CURRENT AFFAIRS – 25/08/2023
India and the Northern Sea Route
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : The Hindu
The Arctic is home to significant unexplored hydrocarbon reserves, including oil, gas, coal, zinc, and silver.
- These reserves are estimated to comprise over 40% of the world’s total, making the region economically significant.
- However, the Arctic region, situated above the Arctic Circle and encompassing the Arctic Ocean, is experiencing unprecedented climate changes.
- This could impact India in terms of economic security, water security, and sustainability.
India’s Arctic Engagement Timeline:
- Svalbard Treaty (1920): India’s engagement with the Arctic traces back to the signing of the Svalbard Treaty in 1920.
- Scientific Studies: India conducts various scientific studies in the Arctic, covering atmospheric, biological, marine, hydrological, and glaciological aspects.
- Research Stations: India established the research station “Himadri” at Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, in 2008. It launched a multi-sensor moored observatory and northernmost atmospheric laboratory in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
- Observer-State: In 2013, India became an observer-state of the Arctic Council.
Northern Sea Route (NSR) and India’s Interest:
- NSR Description: The NSR, spanning 5,600 km, is the shortest shipping route for freight transportation between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
- It offers potential distance savings of up to 50% compared to other routes via Suez or Panama.
- India’s Cargo Traffic Share: India’s involvement in NSR cargo traffic is increasing, with 35% of eight million tonnes of cargo handled by the Murmansk port in the first seven months of 2023.
- Importance of NSR: The NSR assumes importance due to the growth in cargo traffic, India’s reliance on sea transportation, and projects like the Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor (CVMC).
Russia’s Role in NSR Development:
- Icebreaking Assistance: The Arctic Ocean remains icebound for most of the year.
- Russia uses a nuclear-powered icebreaker fleet, the world’s only, to ensure safe navigation along the NSR.
- NSR Infrastructure: FSUE Atomflot, a Rosatom subsidiary, operates nuclear-powered icebreakers.
- The fleet comprises seven nuclear icebreakers and one nuclear container ship, with more planned.
Drivers for India’s Participation in NSR Development:
- Cargo Traffic Growth: India’s cargo traffic along the NSR has shown a growth rate of around 73% during 2018-2022.
- Energy Resource Imports: Increasing imports of crude oil and coal from Russia contribute to India’s interest in the NSR.
- Geographical Advantage: India’s geographical location makes the NSR a transit route of significance, aligning with its trade reliance on sea transportation.
- Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor (CVMC): The CVMC project, aiming to reduce transport time through the NSR, aligns with India’s trade needs.
- Coking coal, crude oil, LNG, and fertilizers are potential imports through CVMC.
- China and Russia Influence: The possibility of China and Russia gaining collective influence over the NSR is being discussed.
- NSR Development Plan: Russia’s NSR development plan targets cargo traffic of 80 million tonnes by 2024 and 150 million tonnes by 2030.
- Indian Participation: A Russian delegation engaged with the Indian business community on NSR development. Rosatom seeks Indian companies’ involvement in NSR-related projects.
- CVMC Project Progress: A workshop involving stakeholders from India and Russia is planned for the CVMC project, enhancing the potential for enhanced trade connectivity.
About the Arctic
Geographical Scope of the Arctic Region:
- The Arctic region is the northernmost area of Earth.
- Defined by the Arctic Circle, approximately 66.5° north of the Equator.
- Encompasses the Arctic Ocean basin, northern parts of Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, Greenland, and Alaska.
Physical Characteristics of the Arctic:
- Predominantly covered by water, much of which is frozen.
- Contains various frozen features, including glaciers and icebergs.
- Sea ice covers parts of the Arctic’s surface, often with snow on top.
Importance of Arctic’s Freshwater Reserves:
- Glaciers and icebergs in the Arctic hold around 20% of Earth’s freshwater.
- Major source of freshwater that contributes to the planet’s water cycle.
Arctic Ocean Basin and Marine Ecosystem:
- The Arctic Ocean basin is shallow and less salty due to freshwater influx from rivers and glaciers.
- Supports a diverse marine ecosystem due to nutrient-rich cold waters.
