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4th February 2021 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Content

  1. Weighing in on the Biden presidency
  2. Towards sustainable growth
  3.  ‘Smart walls’ for Indian borders

Editorial: Weighing in on the Biden presidency

Context:

  • The new President would very soon come to realise that the global environment today is very different from the one that he knew as Vice-President. A return to erstwhile Obama-era policies may, hence, prove inadequate. The world has moved on and several policies will need a reset.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2: Effect of Policies & Politics of Developed and Developing countries on India.

Mains Questions:

  1. While it could be a curate’s egg for New Delhi, for the world, a return to Obama-era policies may prove inadequate. In this context, discuss India-USA relations. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Celebration of democracy
  • Policy reset and China
  • Dealing with Russia
  • Ties with Europe
  • Ties with West Asia
  • The outlook for India
  • The Afghan plan
  • Way Forward

Celebration of democracy

  • In his Inaugural Address, President Biden struck the right note, delivering a message of unity and hope, while not ignoring the enormous challenges the nation faced.
  • His declaration that the nation was celebrating the triumph of a cause — the cause of democracy was most timely. Among Mr. Biden’s strengths are that he detests bigotry, and abhors identity politics.
  • He tends to be idealistic, and is deeply committed to democratic values. He is a multilateralist, unlike his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Policy reset and China

  • The new President would very soon come to realise that the global environment today is very different from the one that he knew as Vice-President.
  • A return to erstwhile Obama-era policies may, hence, prove inadequate. The world has moved on and several policies will need a reset.
  • The changed scenario, notwithstanding, under President Biden, one can expect the U.S. to rescind the ‘militarization’ of foreign policy reverting to erstwhile traditional diplomacy.
  • Opportunities for a fresh look at many contentious foreign policy issues could well open up as a result, incorporating elements of both competition and cooperation.
  • Unstoppable China: The acid test of this would be on how to deal with China. Rising China is not merely the single most serious challenge the U.S. faces at present, but it poses a diplomatic, economic and technological threat to U.S. pre-eminence.
  • Beyond Inclusive Architecture in Asia: Persisting with old-time remedies such as devising an inclusive security architecture in Asia to check an expanding China threat in East Asia could prove counterproductive. Few countries in Asia are willing to line up against neighbouring China.

Dealing with Russia:

  • The depth of antagonism between the two countries, the U.S. and Russia, remains unchanged, aggravated further by the growing strategic congruence between Russia and China.
  • Initial reactions seem to point to U.S. relations with Russia continuing to remain cold, but as Russia flexes its muscles in Eurasia, the U.S. will need to come up with new policy directives, rather than surrender the initiative to the former.

Ties with Europe

  • President Biden faces an uphill task when it comes to repairing America’s ties with Europe. The days when Europe and the U..S were tied literally to the same policy cart are over, and Europe is no longer likely to give in to U.S. diktats.
  • Centrality of Germany: Germany is possibly emerging as Europe’s new centre of gravity, dictating Europe’s relations with countries such as China and Russia.
  • Support the Russia-led gas pipeline project: Germany, while being highly critical of Russia’s human rights record, including the most recent incident of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, is not hesitating to go ahead with Nord Stream 2, the Russia-led gas pipeline project, despite the U.S.’s objections.
  • The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, again despite the U.S.’s objections, is another indication of Europe’s new independent thinking. European leaders seem more inclined to heed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s warning to global leaders — at the virtual World Economic Forum at Davos, in late January — against ‘starting a new Cold War’, than listen to the U.S.’s Biden.

Ties with West Asia:

  • Growing civils wars:  With the civil wars in Syria and Yemen not having ended, the U.S.’s efforts to find a political settlement here will prove difficult.
  • Sectarian War: How to deal with a Saudi Arabia that is on a Biden ‘watch-list’, adds to the complexity of dealing with West Asia.
  • The ‘Abraham Accords’, forged during the dying days of the Trump Administration, have further complicated the situation for the incoming Biden government. Dwarfing this would be finding ways and means to deal with the Iran problem, including Iran’s capacity and potential for nuclear mischief.
  • Dealing with Iran: Return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal framework, may not be a realistic option in the wake of the ‘Abraham Accords’, which have imparted a new dynamic and given a sharper edge to the existing Israel-Iran divide.

