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1. India Usa 2+2 Talks

1.1. Major outcomes of the talk

  • Signing of COMCASA: India and the USA began a new generation of military and security cooperation by signing Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).

  • Setting up of a hotline between External Affairs Minister and Defence Minister with their American counterparts: this will help maintain regular high-level communication on emerging developments.

  • Tri-service exercise: India and U.S. will hold a first-ever tri-service exercise on the east coast of India in 2019 and further increase personnel exchanges between the two militaries and defense organizations.

  • Deepening of maritime cooperation in Western Indian Ocean: the ministers committed to start an exchange between the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and the Indian Navy, announced deployment of an Indian liaison officer at NAVCENT, which is incharge of naval operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the oil rich Gulf Countries.

  • Expressed commitment towards working together on regional and global issues, including in bilateral, trilateral and quadrilateral formats: meeting also focused on regional stability in South Asia, South-East Asia and Indo-Pacific and both sides also expressed support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.

  • Promoting defence innovation: a Memorandum of Intent was signed between the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the Indian Defence Innovation Organization — Innovation for Defence Excellence (DIO-iDEX), which will look into joint projects for co-production and co-development projects through the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI).

  • Negotiations on Industrial Security Annex (ISA): The two defence ministers also announced readiness to begin negotiations on an Industrial Security Annex (ISA) that would support closer defence industry cooperation and collaboration. An ISA is required to enable private Indian participation in defence production and is particularly important as India opens up defence manufacturing to the private sector in a big way.

1.2. About Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA)

  • COMCASA is one of the four foundational agreements that the U.S. signs with allies and close partners to facilitate interoperability between militaries and sale of high end technology.

  • • COMCASA, an India-specific version of the Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), comes into force immediately and is valid for a period 10 years. Both countries will implement this agreement in a manner that is consistent with the national security interests of the other.

1.3. Significance of COMCASA

  • Facilitate access to advanced defence systems and enable India to optimally utilise its existing US-origin platforms: Indian armed forces will get to fully exploit the capability of the military platforms procured from the US. For instance, the P-8I reconnaissance aircraft currently operating at limited capacity.

  • India will get access to Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS): CENTRIX is the secure communication system network of the US. Navy ships with CENTRIXS systems on board can communicate securely with the U.S. Navy when needed and can benefit from the wider situational picture of the region as they have a large number of ships and aircraft deployed.

  • Bolsters India’s defence and enhances its capacity to project power into the Indo-Pacific region: it would enable Indian military to get a better picture of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) which is seeing increasing Chinese movements.

  • Ensures interoperability between military aircraft and other vehicles within India and with other countries: It improves India’s ability to fight alongside the other global navies with similar equipment that are major players in the Indo-Pacific, such as Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore.

  • Promotes modernisation and technological advancement of defence equipment.

  • COMCASA allows us to utilise US communications core that is among the best in the world: During Doklam standoff, for instance, India benefitted from US intelligence on the placement of Chinese troops on the plateau in the high Himalayas. However, in absence of a foundational agreement on sharing of sensitive intelligence such as the COMCASA, US inputs were subject to a time-lag.

1.4. Concerns with the COMCASA Agreement:

  • Allow U.S. Navy access to India’s own secure communication network and also that the information shared with the U.S. will be accessible to Pakistan: this agreement may harm India’s strategic autonomy by making its own communication network vulnerable to US spying.

  • US may manipulate critical decision making: Some critics are concerned that the US will retain control over its equipment sold to India under this pact and may manipulate decision-making.

1.5. Way Forward

  • India had signed the General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002 and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016. The last one remaining is the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA), signing which would complete the four foundational agreements that US have with its closest allies.

  • From the increased tempo of FONOPs (Freedom of Navigation Operations) in the South China Sea to the Quad to renaming the Pacific Command as the Indo-Pacific Command to the latest US Strategy document, the US administration is demonstrating greater stability and commitment to balancing China.

  • Talks are ongoing on granting waiver for India from US sanctions on Russia and Iran as it was said that USA doesn’t intend to penalise great strategic partners like India. A waiver provision has now been introduced to cover India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

  • Launch of the 2+2 Dialogue aims to provide a positive, forward-looking vision for the India-U.S. strategic partnership and to promote synergy in their diplomatic and security efforts.

2. India Myanmar Relations

Other connectivity projects through Myanmar

  • IMT Trilateral Highway: a regional highway being constructed under India’s Act East policy. It will connect Moreh in India with Mae Sot, Thailand via Myanmar. The highway is expected to boost trade and commerce in ASEAN–India Free Trade Area, as well as with rest of Southeast Asia.

  • The second land border crossing at Zokhawthar-Rhikhawdar will be connected to the Trilateral Highway at Kalemyo, near Kalewa in Myanmar.