- Primary, secondary, and tertiary consumers, including whales, seals, fish, and birds, thrive in this environment.
- Varied landscapes, including mountains, ice sheets, islands, fjords, and grassland plateaus.
- Limited plant life, with grasses, sedges, mosses, and lichens being dominant.
- Indigenous animals like caribou, Arctic foxes, polar bears, and birds inhabit these regions.
Indigenous Cultures and Challenges:
- Indigenous communities, like the Inuit and Sami, have adapted to the extreme Arctic environment.
- Historic challenges due to European colonization, but increased recognition of cultural sovereignty in recent times.
Resource Wealth in the Arctic:
- Vast reserves of oil, natural gas, minerals, and rare earth elements.
- Estimated to hold 13% of the world’s undiscovered petroleum resources and 30% of undiscovered natural gas resources.
Race for Arctic Resources:
- Arctic nations competing for authority over the region’s resources.
- Exclusive economic zones extend up to 200 nautical miles from coastlines.
- Claims on continental shelves by countries like Russia, Greenland, Denmark, and Canada contribute to conflicts.
Climate Change and Its Impacts on the Arctic:
- Shrinking Sea Ice
- Extent of Arctic sea ice is decreasing, with record lows in winter and summer.
- Most climatologists predict that most Arctic sea ice will melt during summers by 2100.
Impact on Wildlife and Habitats:
- Polar bears face threats due to the loss of sea ice, affecting their hunting and breeding patterns.
- Other Arctic species also impacted by changing ice conditions and shifting ranges.
About the Svalbard Treaty (1920)
- The Svalbard Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Spitsbergen, is an international agreement that was signed on February 9, 1920, in the city of Paris
- The treaty granted sovereignty over the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, located in the Arctic Ocean, to Norway.
- The archipelago is situated north of mainland Europe and consists of several islands, the largest of which is Spitsbergen.
India is not a direct signatory to the Svalbard Treaty.
The treaty’s signatories are known as the “High Contracting Parties,” and they include several countries, primarily European nations.
The members include:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- Sovereignty: The treaty recognized Norway’s sovereignty over Svalbard.
- Equal Rights: The treaty established a principle of equal access and non-discrimination for all signatory countries to engage in commercial, economic, and scientific activities on the islands.
- Freedom of Economic Activity: Signatory nations were granted the freedom to engage in economic activities, including fishing, hunting, mining, etc.
- Territorial Integrity: The treaty prohibited any military activity on the islands and affirmed their demilitarization.
- However, Norway retained the right to maintain law and order on the islands.
- No Taxes or Tariffs: No customs duties or other similar taxes were to be imposed on goods and commodities imported to or exported from Svalbard.
- Environmental Conservation: The treaty encouraged cooperation among signatory nations for the preservation of the unique environment and wildlife of Svalbard.
The Northern Sea Route (NSR)
- The Northern Sea Route (NSR) is a maritime shipping route that stretches across the Arctic region, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along the northern coast of Russia.
- This route runs along the Russian Arctic coast and is significantly shorter than traditional shipping routes through the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal.
- The NSR has gained increasing attention due to the melting Arctic sea ice caused by climate change, which has made the route more accessible and navigable for a larger part of the year.
- The NSR traverses the Arctic Ocean and includes four seas: the Barents Sea, the Kara Sea, the Laptev Sea, and the East Siberian Sea.
- It begins at the boundary between the Barents and Kara seas (Kara Strait) and extends to the Bering Strait (Provideniya Bay), which separates Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula from Alaska.
Shortened Shipping Route:
- The NSR provides a significantly shorter route between Europe and Asia compared to the traditional routes through the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal.
- The NSR is still subject to seasonal variations in ice cover and weather conditions.
- The ice-free period, usually during the summer months from June to November, is the most suitable time for navigation.
- Icebreakers are often used to facilitate safe passage during other times of the year.
In Image: The Suez Canal route: Blue line
Northern Sea Route: Red line
The Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor (CVMC)
- The Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor (CVMC) is a proposed international shipping route that aims to connect the Indian port city of Chennai on the eastern coast of India to the Russian port city of Vladivostok on the Pacific coast.
