1. SOONER, BETTER-
GS 2- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health
Thanks to the pandemic, scientific institutions in India have been able to demonstrate their ability to rise to the occasion and show why the country should increase funding for science research and development.
Scaling Up Testing
(i) The ICMR’s approval, recently, of two indigenously developed tests that are rapid, low-cost and have high sensitivity and specificity provides the much-needed boost to scale up daily testing without diluting accuracy.
(ii) After carrying out about one million tests each day for the last few weeks, India, for the first time, tested nearly 1.5 million samples on October 21.
(iii) While most tests done each day were the low sensitivity rapid antigen tests, the ones developed by the Delhi-based Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, a CSIR institute, and IIT Kharagpur will now enable the shift to more accurate tests.
(iv) The low sensitivity of rapid antigen tests has meant that even people with symptoms were being handed out a negative result nearly half the time, leading to undetected cases.
(v) With unrestricted movement, businesses opening up, the festival season beginning and winter around the corner, the requirement for a rapid, low-cost test with high accuracy is crucial in checking the virus spread through early detection and repeated testing of even asymptomatic cases.
(vi) Having locally developed tests with higher accuracy will now help States to offer tests on demand — as required in a September 4 ICMR advisory — while keeping costs low.
Relying On Antigen Test
(i) Low sensitivity of rapid antigen tests arises from not isolating the viral RNA from the swab samples and amplification(increase) of the DNA before detection.
(ii) The two indigenously developed tests follow these two vital steps, the reason why the sensitivity and specificity are far superior to that of the rapid antigen tests.
(iii) But, at the same time, both the tests developed locally do require minimum laboratory infrastructure to isolate the viral RNA from the samples.
(iv) For that reason, India has to still rely on rapid antigen tests in rural areas that have no laboratory infrastructure.
(v) But the tests developed by the Indian institutions, once commercially available, can readily replace the rapid antigen tests in places where such laboratory infrastructure is in place.
(vi) Rapid antigen tests will become less important even in rural areas once research institutions succeed in developing protocols and tests for using saliva rather than swabs, and do not require isolation of viral RNA from patient samples before amplification and detection.
(vii) Field testing and validation of such protocols is now pending.
(viii) Relying on saliva samples would mean non-invasive sample collection, and probably even self-collection.
(ix) Thus, the reliance on trained personnel would reduce and also minimise the risk of health workers getting infected.
Indigenously developed tests will allow scaling up of efforts to detect infections.
2. DRIVE A HARDER BARGAIN AT THE DELHI MEET-
GS 2- Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
(i) In August 2016, just months before the United States presidential elections, then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and India’s EAM Sushma Swaraj had detailed discussions about the Paris Climate Change Agreement, with the U.S. urging India to sign it at the earliest.
(ii) Part of the statement they issued included the U.S.’s [developed countries] commitment to mobilise $100 billion per year by 2020 as part of a Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help developing countries such as India with climate adaptation methods and renewable technologies.
Then, The Paris Accord Push
(i) The ratification of the Paris Agreement was then U.S. President Barack Obama’s legacy project, and Washington was pushing for India to join before election day, November 8, in a bid to help Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton with her campaign against Republican nominee Donald Trump, who was against the Paris deal.
(ii) While New Delhi could have chosen to wait for the results of the U.S. elections, Prime Minister did not, and announced a few weeks after Mr. Kerry’s visit that India would ratify the UN climate protocol on October 2, to mark Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.
(iii) Months later, on June 1, 2017, the new U.S. President, Donald Trump, announced that the U.S. would exit the Paris agreement, and also revoked U.S. promises towards the GCF, calling it “very unfair”.
(iv) “India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries,” Mr. Trump added, conveniently ignoring the fact that it was based on his predecessor’s promises that India had made its calculations.
This Time, The Indo-Pacific-
(i) As the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, makes his way to India next week, history may just be repeating itself.
(ii) This time, Mr. Pompeo is coming exactly a week before the election, and his brief is clear: to ensure that New Delhi (also Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia that are on his itinerary, from October 25 to October 30), makes a strong, public, strategic commitment to the U.S. on its plans in the Indo-Pacific. Mr. Pompeo has made no bones about his mission.
(iii) In Washington on Wednesday, he said he was sure that his meetings “would include discussions about how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party”.
