Current Affairs - International
On 29th August, NITI Aayog and UNDP India solidified their shared commitment to expedite progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
This MoU establishes a framework for cooperation on various fronts, including SDG localization, data-driven monitoring, Aspirational Districts and Blocks, and more.
- Shared Vision: NITI Aayog CEO expressed optimism about the partnership's potential to drive data-driven policy interventions and programmatic actions.
- UNDP's Commitment: UNDP also pledged to assist NITI Aayog's efforts related to women's livelihoods, innovation, and Mission LiFE.
- Duration: The MoU spans a period of five years. NITI Aayog leads the coordination of SDG adoption and monitoring at the national and sub-national levels, while UNDP takes on the role of integrating efforts to accelerate SDG progress within the UN system.
On 28th August, India and Bangladesh reaffirmed their dedication to enhancing defence cooperation during the fifth annual defence dialogue held in Dhaka.
- High-Level Dialogue: The meeting was co-chaired by India's Defence Secretary and his Bangladeshi counterpart Principal Staff Officer, Armed Forces Division.
- Institutionalized Interaction: The dialogue serves as the most significant institutionalized interactive platform between India and Bangladesh. Both nations emphasized its pivotal role in shaping the future trajectory of their armed forces' relations.
- Review of Defence Cooperation: The ongoing defence cooperation initiatives between India and Bangladesh were thoroughly assessed during the meeting. Both sides expressed contentment with the growing extent of defence cooperation activities.
- Enhancing Bilateral Exercises: The discussions encompassed the existing bilateral exercises, with both nations agreeing to elevate the complexity of these exercises.
- Positive Outlook: The continued pursuit of bilateral cooperation in various domains by the armed forces of India and Bangladesh reflects a positive outlook for the future relations between the two countries.
On 29th August, the governments of India and New Zealand have sealed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aimed at bolstering cooperation in civil aviation.
- The MoU covers multiple facets of collaboration, including the introduction of new routes, code sharing services, traffic rights, and capacity entitlement.
- Enhanced Air Services: The MoU outlines provisions enabling designated airlines from New Zealand to operate an unlimited number of services using various aircraft types.
- Additionally, it grants third and fourth freedom traffic rights to and from six major Indian cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Kolkata.
- Continuing Cooperation: The MoU builds upon the Air Services Agreement signed by both countries on May 1, 2016, in Auckland.
- The governments of India and New Zealand reviewed existing arrangements to further enhance air service connections.
- Extensive Freedom Rights: The MoU affords significant freedom rights to designated airlines from both countries. It permits operations of all-cargo services with diverse aircraft types, featuring third, fourth, and fifth freedom traffic rights.
- These rights encompass routes via intermediate points and extend to beyond points, irrespective of the Route Schedule.
On 29th August, Goa Shipyard Limited and Kenya Shipyard Limited have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for mutual capacity building and cooperation in ship design and construction.
- Evolution of Defense Relationship: India’s Defence Minister and Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Defence recognized the evolving defense relationship between the two countries, moving beyond training-focused collaboration to strategic aspects.
- Maritime Security Focus: The Ministers emphasized the importance of deeper cooperation in ensuring maritime security in the Indian Ocean region.
- Defence Industry Cooperation: The discussions included cooperation in the defense industry and equipment. Kenyan Cabinet Secretary Aden Bare Duale acknowledged the expertise of the Indian defense industry, suggesting areas where Indian industry could support Kenyan force requirements.
- Training and Collaboration: The Cabinet Secretary proposed a 'training of trainers' program, where Kenyan forces' instructors would receive training from Indian armed forces instructors, ensuring continuity and enhanced program benefits.
- Joint Training: Both sides agreed to collaborate on joint training initiatives, including counter-insurgency and UN peacekeeping domains.
- Regional Security Issues: The meeting covered various regional security issues of mutual interest, facilitating a comprehensive discussion on security challenges.
Recently, it has been observed that Murmansk, known as the capital of the Arctic and the starting point of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), is seeing a surge in Indian participation in cargo traffic.
- India Cargo Traffic: India accounted for 35% of the eight million tonnes of cargo handled by the Murmansk port in the first seven months of 2023.
- Northern Sea Route Explained: The NSR, a shorter shipping route between Europe and Asia-Pacific, traverses the Arctic Ocean.
- Notably, it can cut distances by up to 50% compared to Suez or Panama routes.
- Russia's Role in NSR Development: Russia, with its nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet, ensures safe navigation in the icebound Arctic.
- Cargo traffic along the NSR is rising, driven by India's energy imports from Russia, geographical advantage, and transit route prospects.
Understanding the Northern Sea Route (NSR)
- Definition of the NSR: The NSR is the quickest maritime path connecting Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, spanning 5,600 km and traversing four Arctic Ocean seas. It originates at the boundary of the Barents and Kara seas (Kara Strait) and terminates at the Bering Strait (Provideniya Bay).
