March & April – International Affairs & Defence



  • The M4 highway is a highway in Northern Syria which runs parallel with its northern border with Turkey.

  • The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is an intergovernmental organization of  13 nations, founded on 14 September 1960 in Baghdad by the first five members (Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela), and headquartered since 1965 in Vienna, Austria. As of September 2019, the 13 member countries accounted for an estimated 44 percent of global oil production and 81.5 percent of the world’s “proven” oil reserves, giving OPEC a major influence on global oil prices that were previously determined by the so-called “Seven Sisters” grouping of multinational oil companies.   The current OPEC members are the following: Algeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, the Republic of the Congo, Saudi Arabia (the de facto leader), the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. Ecuador, Indonesia and Qatar are former members.   

  • The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest inland body of water, variously classed as the world’s largest lake or a full-fledged sea. It is an endorheic basin (a basin without outflows) located between Europe and Asia, to the east of the Caucasus Mountains and to the west of the broad steppe of Central Asia.  It is bounded by Kazakhstan to the northeast, Russia to the northwest, Azerbaijan to the west, Iran to the south, and Turkmenistan to the southeast.       

  • India has been approved as an observer state for a five-nation grouping in the Western Indian Ocean called Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), which includes Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles, Mauritius and French Reunion.  With the decision, India will join China, which was made an observer in 2016, as well as the “International Organisation of the Francophonie” or the 54-nation French-speaking collective, the European Union (EU) and Malta, which were all admitted in 2017. The decision to join the IOC marks a part of the government’s push for greater salience in the whole Indian Ocean Region (IOR), including what is called the Western or African Indian Ocean. In December 2019, the Ministry of External Affairs decided to include Madagascar, Comoros and Reunion as part of the IOR (Indian Ocean Region) desk along with Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. Subsequently, they have been incorporated into one single division under the additional Secretary (Indo-Pacific). The IOC is also significant for its geographical location, as the islands sit around a “key choke-point” in the Indian Ocean — the Mozambique Channel. This channel is being watched more closely as the U.S.-Iran tensions threaten the Strait of Hormuz. Given China’s growing presence in the region, India hopes to increase its naval presence and gain support for its maritime projects across the Indo-Pacific, beginning at East African shores.

  • “Operation Spring Shield”Turkey has started new operation in Idlib against the Assad Regime. It will be fourth military intervention of Turkey in Syrian Civil War. Turkey started this operation in response to attacks by Assad Loyalists on Turkish Security Forces in Idlib province of Syrian Arab Republic.       

  • India has become one of the world’s least free democracies, according to a global survey. The Freedom in the World 2020 report ranks India at the 83rd position, along with Timor-Leste and Senegal. This is near the bottom of the pile among the countries categorised as “Free”, with only Tunisia receiving a lower score. India’s score fell by four points to 71, the worst decline among the world’s 25 largest democracies this year. The report is prepared by by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog, which has been tracking global political and civil liberties for almost half a century.  
       
  • The GTRE GTX-35VS Kaveri is an afterburning turbofan project developed by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), a lab under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in Bengaluru, India. An Indian design, the Kaveri was originally intended to power production models of the HAL Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) being built by the Aeronautical Development Agency. However, the Kaveri programme failed to satisfy the necessary technical requirements or keep up with its envisaged timelines and was officially delinked from the Tejas programme in September 2008.      

  • The AP1000 is a nuclear power plant designed and sold by American Westinghouse Electric Company. The plant is a pressurized water reactorwith improved use of passive nuclear safety and many design features intended to lower its capital cost and improve its economics Westinghouse Electric Company LLC is a US based nuclear power company formed in 1999 from the nuclear power division of the original Westinghouse Electric Corporation.  In 2018, Westinghouse was acquired by Brookfield Business Partnersfrom Toshiba. 

  • In June 2016, the US and India agreed to build six AP1000 reactors in India as part of civil nuclear deal signed by both countries. At these rates, the six reactors being offered to India by Westinghouse would cost almost ₹6 lakh crore. If India purchases these reactors, the economic burden will fall upon consumers and taxpayers. In 2013, we estimated that even after reducing these prices by 30%, to account for lower construction costs in India, the first year tariff for electricity would be about Rs. 25 per unit. On the other hand, recent solar energy bids in India are around Rs. 3 per unit. Lazard, the Wall Street firm, estimates that wind and solar energy costs have declined by around 70% to 90% in just the last 10 years and may decline further in the future. 

