, security could hinge on efforts made by regional powers to stabilise Afghanistan.


Regional powers and Afghanistan

CHINA:

  • Sharing part of a border with Afghanistan, China has a great interest in its stability.
  • China would be adversely affected by war and chaos, which could spill over into north-western China, Pakistan, and Central Asia. As all these areas are vital in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), peace in Afghanistan is critical.
  • Over the last decade, China has gained considerable economic and diplomatic influence in Afghanistan.
  • It has joined the U.S. and Russia in several peace talks with the Taliban and is part of the four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group (with Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S.).
  • It is giving military aid to Afghanistan, with the express intent of fighting terrorism and increasing security cooperation.
  • It has invested in projects such as mining, roads and railways, and health.
  • In 2012, it brought Afghanistan into the regional diplomatic processes by giving it observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

INDIA:

  • India supports China’s role in international negotiations on Afghanistan, the activation of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group and other mechanisms of dialogue and cooperation for restoration of peace and development in Afghanistan.
  • India has certainly contributed much ‘soft power’ ranging from telecommunications to education, Bollywood movies and pop music.
  • The building for the National Assembly was built with Indian assistance to support Afghanistan’s democracy.
  • Indian reconstruction largesse, amounting to some $3 billion, has earned it goodwill and popularity.
  • But India’s lengthy absence from regional diplomacy has resulted in its limited contribution to the negotiations that are necessary to stabilise Afghanistan.

India- China cooperation in Afghanistan

  • The Afghan government would like to see India-China economic cooperation in Afghanistan that could boost progress and enhance human security.
  • Last October, in a first, India and China started a joint training project for Afghan diplomats.
  • They could expand cooperation by facilitating Afghanistan’s full membership of the SCO.
  • China’s leadership role of the SCO could give it a vantage in crafting a regional solution on Afghanistan. That should not prevent India and China from working together, bilaterally and in the SCO, to build a secure Afghanistan.

 

Editorial Simplified: Let The Grassroots Breathe | GS – II

Relevance : GS Paper II (Polity and Governance)


Theme of the article

Local bodies must not be administrative vessels for implementing programs of the Central and State governments.


Why has this issue cropped up?

One of the first decisions of the newly elected government in Rajasthan has been to scrap the minimum educational qualification criteria for candidates contesting local body elections.


What were the educational criteria?

  • The previous government had introduced amendments which required candidates contesting the zila parishad and panchayat samiti elections to have passed Class 10 and those contesting sarpanch elections to have passed Class 8.
  • Further, it disallowed those without functional toilets in their home to contest.

Supported by Supreme Court

The court held that prescription of educational qualification was justifiable for better administration and did not violate the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution.


The problems with educational criteria

  • RIGHTS: It unduly restricts a citizen’s right to contest elections and thereby challenges the basic premise of a republican democracy. Denying the right to contest effectively restricts the right of a citizen to vote for a candidate of her choice since more than half the population is restricted from contesting.
  • MARGINAL SECTIONS: Further, it disproportionately disenfranchises the more marginal sections of society: women, Dalits and poor. In a country like India with unequal access to education, it is cruel to blame citizens for the failure of the state to fulfill its constitutional obligations.
  • OTHER ELECTIONS: Such restrictions do not exist for those contesting parliamentary or Assembly elections.
  • ASSUMPTION: It is an ill-informed assumption that those with formal education will be better in running panchayats.
  • 73rd and 74th AMENDMENTS: This approach goes against the very objective of the 73rd and 74th Amendments that sought to make panchayats and municipalities representative institutions with adequate representation from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women.

Denying local democracy

  • The undermining of local governments as representative institutions does not take place solely through the introduction of restrictions for contesting elections.
  • ELECTIONS: Over the years, many State governments have sought to defang local governments by simply delaying elections on various grounds. The continual delay in elections goes against the purpose of the 73rd and 74th Amendments.
  • SEC : In most States, tasks like delimitation of seats are still done by the State government instead of the State Election Commission (SEC).

Conclusion

India prides itself as a robust democracy with regular elections and smooth transfer of power. However, delaying elections and adding restrictions to contest prevent local governments from becoming truly representative institutions.