- Advantages of the NSR: The NSR presents the potential for cutting shipping distances by up to 50% compared to established routes via the Suez or Panama Canals.
India's Involvement in Arctic Affairs
- Genesis of Engagement: India's association with the Arctic began in 1920 with the signing of the Svalbard Treaty, involving multiple nations including Norway, the US, and Denmark. Subsequently, India has diligently tracked developments in the Arctic region.
- Arctic Research Initiative: India's Arctic research program, initiated in 2007, concentrated on studying climate change. Objectives encompassed investigating links between Arctic climate and the Indian monsoon, analyzing sea ice using satellite data, and assessing global warming implications.
- Establishment of Himadri: In 2008, India set up the research station Himadri in Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard.
- Observer Status in the Arctic Council: India became an observer state of the Arctic Council in May 2013, standing alongside countries like China.
- Scientific Advancements: India launched a multi-sensor moored observatory and an atmospheric laboratory in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
- Arctic Expeditions: Thirteen successful expeditions to the Arctic were carried out until the previous year.
Arctic's Importance to India
- Climate Sensitivity: The Arctic's vulnerability to climate change could impact India's water and economic security.
- Abundant Resources: The region hosts untapped hydrocarbon reserves and valuable minerals, contributing to India's resource requirements.
- Economic Progress: India's Arctic pursuits align with UN Sustainable Development Goals, fostering economic growth.
- Historical Connection: Dating back to the Svalbard Treaty, India's historical engagement continues through ongoing scientific endeavors and participation in the Arctic Council.
- Trade and Connectivity: India's sea-dependent trade could benefit from the Arctic's Northern Sea Route (NSR), potentially reducing transit times.
- Global Influence and Environmental Responsibility: Engaging in Arctic affairs positions India as a global stakeholder, enabling contributions to climate change and resource management dialogues.
Recently, in a momentous Prime Ministerial visit to Greece after four decades, Indian Prime Minister and Greek PM have ushered in a new era of collaboration.
- Elevation to Strategic Partnership: During bilateral talks in Athens, Indian Prime Minister emphasized the enduring warmth and depth of relations between the two countries despite the extended gap. Both leaders agreed to elevate the India-Greece partnership to a 'strategic' level.
- They are poised to expand cooperation across sectors including defence and security, infrastructure, agriculture, education, emerging technologies, and skill development.
- Common Goals amid Global Challenges: Both leaders expressed readiness to confront international challenges together, emphasizing adherence to the UN Charter amid global turmoil and conflicts, including the Ukraine crisis.
- Diverse Areas of Cooperation: The two leaders resolved to strengthen defence industrial collaboration, enhance maritime security, and foster compliance with the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
- Future Prospects: As a natural progression of ties, a migration and mobility partnership agreement is set to be inked, facilitating skilled migration between India and Greece.
- Defence and Security Enhancement: Recognizing the importance of bolstering defence industries and military-to-military ties, both sides expressed a joint dedication to enhancing their defence and security cooperation.
Recently, in a move to enhance India-Iran trade ties, both sides decided to eliminate the arbitration clause for foreign courts pertaining to the Chabahar port.
- Bypassing Commercial Arbitration: To expedite matters at the Chabahar port, Iran and India have chosen to bypass commercial arbitration in foreign courts.Instead, they will engage in investment arbitration or other alternative modes of dispute resolution.
- Investment Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution: This approach prevents Iran from the need to modify its constitution.
- Both parties have opted for arbitration following the guidelines set forth by the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), a preference India holds over alternative international trade arbitration mechanisms.
- UNCITRAL's Guiding Role in Arbitration: A protracted agreement between India and Iran regarding Chabahar holds the promise of heightened predictability, instilling confidence among stakeholders regarding the port's viability situated on Iran's southeastern coast.
- China's Growing Interest in Iranian Ports: This move is being interpreted as India's strategic maneuver to stay ahead of China, which has exhibited increasing interest in Iranian ports and infrastructure ventures.
- Beneficial Impact on Russia's Sanctions: The resolution of the Chabahar issue not only benefits India and Iran but also offers relief to Russia, currently facing sanctions.
- Russia's Access to Indian Ocean via Transport Corridor: Russia seeks access to the Indian Ocean region through the International North South Transport Corridor, a trade route spanning 13 countries and transiting through Chabahar.
- Positive Implications for Regional Dynamics: This joint decision not only advance the cooperation between India and Iran but also positively impacts broader regional dynamics.
On 24th August, the BRICS group, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, extended invitation to six additional countries during its Johannesburg summit.
- The Six New Countries: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates will join the grouping as new members on 1st January, 2024.
- Strengthening Global South Representation: With the new members, it will represent nearly half the world's population, including major oil producers like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran.