  • A pandemic is defined as the worldwide spread of a new disease. The last pandemic reported was in 2009 with the H1N1 flu, which killed hundreds of thousands globally. Unless it is influenza, WHO generally avoids declaring diseases as pandemics. This change came about after the lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 experience. 

  • Swathi WLR was indigenously developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and manufactured by BEL. It is an electronically scanned phased array radar and automatically locates hostile artillery, mortars and rocket launchers.  It can also track friendly fire to locate the impact point of friendly artillery fire to issue necessary corrections. In a boost to defence exports, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) won a $40 mn order for supplying four Weapon Locating Radars (WLR) to Armenia beating firms from Russia and Poland in the competition.

  • According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2020 by World Economic Forum,a study covering 153 economies, India has slipped to the 112th spot from its 108th position in 2018.

  • The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD or TaIHiGe), formerly known as the Millennium Dam and sometimes referred to as Hidase Dam, is a gravity dam on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia that has been under construction since 2011. It is in the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia, about 15 km east of the border with Sudan.  At 6.45 gigawatts, the dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, as well as the seventh largest in the world. As the July deadline draws closer for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the river Nile to become functional, the dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt, with Sudan caught in between, has escalated into a diplomatic stand-off. The contentious issue around the GERD, Africa’s biggest hydropower project, concerns control of the flow of water in the world’s longest river among the riparian states. Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populated country and a manufacturing hub, views the mega dam as a symbol of its sovereignty. It began construction on the Blue Nile (a tributary) in 2011 at a cost of $4 billion. The government wants to extend power supply to some 60% of the country’s population and bridge the infrastructure gap. Addis Ababa is hence impatient to fill the gigantic reservoir within six years, and generate 6,000 MW of electricity. But the GERD’s storage capacity of 74 billion cubic meters of water has raised hackles in Cairo. Egypt, which relies on the Nile for 90% of its freshwater supply, is apprehensive that a rapid filling of the reservoir in upstream Ethiopia would cause a drastic reduction in supplies. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has insisted on a staggered approach to fill the reservoir, say, between 10 and 21 years, and for the release of a minimum of 40 billion cubic metres annually. No less is the risk Egypt perceives from the diversion of waters to its own High Aswan Dam. Conversely, Addis Ababa is concerned that a long delay in filling the reservoir would jeopardise returns on its investments and hamper the prospects for overall growth. The GERD is said to have been financed almost entirely from domestic resources, in part due to the resistance mounted by Egypt against global funding for the project.    

  • The Nile, which is about 6,650 km (4,130 mi) long, is an “international” river as its drainage basin covers eleven countries: Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Republic of the Sudan, and Egypt.The Nile has two major tributaries – the White Nile and the Blue Nile. The White Nile is considered to be the headwaters and primary stream of the Nile itself. The Blue Nile, however, is the source of most of the water, containing 80% of the water and silt. The White Nile is longer and rises in the Great Lakes region of central Africa.  The Blue Nile begins at Lake Tana in Ethiopia and flows into Sudan from the southeast.      

  • While SAARC member-states occupy just 3% of the world’s landmass, they account for 21% of its population. The SAARC secretariat, based in Kathmandu.       

  • A report titled ‘Designed to Exclude’ by Amnesty International.       

  • The India-U.S. Military Cooperation Group (MCG) dialogue, scheduled for later this month, has been cancelled in view of the COVID-9 outbreak.  India is considering a U.S. request for posting liaison officers at the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (US-INDO-PACOM) and the U.S. Special Operations Command (US-SO-COM). This was to be discussed at the dialogue. The MCG is a forum to review the progress of defence cooperation between India’s Integrated Defence Staff and the USINDOPACOM at the strategic and operational levels. The Integrated Defence Staff was responsible for coordination among the armed forces before the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff.
  • World Bank report titled “Delivering Road Safety in India” released during ‘Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety’ in Stockholm, Sweden.        