 

Editorial Simplified: India’s Atlantic Challenge | GS – II

Relevance : GS Paper II
(International Relations and Foreign Policy)


Theme of the article

Trump’s ‘America First’ policy and the Brexit deal could pose more challenges to India.


The concern

While 2019 is a year of hope for India, a lingering concern is that the Atlantic Ocean may throw up many economic challenges that might rock India’s economic growth.


How US is creating a problem?

  • The Trump administration is attempting to replace the rules-based trade order with a bilateral trade agreements and sanctions network, a system that has distinct disadvantages for India.
  • Last year, when Mr. Trump gave the green light to start a trade war by escalating tariffs between U.S. and its three main trade partners – the EU, China and NAFTA – a relatively small yet strategically significant tariff spat broke out between Washington and New Delhi.
  • Both countries engaged in a tit-for-tat tariff policy, giving momentum to global trends towards trade protectionism. When India was denied an exemption by the U.S. from increased tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, it reciprocated by hiking import duties on 29 American export products, including pulses and iron and steel products..
  • A broader disadvantage for India of a spiralling trade war with the U.S. is that it could easily spin out of control and create rifts in other areas such as security and diplomacy. If that happens, it may be of considerable benefit to China.

The U.K. problem

  • If the U.K. has a ‘hard Brexit’, India may be looking at unexpected complications regarding trade adjustment, and a U.K.-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) may be out of the question.

Way forward for India

  • For India to secure its trade interests, it needs to renegotiate with both the EU and the U.K. for goods and services.
  • Also, the discussion on FTA with the EU must be resumed and a similar conversation must be launched with the U.K.
  • If these negotiations are managed carefully, Brexit may even emerge as an opportunity for India to recalibrate the legal terms of its trade with the U.K. and the EU, at the multilateral level, and through free trade agreements.

 

Editorial Simplified: Integrating the Island | GS – II

Relevance : GS Paper II & III
(International Relations and Internal Security)


Why has this issue cropped up?

Recently, the Prime Minister visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


Historical significance of Andaman Islands

  • In the 17th and 18th centuries, they were the site of contestation between European colonial powers — Portugal, the Netherlands, France and Britain.
  • Britain occupied the islands at the end of the 18th century in search of a permanent military base. From a potential platform for power projection, the islands became a penal colony for the Raj.
  • After the Second World War, the partition of India and the Cold War between America and Russia, the Andamans became marginal to the new geopolitics.

Present geopolitical significance of Andaman Islands

Today as a rising China projects its economic and military power into the Indian Ocean, any strategy for regional balance would necessarily involve the economic and military development of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.


Way forward

  • As in the Second World War, so in the current juncture, it would involve considerable cooperation between India and its major strategic partners.
  • That in turn leads us to the imperative of ending the deliberate isolation of the island chain and promoting economic development, tighter integration with the mainland, strengthening military infrastructure, regional connectivity and international collaboration. The government has initiated some important steps in that direction, including on internet connectivity, visa liberalization, tourism, building new ports, agreements for cooperation with neighboring countries in South East Asia.
  • Finally, any large-scale development would inevitably raise questions about preserving the pristine environment of the Andamans and protecting its vulnerable indigenous populations. As it tries to turn the outpost in the Andamans into a strategic hub, Delhi can draw much from the wealth of international experience on the sustainable transformation of fragile island territories.

Conclusion

Modi’s visit will hopefully begin to change India’s national narrative on the Andamans.


 

Editorial Simplified: Powering South Asian Integration | GS – II

Relevance : GS Paper II (International Relations)


Why has this article cropped up?

Recently, the Union Ministry of Power issued a memorandum that set the rules for the flow of electricity across South Asian borders.


Significance of this memorandum

  • It is important not only because it leads South Asian electricity trade in progressive directions but is also a concession to India’s neighbors in an area of political and economic importance.
  • It is a response to two years of intense backroom pressure from neighbors, particularly Bhutan and Nepal, to drop trade barriers put up in 2016.
  • India has thus signaled that it is serious about working with neighbors on the issues that should under-gird 21st century South Asian regionalism, such as electricity trade.
  • This course correction is a return to a trajectory of incremental, hard-earned progress developed over the decades.