- This corridor is envisioned to enhance connectivity and trade between India and Russia, as well as other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
- Geographical Scope:
- The CVMC spans a vast distance, connecting the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean to the Sea of Japan in the Pacific Ocean.
- It involves maritime travel across the Indian Ocean, the Andaman Sea, the South China Sea, and the Sea of Japan.
- Trade and Connectivity:
- The primary goal of the CVMC is to establish a shorter and more efficient trade route between India and Russia, bypassing the traditional route through the Suez Canal and Europe.
- It aims to facilitate trade not only between India and Russia but also with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
- Bilateral Agreements:
- India and Russia signed a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) in September 2019 to explore the feasibility and development of the Chennai-Vladivostok Maritime Corridor.
BRICS Summit and 6 more nations
(General Studies- Paper II & III)
Source : The Hindu
The 2023 BRICS Summit marks the fifteenth annual conference of the BRICS group, which comprises the five member states: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
- South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is the host of the 2023 summit, representing the country in its capacity as the Chair of BRICS for that year.
- The summit provides an opportunity for discussions on key themes and priorities, fostering cooperation among BRICS countries and their invited partners.
- In addition to the five BRICS member states, President Ramaphosa extended invitations to the leaders of 67 other countries to participate in the summit.
- The choice of theme for the summit, ‘BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism‘.
Priorities for 2023: South Africa has identified five priorities for its tenure as the Chair of BRICS in 2023:
- Equitable Just Transition and Climate Change
- Education and Skills Development
- African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)
- Post-Pandemic Socioeconomic Recovery and Sustainable Development
- Multilateralism and Global Governance
The Addition of new members
- The BRICS grouping, originally consisting of five members (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), has expanded its membership to eleven nations.
- The new member countries include Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Ethiopia, and Argentina.
- Notably, these additions represent a shift towards making the BRICS bloc more politically relevant and inclusive.
- The expansion will take effect from January 1, 2024.
- The decision was made during the 15th BRICS summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
- The majority of new members being India’s strategic partners reflects India’s influence.
- The expansion supports India’s push for UN reform and increased representation of the Global South, including the expansion of the UN Security Council.
- The expansion showcases that despite skepticism from the West, the BRICS grouping remains appealing to countries of the Global South.
- Expansion Process:
- Guiding principles, criteria, and procedures for expansion were established before deciding on new members.
- About 23 countries have formally applied for BRICS membership.
- Foreign Ministers will continue developing the partnership model and list of prospective countries interested in joining.
- BRICS Background:
- BRICS was originally formed in 2006 as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China).
- South Africa joined in 2010, making it BRICS.
- The current BRICS represents 41% of the global population, 24% of global GDP, and 16% of global trade.
- Agenda and Goals:
- The expansion reflects BRICS’s commitment to building a fair, just, inclusive, and prosperous world.
- BRICS aims to improve the global financial architecture for stability, reliability, and fairness.
- Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors will consider local currencies, payment instruments, and platforms and report back to leaders.
- BRICS seeks to generate benefits for communities and find solutions for common challenges faced by the Global South.
- BRICS was originally known as “BRIC” when it was first coined by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs in a 2001 paper titled “Building Better Global Economic BRICs.”
- The acronym referred to Brazil, Russia, India, and China, four economies that were projected to become dominant in the global market by the early 21st century.
- In 2010, South Africa was officially invited to join the group, transforming BRIC into BRICS.
- The primary objectives of BRICS include promoting mutual cooperation, sustainable development, and reform of international financial institutions to better reflect the changing global economic landscape.
- BRICS holds annual summits where leaders from each member country come together to discuss a wide range of issues, including economics, trade, geopolitics, and global governance.
New Development Bank (NDB):
- One of the notable achievements of BRICS is the establishment of the New Development Bank (formerly called the BRICS Development Bank) in 2014.
- The NDB aims to provide funding for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies.
- The initial subscribed capital of the NDB was divided among the five BRICS countries as follows:
- China: 41%
- India: 18%
- Brazil: 18%
- Russia: 18%
- South Africa: 5%
In Image: The BRICS bloc before addition of new members.