  • Taiwan’s anti-coronavirus strategy utilizes a combination of early vigilance, proactive measures, and information sharing with the public, as well as applying technology in the form of analyzing big data and online platforms.       

  • OPEC plus countries include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Russia, South Sudan and Sudan. OPEC’s 14 members control 35 percent of global oil supplies and 82 percent of proven reserves. With OPEC+ ,  shares increase to 55 percent and 90 percent respectively.  

  • An Indian Air Force (IAF) C-130J transport aircraft delivered 6.2 tonne of essential medicines and hospital consumables to Maldives under “Operation Sanjeevani.”  These medicines and consumables were procured from eight suppliers in India but couldn’t be transported through any other means due to the 21-day lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19.        

  • Wadi Rum known also as the Valley of the Moon is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock in southern Jordan 60 km to the east of Aqaba.
  • As of now, USA is world’s largest oil producer. The United States may lose its top spot among oil producers globally this year, according to economists. With oil prices continuing their slide and Saudi Arabia reiterating its plans to flood the market with oil, U.S. producers are idling rigs and cutting spending plans. USA is not a part of OPEC+ mechanism.         

  • The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. To the north lie the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez (leading to the Suez Canal).   It is the world’s northernmost tropical sea.   The Red Sea may be geographically divided into three sections: the Red Sea proper, and in the north, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez. The six countries bordering the Red Sea proper are:   Eastern shore: Saudi Arabia, Yemen  –   Western shore: Egypt,  Sudan ,   Eritrea ,  Djibouti. The Gulf of Suez is entirely bordered by Egypt. The Gulf of Aqaba borders Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

  • Lagos, Nigeria, the largest city in Africa, remains one of the fastest growing cities on the planet.
  • Exercise Red Flag is a two-week advanced aerial combat training exercise held several times a year by the United States Air Force. It aims to offer realistic air-combat training for military pilots and other flight crew members from the United States and allied countries.  Each year, four to six Red Flag exercises are held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, while up to four more, dubbed Red Flag – Alaska, are held at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.     

  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (H.R. 748), also known as the CARES Act ($2 trillion package), is a law meant to address the economic fallout of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in the United States

  • The virtual summit of G-20 in 2020 will be led by King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia, which is the current president of the economic grouping.  Apart from 19 of the biggest economies of the world, G20 also includes the European Union.  For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this will be the second virtual leadership summit after the video meet of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which he initiated on March 15 and led to the creation of the SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Fund. It is expected that the G20 virtual summit will yield a detailed plan for confronting the pandemic caused by COVID-19.   

  • Golden Triangle (the opium-producing area where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet).   

  • A startling revelation was that the meth in the country was being produced in bulk using ephedrine extracted from a shrub locally known as Oman (Ephedra) growing in the wild in the Afghan mountains, including in Helmand, Ghazni and Wardak. The shift from use of chemical to plant-based ephedrine for making meth was very recent, in 2018.     

  • Croatia is a country inSoutheast Europe. It borders Slovenia to the northwest, Hungary to the northeast, Serbia to the east, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro to the southeast, sharing a maritime border with Italy. Its capital is Zagreb.   

  • The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency whose mandate is to advance social justice and promote decent work by setting international labour standards.  The tripartite structure is unique to the ILO where representatives from the government, employers and employees openly debate and create labour standards.  It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.  The ILO is the oldest specialized agency of the United Nations (which was formed in 1946) and the only surviving major creation of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.

  • Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was quoted as saying in a WikiLeaks cable that GDP figures were “man-made”. He made these candid remarks in 2007 when he was a provincial leader. Rather than GDP numbers, Mr. Li turned to three more reliable indicators: electricity consumption, railway cargo volume and bank lending, now famously called the ‘Keqiang Index’. As the cable put it, “By looking at these three figures, Li said he can measure with relative accuracy the speed of economic growth.   

  • Indian Army launches “Operation Namaste” to combat spread of COVID-19.        