The idea of cross-border energy flow

  • Ideas of tying South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries together with cross-border energy flows — that punctuated the early 2000s — began to gain steam with substantial power trade agreements between India and Bhutan (2006) and Bangladesh (2010).
  • These were driven by India’s need for affordable power to fuel quickened growth in a recently liberalized economy.
  • The apotheosis came in 2014 with the signing of the SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation and the India-Nepal Power Trade Agreement in quick succession.

The erstwhile roadblocks

  • In 2016, the Union Ministry of Power released guidelines that imposed a slew of major restrictions on who could engage in cross-border electricity trade.
  • The guidelines prevented anyone other than Indian generators in the neighboring country, or generators owned by that country’s government, from selling power to India.
  • Nepal: Excluded were scores of privately held companies, particularly in Nepal, that had hoped to trade with India. In restricting access to the vast Indian market, the economic rationale for Nepali hydro-power built for export was lost.
  • Bhutan: Bhutan was worried about a clause that required the exporting generation companies to be majority owned by an Indian entity. This created friction in joint ventures between India and Bhutan. Bhutan also fretted about limited access to India’s main electricity spot markets, where it would have been well placed to profit from evening peaks in demand.
  • Bangladesh: Bangladesh had sensed an opportunity to partially address its power crisis with imports from Bhutan and Nepal routed through Indian territory but the guidelines complicated this by giving India disproportionate control over such trade.
    The resolve
  • After two years of protests from neighbors, the new guidelines resolve all these issues and restore the governance of electricity trade to a less restrictive tone.
  • Earlier concerns that India was enabling the incursion of foreign influence into neighboring power sectors seem to have been replaced by an understanding that India’s buyer’s monopoly in the region actually give it ultimate leverage.
  • More broadly, India seems to have acknowledged that the sinews of economic inter-dependency created by such arrangements have the political benefit of positioning India as a stable development partner rather than one inclined to defensive realpolitik.

Benefits of the new guidelines?

  • A liberal trading regime is in India’s national interest.
  • As India transitions to a power grid dominated by renewables, regional trade could prove useful in maintaining grid stability.
  • Major commitments to renewables, which could amount to half of India’s installed power within a decade, have prompted justifiable concerns about stabilizing the grid when the sun goes down or in seasons when renewables are less potent.
  • Harnessing a wider pool of generation sources, particularly hydro-power from the Himalayas that ramps up instantly as India turns on its lights and appliances after sunset, could be an important instrument in achieving a greener grid.
  • The new guidelines are a tentative first step towards the creation of a true regional market in which generators across the subcontinent compete to deliver low-cost, green energy to consumers.
  • The new guidelines are a significant step in this direction because, for the first time, they allow tripartite trading arrangements, where power generated in a country is routed over the territory of a neighbor to be consumed in a third. This is a crucial move towards the evolution of complex, multi-country market arrangements.

Way forward

  • Such markets require the construction of regional institutions that absorb the politics and manage the technicalities of electricity trade.
  • At present, this function is managed by the Indian state because of its geographic centrality and the ready availability of institutions that manage its domestic power sector. As volumes increase and experience in regional trade grows, South Asian nations might feel the need to build joint, independent regional institutions that proffer clear and stable rules of the road.
  • The political vision to create this — felt in the new guidelines — must be maintained.

 

Editorial Simplified: The Bilateral Transformation | GS – II

Relevance : GS Paper II (International Relations)


Theme Of The Article

India and Bangladesh must seize the opportunity to further enhance connectivity and trade ties.


Why has this issue cropped up?

There has been a spectacular victory of Sheikh Hasina, in recently held Bangladesh’s 11th general election.