  • Motor Vehicle Agreement: India, Myanmar and Thailand has been negotiating for finalising and implementing a Motor Vehicle Agreement .This agreement is necessary to utilise physical road infrastructure on IMT Trilateral Highway and other infrastructural linkages.

  • Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project is a project that will connect the eastern Indian seaport of Kolkata with Sittwe seaport in Rakhine State, Myanmar by sea. In Myanmar, it will then link Sittwe seaport to Paletwa, Chin State via the Kaladan river boat route, and then from Paletwa by road to Mizoram state in Northeast India.

2.1. More about the news

  • The two crossing points are at Moreh in Manipur, opposite Tamu in Myanmar’s Sagaing division, and Zokhawthar in Mizoram, opposite Rihkhawdar in Myanmar’s Chin state.

  • It marked the abolishing of special land entry permission which was previously required for visitors entering the country via land routes.

2.2. Significance & Concerns

  • Myanmar is an important part of India's Act East Policy and the step is crucial for the policy in following ways-

  • Improved Connectivity- Myanmar is crucial for New Delhi’s connectivity initiatives in the region, particularly in light of its non-participation in the Beijing-led Belt and Road Initiative. The efforts are complimented by various other ongoing connectivity projects in the region.

  • It has eased the connectivity between the people having brethren across the long border shared between the two countries.

  • Support India's involvement in Myanmar over China’s increasing influence- Projects like Kaladan are already facing delays which can be cured to some extent by the agreement.

  • Push to Tourism- It will help in the growth of tourism in Northeast India and Myanmar.

  • This will help in the growth of medical tourism in the Northeastern states of the country, which offer high quality medical services at reasonable rates, which may interest people in the border regions of Myanmar.

  • Sign of improvement in relations- The opening of these land routes also reflects the rapid growth in India-ASEAN ties, which was exemplified by the presence of the heads of state of all the ASEAN states at India’s Republic Day celebrations earlier in January this year for the ASEAN-India commemorative summit.

  • Apart from the specified significance, there are some concerns that should also be kept in mind. For example, the agreement as a sanguine for better connectivity is incomplete till the time other big connectivity projects (box) are not completed. Also, with better connectivity comes the need for improving checks against illegal immigrants and insurgents.

Way forward

  • Relations have indeed moved a long way since 1992 when New Delhi became a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN. Steps like these will aid India’s outreach to the ASEAN countries. Myanmar is India’s land bridge to ASEAN and hence closer connectivity with Myanmar is sine qua non for the success of India’s “Act-East Policy”.

  • India shares many common concerns with Myanmar that range from socio-economic development, shared concerns over insurgency and regional peace and preserving sovereignty in light of growing Chinese assertiveness.

  • India needs to seize this opportunity and expedite the work on ongoing projects while at the same time exercising soft power through constructive aid and cultural exchange.

3. Bimstec Summit

3.1. More about 4th summit

  • The meeting is taking place after a gap of four years, the 3rd BIMSTEC Summit took place in- Nay Pyi Taw in Achievements of BIMSTEC

  • BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement and BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) are being negotiated.

  • BIMSTEC countries have completed negotiations for the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the establishment of the BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection.

  • BIMSTEC Agreement on Mutual Assistance on Customs Matters has been signed and is under ratification.

  • Considerable progress has been achieved in areas such as cooperation among national security agencies, cooperation to check security threats such as smuggling, human trafficking, drugs and piracy, etc.

  • Secretariat has been established at Dhaka along with few BIMSTEC Centres in the region. 2014.

  • Several important decisions taken in the summit include: o Drafting a charter for BIMSTEC, which has functioned so far on the basis of the Bangkok Declaration of 1997.

  • Setting up of a Permanent Working Committee to provide direction during the period between two summits and also to prepare the Rules of Procedure.

  • The Secretariat has been promised additional financial and human resources and enhancement of its role to coordinate, monitor and facilitate the grouping’s activities.

  • Establishing a BIMSTEC Development Fund, with voluntary contributions from the Member States.

  • Welcomed Thailand proposed new strategy of five pillars (viz. connectivity, trade and investment, people-to-people contacts, security, and science and technology) as a part of rationalisation of focus sectors

  • Strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

3.2. Significance of BIMSTEC

  • Around 22% of the world’s population live in the seven countries around the Bay of Bengal, with a combined GDP close to $2.7 trillion. A fourth of the world’s traded goods cross the bay every year.

  • It has high economic potential, given the region’s economic dynamism, huge markets and rich natural resources.

  • It appears as a connector to multiple regional initiatives. Among seven-member countries, five members of BIMSTEC are also members of SAARC, two are part of ASEAN and six are part of SASEC.

  • Bangladesh views BIMSTEC as a platform to position itself as more than just a small state in the Bay of Bengal and Sri Lanka sees it as an opportunity to connect with Southeast Asia and serve as the subcontinent’s hub for the wider Indian Ocean and Pacific regions.