The eyes and ears of Pragyan Rover
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : The Hindu
With the Chandrayaan-3’s lander module Vikram successfully making a touchdown on the moon and the rover Pragyan ramping down, let us look at the equipments that assisted the lander and the rover.
Lander Horizontal Velocity Camera (LHVC):
- The LHVC, developed by the Laboratory for Electro-Optics Systems (LEOS) in Bengaluru, is installed on the Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan-3 mission.
- The camera’s primary role is to measure the horizontal velocity of the lander during its descent phase onto the lunar surface.
- The camera performs complex algorithms to calculate the velocity at which the lander is traveling.
- The LHVC was initially developed for the Chandrayaan-2 mission but is also being used in Chandrayaan-3.
- This camera captures images and provides crucial information during the lander’s descent phase.
Navigation Camera (NAVCAM):
- The Navigation camera, known as NAVCAM, is fitted on the front of the Pragyan rover in pairs.
- The Pragyan rover has two NAVCAMs, one on the left and one on the right, which serve as the “eyes” of the rover.
- The NAVCAMs play a significant role in path planning and obstacle avoidance for the rover as it traverses the lunar surface.
- These cameras provide stereo images that help the rover navigate safely by detecting obstacles, pits, and other potential hazards in its path.
Impact and Development:
- The LHVC has already captured the first image of the moon during the Vikram lander’s descent.
- The success of these cameras is attributed to the dedicated work of the team at LEOS.
- SubhalakshmiKrishnamoorthy, who led the team that developed the cameras, mentioned that they were instrumental in the Chandrayaan-2 mission as well.
- Although initially developed for Chandrayaan-2, these cameras are now being used in the Chandrayaan-3 mission.
In Image: The first image sent by the Lander after making a touchdown on the Moon.
Pune’s CME is India’s first carbon negative garrison
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : The Indian Express
The College of Military Engineering (CME) based in Pune announced that it has become India’s first carbon-negative garrison with the commissioning of a 5-megawatt (MW) solar power plant.
- This addition has increased its solar power generation capacity to 7 MW.
- CME, established in 1948, is a premier institute of the armed forces that provides training to personnel from the Indian Army, Navy, Air Force, and friendly foreign countries in various technical and tactical aspects of warfare.
- The Military Engineering Services (MES) carried out several projects to reduce CME’s carbon footprint, including the implementation of a 7-MW solar power plant in two phases.
- The first phase included a 2-MW solar power plant commissioned in 2021, meeting daytime energy needs.
- The second phase involved a 5-MW plant, contributing to the objective of the ‘National Solar Mission’ by the Government of India.
- The success of the project has set an example for other military formations and tri-service establishments to become carbon negative in the future.
- The solar power plant, connected to the Maharashtra State Electricity Grid, enables the power generated at CME to be used at various military establishments in Pune, achieving the ‘National Clean Air Programme’ by reducing reliance on conventional thermal power plants.
- The CME’s carbon-negative status signifies that it emits fewer carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases than it offsets.
- It achieves this through processes like carbon capture, sequestration, and avoidance.
- The achievement of becoming a carbon-negative garrison is not only environmentally significant but also leads to annual fiscal savings of Rs 6.5 crore to the national exchequer.
- The press statement from CME emphasizes that this accomplishment is a remarkable feat and paves the way for similar achievements in the future.
About National Solar Mission (NSM)
- National Institute of Solar Energy (NISE) assessed India’s solar potential at approximately 748 GW, considering 3% of waste land covered with Solar PV modules.
- Solar energy holds a central role in India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change, with the National Solar Mission (NSM) as a key initiative.
- Launched on January 11, 2010, NSM is a major government effort involving states to promote ecological sustainable growth and address India’s energy security challenges.
- NSM contributes significantly to global climate change efforts and aims to establish India as a global leader in solar energy.
- The National Solar Mission was launched with an initial target of achieving 20,000 MW of grid-connected solar power by 2022.