  • The Natuna Islands are a 272-island archipelago of Indonesia, located in the Natuna Sea between Peninsular Malaysia to the west and Borneo to the east. Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the coast of Natuna is slightly overlapped by China‘s widely disputed South China Sea claim. The Natuna Sea itself is a section of the South China Sea.     

  • The process of globalisation was already in retreat and last year, the term ‘slowbalisation’ was being used. World trade had never really recovered since the global financial crisis — from a 10% growth, it had been hovering around 1%-2%. Add to that the trade wars and the WTO talks process coming to a grinding halt. Now, with this pandemic, there is another recognition of the vulnerability that global economic interdependence creates. So some countries are facing difficulties in getting medical supplies, some find their manufacturing can’t run as value chains are linked with China.

  • The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA😉 was an agreement signed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States, creating a trilateral trade bloc in North America.  In September 2018, the United States, Mexico, and Canada reached an agreement to replace NAFTA with the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), and all three countries had ratified it by March 2020. NAFTA remained in force until USMCA was implemented.  As of April 2020, Canada and Mexico have notified the U.S. that they are ready to implement the agreement.   

  • A blue beret is a blue-colored beret used by various (usually special) military and other organizations, notably the United Nations peacekeepers who are sometimes referred to as the Blue Berets. Peacekeeping by the United Nations is a role held by the Department of Peace Operations as “a unique and dynamic instrument developed by the organization as a way to help countries torn by conflict to create the conditions for lasting peace”. It is distinguished from peacebuilding, peacemaking, and peace enforcement although the United Nations does acknowledge that all activities are “mutually reinforcing” and that overlap between them is frequent in practice.  Accordingly, UN peacekeepers (often referred to as Blue Berets or Blue Helmets because of their light blue berets or helmets) can include soldiers, police officers, and civilian personnel.  

  • The United Nations Charter gives, the United Nations Security Council, the power and responsibility to take collective action to maintain international peace and security. For this reason, the international community usually looks to the Security Council to authorize peacekeeping operations through Chapter VII authorizations.      

  • The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), is an autonomous organisation of the Government of India, involved in India’s external cultural relations, through cultural exchange with other countries and their peoples. It was founded on 9 April 1950 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the first Education Minister of independent India.  The ICCR Headquarters are situated in Azad Bhavan, I.P. Estate, New Delhi.  Its objectives are to actively participate in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes pertaining to India’s external cultural relations; to foster and strengthen cultural relations and mutual understanding between India and other countries; to promote cultural exchanges with other countries and people, and to develop relations with nations.  It is under the Ministry of External Affairs.       
       
  • According to the FAO, as on April 2, 2020, the total stock of cereals in the world was about 861 million tonnes. This translates to a stocks-to-use ratio (SUR) — i.e., proportion of consumption available as stocks — of 30.7%. The FAO considers this “comfortable”. The SURs for wheat, rice and coarse grains were 35.3%, 35.1% and 26.9%, respectively. But world stocks are different from national stocks. About 52% of the global wheat stocks is held by China, and about 20% of the global rice stocks is held by India. If the major holders of global stocks decide to turn precautionary and stop exporting, and if the lockdown is prolonged, countries dependent on rice imports will suffer.  

  • The FAO “Food Price Index” is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities. It consists of the average of five commodity group price indices, weighted with the average export shares of each of the groups for 2002-2004.    

  • A large cascade of water that made up Ecuador’s tallest waterfall has disappeared after a sinkhole swallowed part of its water source. According to NASA, the San Rafael Waterfall on the Coca River stopped flowing on February 2 and has been replaced by three streams.
  • The Cuban doctors came to Brazil under a programme called ‘Mais Medicos’ (More Doctors), launched by then President Dilma Rousseff in 2013 with a plan to appoint doctors in the most remote and vulnerable places.       