(iv) Just a few weeks ago, at the Quad Foreign Ministers meeting in Tokyo, Mr. Pompeo had said that as partners in this Quad (Australia-India-Japan-U.S.), “it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the Chinese Communist Party’s exploitation, corruption, and coercion.”
(v) In contrast, India has maintained that its membership of the Quad is aligned to its Indo-Pacific policy, and as Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated at the Shangri-La dialogue, in June 2018, “by no means... directed against any country”.
(vi) While there is no doubt that Beijing’s relentless aggression against India at the Line of Actual Control this year and its refusal to disengage or withdraw from land China’s People’s Liberation Army has occupied for more than six months is changing India’s priorities, the Narendra Modi government has maintained that it will resolve issues with China bilaterally.
(vii) Any shift in that position at the U.S.’s prompting must also accrue benefits for India.
(i) Mr. Pompeo’s tenuous position must also be considered closely. For one, it is by no means clear that Mr. Trump will win the presidential elections or that Mr. Pompeo will remain in that spot.
(ii) In fact, all presidential polls, as well as predictions for the U.S. electoral college point to a probable win for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
(iii) Even if Mr. Trump does win the election, it remains to be seen how far he will take ties with China to the brink once he dusts off his campaign rhetoric.
(iv) The weight of commitments made by Mr. Pompeo during his India visit could thus be assessed better in a similar visit made even a week later, once the election results are more clearly known.
(v) In the event Mr. Biden wins the election, India will hardly have endeared itself to the incoming administration by making strong statements of solidarity with Trump policy, strategic or otherwise.
(vi) The two rallies Mr. Modi has held with Mr. Trump in Houston (2019) and in Ahmedabad (2020), as well as his use of the Trump campaign slogan, “Ab ki baar Trump Sarkar”, have already been noted within the Democratic campaign, and it may be recalled that most supporters of India in the Democratic leadership skipped the Houston rally.
China And India’s Three Fronts
(i) As a result, South Block must consider carefully just what it discusses and projects from the meeting with Mr. Pompeo and U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper as they arrive for the Third India-U.S. 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
(ii) China has gone from being the “Elephant in the Room” (as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun described it earlier this month) to becoming an agenda item on the table.
(iii) Therefore, it is critical to study just how India hopes to collaborate with the U.S. on the challenge that Beijing poses on each of India’s three fronts: at the LAC, in the maritime sphere, and in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region surrounding India.
(iv) On the maritime sphere, discussions will no doubt include strengthening ties in the Indo-Pacific, enhancing joint military exercises like the ‘Malabar’, where the entire Quad including Australia will participate next month in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, and completing the last of the “foundational agreements” with the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation (BECA).
(v) On the SAARC region, Mr. Pompeo is speaking with his feet, given that his travels will take him to Male and Colombo as well.
(vi) In Male, the U.S. has already announced a defence agreement that will pave the way for a strategic dialogue, and unlike in the past, New Delhi has not objected to ceding space in its area of influence in the Indian Ocean Region, as it will allow the U.S. to counter Chinese influence there.
(vii) With Sri Lanka too, the U.S. has a pending defence agreement, but more importantly, discussions on infrastructure projects, and progress on its “Millenium Challenge Corporation” (MCC) offer of a five-year aid grant of about $480 million, that is meant to offer alternatives to the Rajapaksa government, will be key.
(viii) At a time when India is delaying Sri Lanka’s requests for debt relief, given its own economic constraints, the U.S. aid offer will be seen as one way of staving off China’s inroads into Sri Lanka.
(ix) Finally, and of most interest, will be how the U.S. and India can collaborate, if they can, on dealing with India’s most immediate, continental challenge from China: at the LAC.
(x) While the Indian Army will defend its borders with China on its own, there is much that Mr. Pompeo could promise, apart from enhancing and expediting U.S. defence sales to India.
(xi) Mr. Pompeo must, for example, commit to keeping the pressure on Pakistan on terrorism, despite the U.S. need for Pakistan’s assistance in Afghan-Taliban talks.
(xii) A firm U.S. statement in this regard may also disperse the pressure the Indian military faces in planning for a “two-front” conflict with China.