India-Bangladesh Relations In Recent Times

  • During the last decade of Ms. Hasina’s tenure as Prime Minister, high-level Bangladesh-India engagement has intensified.
  • There is an irrevocable and irreversible bipartisan political consensus in India for upgrading relations across a comprehensive interface of ties.
  • Act East Policy: India’s ‘neighbourhood policy’ has focussed on Bangladesh, which has emerged as a key interlocutor in India’s ‘Act East Policy’ and sub-regional groupings like BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) Initiative.
  • Domestic favour: In Bangladesh too, a growing domestic political consensus, overriding fractious politics, has emerged in favour of close ties with India.
  • Insurgency: Denial of support to Indian insurgent groups, with insurgent leaders handed over to India, has progressively built trust and confidence between the two countries.
  • Trade: Bangladesh is India’s largest trading partner in South Asia with an annual turnover of around $9 billion plus an estimated informal trade of around $8-9 billion, across the 4,100-km-long porous border.
  • Padma Bridge: The Padma multipurpose bridge and the Akhaura-Agartala rail link will dramatically change connectivity within Bangladesh and with India.
  • Waterways: Waterways are also being revived to reduce the cost of trade. Improvement in bilateral ties has led to newer areas of cooperation such as cyberspace.
  • Cyber: Bangladesh has provided cyber connectivity between the international gateway at Cox’s Bazar to Agartala for faster Internet connectivity in India’s northeastern States.
  • Nuclear power:India has also become a partner in Bangladesh’s nuclear power programme, with the beginning of construction at the Rooppur nuclear power plant.
  • Power export: India is poised to export around 1100 MW of power to meet the energy deficit in Bangladesh. Power projects totalling more than 3600 MW are under implementation by Indian companies.
  • SEZ:An SEZ in Bangladesh for Indian manufacturing companies has been mooted and notified. When operational it will encourage Indian companies to manufacture there and export to India.
  • Investment: Indian investment in Bangladesh has reached $3 billion. In 2017, 13 agreements worth around $10 billion were signed in the power and energy sectors.
  • Credit: To offset the economic asymmetry, India has granted Bangladesh generous lines of credit (LOCs) and grants, with commitments reaching $8 billion.
  • Capacity building: Capacity building under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation programme is an important strand in bilateral ties and people-to-people interaction.
  • Tourism: Bangladeshis are among the largest groups of tourists into India. The visa regime has been liberalised and over a million visas are issued to Bangladeshi citizens annually.
  • Radicalism: With the rise of religious radicalism and terrorism, defence and security issues will require greater cooperation. Bangladesh has taken strong and effective steps against those who have been inspired by the Islamic State and involved in terrorist strikes.

Challenges Ahead

  • Trade: The adverse balance of trade has been a bilateral issue. The asymmetry in the economies of India and Bangladesh is the major factor. Bangladeshi exports have plateaued because of demand constraints in India and also because of limited items in the Bangladeshi export basket.
  • Extremism: Islamist organisations have been breeding grounds for religious radicals and extremist views. These forces will pose a considerable challenge for governance in Bangladesh in the future
  • Rohingya: There will be setbacks in India-Bangladesh ties, like the current Rohingya issue, which has imposed a huge economic and security burden on Bangladesh.
  • Migration: Bilaterally, the issue of the illegal migration has already acquired a high profile in India with the publication of the draft National Register of Citizens in Assam. This will require deft handling of bilateral ties.
  • River: Sharing of river waters will remain a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.
  • China: China’s security and economic footprint has grown in South Asia and managing this will remain a challenge for both countries.

Conclusion

Bangladesh-India relations have reached a stage of maturity and with further upgrading and integration of infrastructure, bilateral ties can be expected to grow stronger in the future.


 

Gist of Editorials: Lifelines Beyond Farm Loan Waivers (The Hindu) | GS – III

Relevance : GS Paper III (Indian Economy)

[900 words reduced to 200]


  • There have been continuous farmer agitations recently which display the rural agrarian distress.
  • A farm loan waiver was among the first steps taken by the three new State governments. Since 2014, many states have taken similar moves.
  • The need of loan waivers
    • The mounting debt burden is pushing farmers to despair and suicides.
    • More than 50% of farming households are indebted, with rates as high as 89-92% in some States.
  • Major reasons for farm debt
    • lack of compensation during drought and disasters
    • failures of the crop insurance scheme
    • deficit due to prices falling below the MSP
  • Questions that loan waivers raise
    • Will its benefit reaches small and marginal cultivators?
    • Will the same situation not replayed again?
  • Repeated loan waivers are not in the interest of farmers. Immediate relief should be accompanied by a long-term systemic solution to indebtedness.
  • Long term solutions
    • Institutional credit system which is accessible to all cultivators..
    • Registration of all cultivators and providing them Kisan credit cards.
    • Need of protection from debt trap in bad years.
    • Establishment of farmers’ distress and disaster relief commissions.
    • limited liability and bankruptcy protection for farming sector.
    • Agriculture should be made profitable.
  • The farming community is not likely to relent if governments adopt a business-as-usual approach.