  • The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations(CEPI) is a foundation that takes donations from public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organisations, to finance independent research projects to develop vaccines against emerging infectious disease (EID). CEPI is focused on the World Health Organisation‘s (WHO) “blueprint priority diseases“, which includes: the Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the Nipah virus, the Lassa fever virus, and the Rift Valley fever virus, as well as the Chikungunya virus and the hypothetical, unknown pathogen “Disease X“. CEPI investment also requires “equitable access” to the vaccines during outbreaks.   It was co-founded and co-funded with US$460 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Wellcome Trust, and a consortium of nations, being Norway, Japan, Germany; to which the European Union (2019) and Britain (2020) subsequently joined. CEPI is headquartered in Oslo, Norway.  

  • The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.  

  • The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) invest in rural people, empowering them to increase their food security, improve the nutrition of their families and increase their incomes. IFAD is an international financial institution and specialized United Nations agency based in Rome, the UN’s food and agriculture hub. IFAD works where poverty and hunger are deepest: in the most remote regions of developing countries and fragile situations, where few development agencies venture.    

  • The 46th G7 summit was scheduled to be held June 10 through June 12, 2020, originally to take place in Camp David, United States, on behalf of the Group of Seven. In response to the global coronavirus pandemic, the meeting will be conducted by video conference.

  • India and France have conducted joint patrols from the Reunion Island for the first time, signalling New Delhi’s intent to engage with friendly foreign partners in expanding its footprint on the Indian Ocean, focusing on the stretch between the East African coastline and the Malacca straits. India has so far carried out coordinated patrols only with maritime neighbours and had rejected a similar offer by the U.S. France is also the first country to deploy a liaison officer at the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre (IFC-IOR) as part of efforts to improve maritime domain awareness (MDA). The Indian Navy is currently inducting French Scorpene conventional submarines, being built in India under technology transfer, and the Indian Air Force will soon get the first batch of its 36 Rafale fighter jets.   

  • The Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a ₹880-crore contract with the Israeli Weapon Industries (IWI) for 16,479 Light Machine Guns (LMG). The contracted Negev 7.62X51 mm LMG is a combat-proven weapon and currently used by several countries.       

  • The Army has recently begun inducting the first batch of 10,000 SIG-716 assault rifles with troops engaged in counter-insurgency operations in the Northern Command. The rifles are being procured under a contract signed in February 2019 with Sig Sauer of the U.S. for 72,400 SIG-716 assault rifles worth over ₹700 crore.      

  • The Windrush scandal is a 2018 British political scandal concerning people who were wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation, and, in at least 83 cases, wrongly deported from the UK by the Home Office. Many of those affected had been born British subjects and had arrived in the UK before 1973, particularly from Caribbean countries as members of the “Windrush generation” (so named after the Empire Windrush, the ship that brought one of the first groups of West Indian migrants to the UK in 1948).       
  • The “Baikonur Cosmodrome” is a spaceport located in an area of southern Kazakhstan leased to Russia. The Cosmodrome is the world’s first and largest operational space launch facility. Both Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite, and Vostok 1, the first human spaceflight, were launched from Baikonur. The launch pad used for both missions was renamed Gagarin’s Start in honor of Russian Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, pilot of Vostok 1 and first human in space.    
  • France, Italy and Spain, the bloc’s three largest economies, with six other members in the euro area wrote in late March to the European Council President, renewing calls for joint issuance of Eurobonds, now dubbed “corona bonds”. With the Eurozone’s three largest economies after Germany throwing their weight behind the new financial instrument, it may not be long before the bloc’s fiscal hawks rethink their stance. The economic and political consequences of failure on this count would hamper the post-pandemic recovery, and could affect European solidarity. Eurobonds or stability bonds were proposed government bonds to be issued in euros jointly by the European Union’s 19 eurozone states. Eurobonds would be debt investments whereby an investor loans a certain amount of money, for a certain amount of time, with a certain interest rate, to the eurozone bloc altogether, which then forwards the money to individual governments. The proposal was floated again in 2020 as a potential response to the impacts of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in Europe, leading such debt issue to be dubbed “corona bonds”.      

  • The U.S. President invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 to ramp up N95 mask production. Under this legislation, the U.S. President can direct U.S. manufacturers to shift from their normal manufacturing activities to produce goods according to the directions of the government.     