- Rationale behind New Members: The expansion of BRICS is driven by two factors: the desire for a platform to express anti-US sentiment and the aspiration for multipolarity, enabling Global South nations to showcase solidarity.
- Challenging Geopolitical Landscape: While the economic performance of BRICS has varied, geopolitical dynamics, like the Ukraine conflict and the China-Russia partnership, have propelled the alliance as a counterbalance to Western-centric forums such as the Group of 7 and the World Bank.
- China's Role in Expansion: The invitation of new members signals China's objective to establish BRICS as an influential and diverse alliance.
- Iran's Noteworthy Inclusion: The inclusion of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and regional rivals in the same group highlights China-Russia's influence.
- China's role in brokering peace between Saudi Arabia and Iran, coupled with its oil trade with Saudi Arabia, demonstrates China's sway.
- Implications for India: India's participation in both the G7 summit and the BRICS expansion demonstrates its nuanced foreign policy approach.
- While China desires BRICS to be anti-western, India seeks to maintain it as a non-western entity.
- Diverse Interests of New Members: Among the new members, India values partnerships with all, yet concerns arise about the potential for BRICS to become more pro-China, potentially marginalizing India's interests and voice.
- BRICS Overview: BRICS, established in 2009 and headquartered in Shanghai, is an acronym representing a coalition of the world's prominent emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (which joined in 2010).
- Origin and Coinage of "BRIC": The term "BRIC" was introduced by British Economist Jim O'Neill in 2001 to categorize the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
- BRICS Composition: BRICS unites five influential developing nations, encompassing 41% of the global population, 24% of the worldwide GDP, and 16% of global trade. It is projected that by 2028, BRICS will constitute 35% of the global economy.
- Rotational Chairmanship: The leadership of BRICS rotates annually among its members in accordance with the acronym B-R-I-C-S. Presently, South Africa holds the chairmanship for the year 2023.
Key BRICS Initiatives
- New Development Bank (NDB): The establishment of NDB facilitates funding for infrastructure and sustainable development projects.
- Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA): CRA provides financial support to member countries during economic crises.
- BRICS Payment System: This system aims to facilitate cross-border transactions and reduce reliance on external payment mechanisms.
- Customs Agreements: Collaborative efforts to enhance trade facilitation and eliminate trade barriers.
- Remote Sensing Satellite: The initiative involves the development and launch of a remote sensing satellite for earth observation and resource management.
Challenges Faced by BRICS
- Encountering Multifaceted Issues: BRICS has encountered a series of challenges, marked by conflicts like China's assertiveness in eastern Ladakh, causing India-China relations to reach a historic low.
- The strained relations between China and Russia with Western nations, along with internal struggles in Brazil and South Africa, further compound the challenges.
- Diverse Composition: Critics highlight the heterogeneity of BRICS nations as a potential threat to the group's sustainability due to varying interests among its diverse member countries.
- China's Dominance and Trade Imbalance: A prevailing perception is that the group's members engage in more trade with China than with each other, leading to concerns that BRICS could be manipulated to serve China's interests.
- Revamping Global Governance: Amidst global slowdown, trade conflicts, and protectionist tendencies, BRICS faces the critical task of shaping a new global governance model.
- Efficacy and Regional Support: While BRICS has achieved some successes, there are limitations. China's economic ascent has caused an internal imbalance within the group.
- Moreover, BRICS has not effectively mobilized support from the Global South to advance its agenda.
On 22nd August,2023, Indian Coast Guard and Philippine Coast Guard have taken a significant stride in fortifying their bilateral collaboration by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to enhance maritime cooperation.
- Advancing Maritime Partnership: The MoU focuses on strengthening the ties between the Indian and Philippine Coast Guards by fostering cooperation in Maritime Law Enforcement (MLE), Maritime Search & Rescue (M-SAR), and Marine Pollution Response (MPR).
- Ensuring Safe and Clean Seas: The implementation of the MoU will contribute to ensuring secure, safe, and environmentally clean maritime zones in the region, fostering mutual benefits.
- Joint Efforts and Collaboration: The agreement emphasizes sharing best practices, conducting joint exercises, and enhancing training collaborations between the two maritime agencies.
On 21st August, India and ASEAN nations reached an agreement to reevaluate their free trade agreement for goods.
- Roadmap for Review: The committee has also finalized the terms of reference for the upcoming negotiations. These discussions took place ahead of an ASEAN-India Economic Ministers’ meeting held in Indonesia.
- Upcoming Summit: The review of AITIGA will be a focal point at the India-ASEAN Leaders’ Summit scheduled for early September.
- Demand of Indian Businesses: Initiating the review process promptly is expected to make trade more facilitative and mutually advantageous.
- Timeline for Review: The ministers have agreed to adhere to a quarterly negotiation schedule with the aim of concluding the review by 2025.
- Significance: This review is anticipated to boost and diversify trade while addressing the existing trade imbalances between India and ASEAN.