- In June 2015, this target was revised and expanded significantly to achieve 100,000 MW (or 100 GW) of solar power capacity by 2022.
- The 100 GW solar power capacity target is distributed as follows:
- 40 GW from electricity generation using rooftop solar installations.
- 60 GW from grid-connected solar projects of both large and medium scales.
In Image: Installed solar capacity as portion of total solar installation target.
Taiwan proposes billion spending on new weapons
(General Studies- Paper II)
Source : The Indian Express
Taiwan plans to allocate an additional T$94.3 billion ($2.97 billion) in its 2024 budget to purchase weapons, including fighter jets, as part of efforts to strengthen its defense against China.
- The decision comes as China has increased military and political pressure on Taiwan, which it considers as part of its territory, while Taiwan asserts its sovereignty.
- Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen recently announced an overall proposed defense spending of T$606.8 billion for 2024, a 3.5% increase from the previous year.
- The T$94.3 billion extra spending will mainly be used for purchasing fighter jets and enhancing naval defenses.
- The United States has approved a possible $500 million sale of infrared search and track systems for Taiwan’s F-16 fighter jets, as well as other equipment.
- Taiwan’s deputy defense minister, Po Horng-huei, stated that these systems, similar to those on advanced US fighters like F-35 and F-22, will help target China’s new generation J-20 stealth fighter over the Taiwan Strait.
- This acquisition is expected to improve Taiwan’s ability to deter Chinese air activity and enhance its defense capabilities.
- China has criticized foreign arms sales to Taiwan and called for the US to cancel the proposed sale.
- The Taiwanese defense budget is subject to approval by the parliament, where President Tsai’s party holds a majority.
- Taiwan’s defense spending for next year will amount to 2.5% of its gross domestic product.
- Under President Tsai’s leadership, Taiwan has been modernizing its military to better counter China, including upgrading its fleet of F-16 fighter jets and developing indigenous submarines.
Understanding China-Taiwan relations
- Taiwan, previously known as Formosa, is an island off China’s east coast where Chinese republicans retreated after the 1949 communist victory.
- The island has since continued as the Republic of China (RoC).
- Taiwan is located in the East China Sea, northeast of Hong Kong, north of the Philippines, south of South Korea, and southwest of Japan.
- The historical significance of Taiwan makes events in the region of deep concern to East Asia.
- Taiwan observes October 10 as its national day, commemorating the overthrow of the Qing dynasty in 1911.
- The RoC was declared in 1911 under Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s leadership, succeeded by General Chiang Kai-shek.
- Chiang’s actions against Chinese communists led to a civil war, with the communists winning and Chiang retreating to Taiwan.
- Since 1949, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) aims to reunify Taiwan with mainland China, while the RoC considers itself independent.
- The RoC served as the non-communist “China” recognized at the UN until 1971 when the US established ties with the PRC.
- Past tensions include PRC bombings of Taiwan-controlled islands in the 1950s, involving US intervention.
- The 1995-96 missile crisis led to US involvement and the re-election of a pro-independence Taiwanese president.
- Relations between PRC and RoC improved in the 1990s despite the missile crisis.
- The “One China, Two Systems” solution was offered but rejected by Taiwan.
- Taiwan experienced democratic reforms in the 1990s.
- Major parties in Taiwan are the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Kuomintang (KMT).
- President Tsai’s 2016 election marked a pro-independence phase.
- Taiwan has economic interests, investments in China, raising concerns about its impact on independence goals.
- Pro-reunification sections hope for economic dependence to diminish pro-independence sentiment.
- Worsening US-China relations triggered concerns over Taiwan’s security.
- China conducted military exercises near the Taiwan Strait.
- President Xi’s call to prepare for war raised alarms in Taiwan.
- Biden administration’s commitment to Taiwan raised tensions with China.
- China’s jets entering Taiwan’s air defense zone escalated tensions.
Implications for India:
- India, facing China tensions at the LAC, considers reviewing its One China Policy.
- India and Taiwan maintain “trade and cultural exchange” offices.
- Talks ongoing for a semiconductor manufacturing plant in India.
- Quad meeting discussed building a safe semiconductor supply chain.