  • The U.S. State Department has approved two potential missile deals with India, for an estimated $92 million and $63 million. The first deal, for which Boeing is the contractor, is for 10 AGM-84L Harpoon Block II air-launched missiles and related equipment. These missiles can be fitted onto Boeing’s P-8I (Poseidon-Eight India) maritime patrol aircraft, and are intended to enhance India’s capability in anti-surface warfare while defending its sea lanes. The second deal, for $63 million and principally contracted with Raytheon Integrated Defense System, is for 16 MK 54 All Up Round Lightweight Torpedoes (LWT); three MK 54 Exercise Torpedoes (MK 54 LWT Kit procurement required); and related equipment. Also included are MK 54 spare parts, torpedo containers, two Recoverable Exercise Torpedoes (REXTORP) with containers and related equipment and support from the U.S. government and contractors. The torpedoes are expected to enhance India’s anti-submarine warfare capability and can be used with the P-8I.      

  • The International Development Association (a group of 76 of the poorest World Bank Group member countries — India is not a member).

  • Infodemic – An excessive amount of information concerning a problem such that the solution is made more difficult.        

  • As COVID-19 continues its global rampage, countries around the world are developing signature motifs of resistance. In Italy, it is balcony singing. In India, it is the ‘Go Corona!’ chant. In Japan, it is a three-legged mer-person with scaly skin, lank hair and a beak that looks like the artistic offspring of a marriage between Picasso and Dali: “the amabie”.  The amabie is a pictorial representation of a 19th century yokai or mythological spirit that has emerged as the social media mascot for the novel coronavirus, trending on Twitter and flooding Facebook feeds.     

  • Australia will force Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google to share advertising revenue with local media firms, becoming one of the first countries to require digital platforms to pay for content they use.        

  • Google launches ‘journalism relief fund’. Google said it will launch an emergency fund to help local news outlets struggling to maintain operations in the face of the pandemic.

  • Google said it had started a “sensitive events” policy last month, which restricts ads on coronavirus content. On March 9, it also placed a temporary ban on ads selling masks, citing a supply shortage for medical professionals.       

  • Vietnam has been an ardent supporter of the U.S.’s freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) carried out in the South China Sea. China has always taken a strong stand against these FONOPS of the U.S.

  • Under COVID-19 lockdown, horse-drawn carriages are delivering meals to those most at risk during the pandemic — the elderly and medical care workers in Vienna. The horse carriages called ‘fiaker’, derived from the French term ‘fiacre’, are a tourist attraction and bowler-hatted drivers offer visitors tours of the city centre in normal times.
  • Iran said its first military satellite named the Nour — meaning “light” in Persian — had been launched from the Markazi desert, a vast expanse in Iran’s central plateau.

  • India’s recent admission as observer to the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) will put SAGAR vision to the test. Founded in 1982, the IOC is an intergovernmental organisation comprising five small-island states in the Western Indian Ocean: the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion (a French department), and Seychelles.In 2012, the IOC was one of the four regional organisations to launch the MASE Programme — the European Union-funded programme to promote Maritime Security in Eastern and Southern Africa and Indian Ocean. Under MASE, the IOC has established a mechanism for surveillance and control of the Western Indian Ocean with two regional centres. The Regional Maritime Information Fusion Center (RMIFC), based in Madagascar, is designed to deepen maritime domain awareness by monitoring maritime activities and promoting information sharing and exchange. The Regional Coordination Operations Centre (RCOC), based in Seychelles, will eventually facilitate joint or jointly coordinated interventions at sea based on information gathered through the RMIFC. The view from Ebène (Mauritius), where the IOC is headquartered, and from where its maritime security strategy is directed, is that major powers are warmly invited to support its initiatives.      

  • The Unified Commanders Conference (UCC) is an annual event chaired by the Defence Minister and attended by the three Service Chiefs and senior officers of the Services and the Defence Ministry in addition to the Minister of State for Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff and the National Security Advisor.        