Other Key Areas
(i) Mr. Pompeo should be pushed on resolving trade issues with India, an area the Trump administration has been particularly tough, and perhaps commit to restoring India’s Generalised System of Preferences status for exporters.
(ii) The government could press for more cooperation on 5G technology sharing, or an assurance that its S-400 missile system purchase from Russia will receive an exemption from the U.S.’s Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) sanctions.
(iii) By inviting Mr. Pompeo this close to the U.S. elections, New Delhi has taken a calculated and bold gamble.
(iv) Unlike the experience of 2016, however, our leaders must drive a harder bargain to consolidate the pay-offs from the visit.
3. AT 75, THE UN NEEDS A REBIRTH-
GS 2- Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate
October 24 marks the diamond jubilee of the United Nations. But far from joyous celebration, it is an occasion to sombrely(serious) reflect on why the UN is stagnating at 75 and how it can regain its lost lustre.
Just World Order
(i) Although much has changed in the international system since 1945, the world body continues to see a tussle(fight) between ‘principle’ and ‘power’.
(ii) On the one hand, the UN represents hopes of a peaceful and just world order through multilateral cooperation, abidance(obey) by international law, and uplift of the downtrodden.
(iii) On the other, the institution has been designed to privilege the most powerful states of the post-World War II dispensation by granting them commanding heights over international politics via the undemocratic instruments of veto power and permanent seats in the Security Council (UNSC).
(iv) Arguably, if the great powers of that period were not accommodated with VIP status, we may have seen a repeat of the ill-fated League of Nations.
(v) Keeping all the major powers inside the tent and reasonably happy through joint control over the UNSC was intended to be a pragmatic(practical) step to avoid another world war.
(vi) Presumably, the collective command model of big powers built into the UNSC is one of the reasons why there has been no third world war.
A Model That Didn’t Work
(i) But this model has also caused havoc.
(ii) Almost immediately after the UN’s creation, it was pushed to the verge of irrelevance by the Cold War, which left the UN little room to implement noble visions of peace, development and human rights.
(iii) It was only in the uncontested post-Cold War political milieu(atmosphere), when the liberal sole superpower, the U.S., strode(walked) like a colossus(bigger size), that the UN could spring back to life and embark on a plethora(series) of peacekeeping missions, nation-building interventions and promotion of universal human rights.
(iv) In the U.S.-led ‘new world order’ of the 1990s, it appeared as if the problem of ‘power’ cutting out ‘principle’ had been resolved under the benign hegemony of a Washington that would be the flag-bearer of UN values.
(v) However, that golden age of the UN was too deceptive to last. We are now past the unipolar moment and the ghosts of the Cold War are returning in complex multi-sided avatars.
(vi) UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has labelled the present peaking of geopolitical tensions as a “great fracture”.
(vii) The phrase ‘new Cold War’ is in vogue(form) to depict(show) the clash between China and the U.S. Tensions involving other players like Russia, Turkey, Iran and Israel in West Asia.
(viii) It also depicts clash between China and its neighbours in Asia, are at an all-time high.
(ix) The recrudescence of the worst habits of competitive vetoing by P-5 countries has prevented the UNSC from fulfilling its collective security mandate.
(x) So dangerous are the divisions and their spillover effects that Mr. Guterres has lamented that “we have essentially failed” to cooperate against the immediate global threat of the pandemic.
(xi) He has also rekindled the old maxim, “The UN is only as strong as its members’ commitment to its ideals.”
Obstacles To Reforms
(i) But apart from rivalries of member states, there is a larger underlying problem.
(ii) At the core of the paralysis of the UN is the phenomenon of P-5 countries (China, France, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S.) blocking reforms.
(iii) Outmoded procedures based on the discriminatory original sin of superior prerogatives(rights) to P-5 countries have to be discarded.
(iv) Why should expansion of the UNSC require consensus of the P-5? In the 21st century, why should there be veto power in anyone’s hands?
(v) If a simple majority voting method could replace the P-5 consensus method, the obstacles(hurdles) to UNSC reforms would reduce.
(i) On the 75th anniversary of the UN, there must be a global push against ossifying(hardening) ‘rules’ which have privileged ‘rule’ of the few over the many.
(ii) That is the only way to restore some balance between ‘power’ and ‘principle’ and ensure a renaissance(revival) of the UN.