The outlook for India

  • India’s perceptions: India’s pious hope is that the Biden Administration will prove even more favourable to it than the preceding Republican Administration. This may, however, turn out to be like the proverbial curate’s egg — good in parts.
  • Growing strategic relationship: Mr. Biden as Vice-President was well known to some of us, as having played a critical role as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in pushing through the iconic U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, and also as a firm proponent of the India-U.S. strategic partnership.
    • Hence, under a Biden Administration, defence and security cooperation between India and the U.S. are likely to be further stepped up. Regional security cooperation is also likely to be further enhanced, at least till such time as U.S.-China relations improve.
  • Divergence areas:  India must brace itself to heed concerns being expressed about issues such as Kashmir, the so-called travails of the Muslim minority in India, treatment of non-governmental organisations and the like. This may take place behind closed doors, so as not to embarrass the Indian government, but Biden’s commitment to human rights is, by far, much stronger than that of many recent U.S. Presidents. He can be expected to satisfy his traditional constituency even at the risk of upsetting partners such as India.
  • Indo Pacific Region: What may, however, be far more disconcerting for India, if one were to analyse the statements and views of U.S. Secretary of State Antony John Blinken and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is that while the emphasis on a free and open Indo-Pacific region will continue, countries such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are likely to have a far more critical role to play than India in achieving security in the Indo-Pacific.

The Afghan plan

  • Afghan Policy: Unsatisfactory again from an Indian standpoint are the implications of Mr. Biden’s Afghanistan policy. From positions taken by Mr. Sullivan, it would appear that while some rethinking from the positions taken by the Trump Administration is possible, there is little room for India in the latest plans on the table.
  • Ending war: Mr. Biden is an ardent advocate of ending the war in Afghanistan — dating back to his years as Vice-President — and he is likely to implement this with vigour, not excluding a deal with the Taliban, the possible exit of elected President Ashraf Ghani, and giving Pakistan an even bigger role in acting as the mid-wife of any new arrangement.
  • Growing role of Pakistan: Not only would this mean that India’s efforts of the past two decades to restore democracy in Afghanistan would come unstuck, but Pakistan would also gain a degree of legitimacy that had been denied to it by the Trump Administration, encouraging it to act with still greater impunity in carrying out terror strikes on India.

Way Forward:

From a restricted standpoint, if India were to balance the positive with the negative, and compare the incoming Biden Administration with the previous Trump Administration, the balance sheet could be marginally negative.


Editorial: Towards sustainable growth

Context:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us many lessons. It made us realise that we are a part of nature and emphasised the urgent need to protect the ecological functions of the biosphere we live in.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 3: Environmental conservation; Environmental pollution and degradation; Environmental Impact Assessment.

Mains Questions:

  1. Define the concept of carrying capacity of an ecosystem as relevant to an environment. Explain how understanding this concept is vital while planning for sustainable development of a region. 15 Marks
  2. The economic models of today must be reimagined to take into account biodiversity and natural ecosystems. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is Biodiversity?
  • Pandemic and Biodiversity
  • Threats to Biodiversity
  • Development vs Environmental Conservation
  • New Model of Development
  • Way Forward

What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity is the variety and variability of life on Earth. Biodiversity is typically a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Terrestrial biodiversity is usually greater near the equator, which is the result of the warm climate and high primary productivity. According to Pacala & Kinzig 2002, there are three classes of ecosystem functions:

  • Stocks of energy and materials (for example, biomass, genes),
  • Fluxes of energy or material processing (for example, productivity, decomposition Stability of rates or stocks over time (for example, resilience, predictability).
  • Stability of rates or stocks over time (for example, resilience, predictability).

Pandemic and Biodiversity:

  • The pandemic has resulted in huge economic losses. Globally, the GDP is expected to contract 2.4% to 8% in 2020.
  • The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that the global cost of dealing with the pandemic could be from $8.1 trillion to $15.8 trillion.
  • Preventing such pandemics will cost only a fraction of this amount, estimated at $22.2 billion to $30.7 billion a year, and this is without factoring in the human suffering.

Threats to Biodiversity:

  • Declining Human Ecological Footprints: Global studies documenting human ecological footprint, the decline in wildlife populations, and the conversion rates of natural ecosystems for other uses, place India among countries experiencing the highest rates of negative change. This increases our vulnerability towards catastrophes, including pandemics.
  • Growing Human Population: There is a strong correlation between human density, richness of biodiversity, and the emergence of zoonotic pathogens of wild origin, which renders India particularly vulnerable. With high human densities — among the highest diversity of mammals in the world — and a saturated interface between humans and wildlife, India is considered to be among the hotspots for zoonotic emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.
  • The WEF’s Global Risks report for 2021 states that environmental risks continue to threaten the global economy. The top five risks are:
    • extreme weather,
    • climate action failure,
    • human environmental damage,
    • infectious diseases
    • biodiversity loss.
  • In terms of impact, infectious diseases top the list, followed by climate action failure. The top two risk response blind spots are climate action failure and biodiversity loss.