  • The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test–Ban Treaty (CTBT) is a multilateral treaty that bans all nuclear explosions, “for both civilian and military purposes”, in all environments. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 September 1996 but has NOT entered into force, as eight specific nations have not ratified the treaty.  Of the 44 listed countries, to date only 36 have ratified the treaty. China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the U.S. have signed but not ratified. China maintains that it will only ratify it after the U.S. does so but the Republican dominated Senate had rejected it in 1999. In addition, North Korea, India and Pakistan are the three who have not signed. All three have also undertaken tests after 1996; India and Pakistan in May 1998 and North Korea six times between 2006 and 2017. The CTBT has therefore not entered into force and lacks legal authority. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) in Vienna runs an elaborate verification system built around a network of over 325 seismic, radionuclide, infrasound and hydroacoustic (underwater) monitoring stations. 

  • The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) limits U.S. and Russian arsenals but will expire in 2021 and U.S. President Donald Trump has already indicated that he does not plan to extend it. Instead, the Trump administration would like to bring China into some kind of nuclear arms control talks, something China has avoided by pointing to the fact that the U.S. and Russia still account for over 90% of global nuclear arsenals. Both China and Russia have dismissed the U.S.’s allegations, pointing to the Trump administration’s backtracking from other negotiated agreements such as the Iran nuclear deal or the U.S.-Russia Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  

  • Australia has informed India that its premier multilateral air combat training exercisePitch Black 2020has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 situation. In the last edition of Pitch Black in 2018, the IAF for the first time deployed fighter aircraft which it had said would “provide a unique opportunity for exchange of knowledge and experience with these nations in a dynamic warfare environment”.  The bilateral naval exercise AUSINDEX early last year saw participation of the largest Australian contingent ever to India with over 1,000 personnel.  

  • Australia has launched a smartphone app to trace people who come in contact with coronavirus patients despite privacy concerns. The COVIDSafe app uses a phone’s Bluetooth wireless signal to store information about people’s interactions, and can be accessed by health officials if a person contracts coronavirus.       

  • The global military expenditure rose to $1917 billion in 2019 with India and China emerging among the top three spenders, according to a report by a Swedish think tank, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). In 2019, the top five largest spenders — U.S. ($732 bn), China, India, Russia ($65.1 bn) and Saudi Arabia ($61.9 bn) — accounted for 62% of the global expenditure. The annual report ‘Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2019’ was released. The $71.1 billion spent by India on defence in 2019 was 2.4% of itsGross Domestic Product (GDP).

  • The Southern Transitional Council (STC) is a secessionist organization in Yemen.

  • The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has downgraded India to the lowest ranking, “countries of particular concern” (CPC) in its 2020 report. The report, released in Washington by the federal government commission that functions as an advisory body, placed India alongside countries, including China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. India was categorised as a “Tier 2 country” in last year’s listing. This is the first time since 2004 that India has been placed in this category. 

  • India has moved to the seventh position from the previous year’s eighth in the annual Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2019. The countries ahead of it are Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan and Somalia.  A report compiled by the NITI Aayog has questioned the methodology adopted by an Australian-based institute to rank India as the seventh worst terrorism affected country ahead of conflict-ridden countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Palestine and Lebanon. The report also questions the opaque funding of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).     

  • India continues to be on the ‘Priority Watch List’ of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) for lack of adequate intellectual property (IP) rights protection and enforcement, the USTR said in its Annual Special 301 Report. The same assessment was made in the 2019 report. These long-standing concerns were about innovators being able to receive, maintain and enforce patents particularly in the pharmaceutical sector; concerns over copyright laws not incentivising the creation and commercialisation of content; and an outdated trade secrets framework. The report also mentioned high customs duties on medical devices and Information and Communications Technology. These goods categories were persistent challenges in trade talks between the two countries last year — the language used in the 2020 report in this context is the same as in the 2019 report. 

  • The United Nations Secretariat recently held a meeting of what it calls the “6+2+1” group on regional efforts to support peace in Afghanistan, a group that includes six neighbouring countries: China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan; global players the United States and Russia, and Afghanistan itself. India was conspicuous by its absence from the meeting on April 16, given its historical and strategic ties with Afghanistan, but not for the first time.   

  • A plurilateral agreement is a multi-national legal or trade agreement between countries. In economic jargon, it is an agreement between more than two countries, but not a great many, which would be multilateral agreement.
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