Development vs Environmental Conservation:

  • Destruction of environment should no longer be justified in the name of development. Like all pandemics, COVID-19’s emergence has been entirely driven by unchecked activities in the name of development.
  • Rampant destruction of natural habitats, especially due to mining and infrastructure development, continued expansion and intensification of agriculture and animal husbandry as well as unrestrained consumption have disrupted nature, increased contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people, setting the stage for the pandemic to take hold of our lives.
  • Pandemic risk can be significantly lowered by reducing human activities that drive the loss of biodiversity as it will help prevent the spillover of new diseases.
  • Biodiversity and ecosystem Index: A study by Swiss Re Institute published in 2020 introduces a new biodiversity and ecosystem services index. It found that globally, 20% of countries, including India, have fragile ecosystems. It also states that 55% of the global GDP depends on high-functioning biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review, commissioned by HM Treasury and released on February 2, 2021, highlights the grave risks faced by the world because of the failure of economics to take into account the rapid degradation of nature. The review stresses the need to find new measures for growth and development to avoid a catastrophic breakdown.

New Model of Development:

  • The Policymakers should factor biodiversity and ecosystems into their economic decision-making: This will accelerate the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to sustainable, equitable, inclusive and just development models.
  • Changing National Accounting Method:  The world’s governments need to come up with a form of national accounting that is different from the GDP model, and the new system has to account for the depletion of nature and natural resources.
  • Avoiding wastage of expenditure: All budgets need to reduce investments, including subsidies, in activities that will further degrade our natural habitats. By orders of magnitude, we should enhance investment in research in sustainability science.

Way Forward:

A National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Well-Being has been approved by the Prime Minister’s Science Technology and Innovation Advisory Council.

  • The overarching objectives are to restore and enhance biodiversity, strengthen its sustainable use, generate thousands of green jobs and encourage the Indian public to appreciate the natural and associated cultural treasures that we have collectively inherited.
  • This initiative has the potential to enable India to play a global leadership role in linking conservation with tangible human well-being outcomes.

Editorial: ‘Smart walls’ for Indian borders

Context:

  • United States President Joe Biden stopped the construction of the much-publicised “border wall” between the U.S. and Mexico as part of a series of executive actions, in a development that was long-awaited. It was confirmed, however, that an alternative has been offered — a ‘smart’ wall that replaces the physical and armed patrolling with advanced surveillance tech is the proposed future of border security now.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 3: Border Areas (security challenges and management thereof);

Mains Questions:

  1. Border management is a complex task due to difficult terrain and hostile relations with some countries. Elucidate the challenges and strategies for effective border management. 15 Marks
  2. A virtual surveillance system may help India secure its boundaries even in difficult locations. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is Smart Wall Technology?
  • Significance of Smart Wall Technology in India:
  • Efficiently managing rugged terrain:
  • Protecting critical security establishments:
  • Way Forward:

What is Smart Wall Technology?

The ‘smart wall’ technology could solve border security issues without the need for a physical barrier. The wall would use sensors, radars, and surveillance technology to detect and track border break-ins, and technology capable of performing the most difficult tasks dedicated to border security.

  • In this technology, artificial intelligence shall be used at a novel scale to complement the steel barrier (border wall).
  • It was stated that hundreds of mobile surveillance towers would be deployed, and along with them, the complete system of a virtual wall would consist of a radar satellite, computer-equipped border-control vehicles, control sensors and underground sensors.
  • Along with surveillance towers and cameras, thermal imaging would be used, which would help in the detection of objects.
  • The system would even be capable of distinguishing between animals, humans, and vehicles, and then sending updates to handheld mobile devices of the U.S. patrol agents.

Significance of Smart Wall Technology in India:

  • India has been struggling with the problem of terrorists and smugglers infiltrating into the country and efforts are ongoing to secure our borders and curb cross-border infiltration.
  • Therefore, it is proposed that it is high time we start envisaging the use of technology to help India secure its borders.

Efficiently managing rugged terrain:

  • A critical factor that must be considered to enable the usage of such a system along Indian borders is that the terrain in the region is rugged, and, furthermore, not even clearly defined. Hence, erecting fences, walls or any physical structures is extremely difficult.
  • A “smart” wall, however, makes use of systems that would be designed in such a way that they can operate even in rugged areas.
  • Imperatively, in the U.S., various other benefits, such as cost-effectiveness, less damage to the environment, fewer land seizures, and speedier deployment are being noted that give the “smart wall” concept an edge over traditional physical borders.

Protecting critical security establishments:

  • Notably, such a system, even if not feasible for our long boundaries, may still be deployed to enhance critical security establishments of the country and complement the already-existing physical fencing and walls.
  • The attack on the Pathankot Air Force base highlighted that often, it may become difficult to secure establishments due to their vast size.
  • Further, it is imperative for Indian armed forces to be well-equipped and simultaneously have the latest technological advantage over its enemies.

Way Forward:

Experts must explore this idea to effectively counter the problem of cross-border infiltration. Is it unfathomable to deploy a security system that clubs technology with traditional set-ups due to terrain and other problematic factors? This is a question for Digital India to answer.

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