  • For Nepal and Bhutan, BIMSTEC stands to further their aspirations to reconnect with the Bay of Bengal region and escape their landlocked geographic positions.

  • For Myanmar and Thailand, connecting more deeply with India across the Bay of Bengal would allow them to access a rising consumer market and, at the same time, balance Beijing and develop an alternative to China’s massive inroads into Southeast Asia.


Importance for India

  • For India, it is a natural platform to fulfil our key foreign policy priorities of ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’.

  • Stagnation of SAARC is also a key reason for India to reach out to BIMSTEC as stagnation limited the scope of India’s growing economic aspirations as well as the role it could play in improving regional governance.

  • BIMSTEC provides new battleground for India-China. It could allow India to push a constructive agenda to counter Chinese investments such as in Belt and Road initiative, and follow international norms for connectivity projects which Chinese projects are widely seen as violating.

  • It could develop codes of conduct that preserve freedom of navigation and apply existing law of the seas regionally.

  • It could stem the region’s creeping militarisation by instituting, for instance, a Bay of Bengal Zone of Peace that seeks to limit any bellicose behaviour of extra regional power.

3.3. Challenges

  • BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement which was negotiated in 2004 to boost the intra-regional trade from its present level of 7% to 21% is yet to be finalized.

  • India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway has yet not been completed, which is crucial to trade movement between the countries.

  • BIMSTEC has the advantage of having a number of rising economies in the region but it is one of the least integrated parts of the world.

  • Lack of consistency in the Summit: In its 2 decades, BIMSTEC leaders met only thrice at the summit level.

  • It has slow pace of growth due to absence of focus on areas of cooperation, weak institutional mechanism, financial constraints etc.

  • Terrorism is the most significant threat in the Bay of Bengal region as well as South East Asia and there is need for more cooperation amongst the member states on this issue.

  • Maritime Security Issues: o 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis has made thousands of ‘boat people’ vulnerable to recruitment by criminal networks, sea pirates, and Islamist militants.

  • The Bay is also prone to some of the most severe natural disasters, incidents of sea piracy, and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

  • At present, maritime security cooperation initiatives within the sub-region do not include all the coastal Bay states– for instance, CORPAT exercises, Milan exercises, and the ‘IO-5’ grouping.

Way forward

  • To make BIMSTEC further lucrative, there is a need for increasing its membership base. BIMSTEC should consider expanding its membership to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore - the three major Asian powers

  • BIMSTEC shall give special focus on BIMSTEC cross-border e-commerce and digital connectivity. It may also consider opening a negotiation on BIMSTEC Railway Agreement

  • More socio-cultural interactions will build greater sense of ownership of BIMSTEC among the people of the region.

  • A regional trade facilitation agreement is also needed for cooperation in the matter of customs, training and capacity building, exchange of information, settling disputes, etc. It should also aim for regulatory harmonisation to ensure export of goods without requiring additional certification.

  • Strengthen IPR cooperation to help countries move higher up in the technology ladder, encourage transfer of technology and stimulate innovation and creativity.

  • BIMSTEC countries should facilitate air connectivity, particularly to link India’s Northeast with Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand. It may prove to be a catalyst for promotion of tourism and services trade.

  • BIMSTEC should consider forging tie-ups with other multilateral organizations in areas like manpower training and knowledge exchanges.

4. Indian Ocean Conference

4.1. More on the news

  • The theme of the two- day conference will focus on ‘Building Regional Architectures’, particularly with regards Indian Ocean Conference

  • The Indian Ocean Conference is initiated by India Foundation along with its partners from Singapore, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh

  • It is an annual effort to bring together Heads of States/Governments, Ministers, thought Leaders, scholars, diplomats, bureaucrats and practitioners from across the region.

  • Two successful editions of the Conference have been hosted so far in 2016 and 2017 in Singapore and Sri Lanka trade and commerce, security and governance.

  • This year, the Indian Ocean Conference will emphasise on better cooperation, strategic collaboration and governance architectures.

4.2. Significance of Indian Ocean

  • The sea lanes in the Indian Ocean are considered among the most strategically important in the world— more than 80 percent of the world’s seaborne trade in oil transits through Indian Ocean choke points. Around 95 per cent of India’s trade by volume and 68 per cent of trade by value come via the Indian Ocean.

  • The region is home to continually evolving strategic developments including the competing rises of China and India, potential nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan, the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Islamist terrorism, growing incidence of piracy in and around the Horn of Africa, and management of diminishing fishery resources.

  • The region is rich in energy resources and minerals such as gold, tin, uranium, cobalt, nickel, aluminium and cadmium, and also contains abundant fishing resources

  • It is important for securing the free passage of trade and energy, ensuring the sustainable and equitable exploitation of fishing and mineral resources, and managing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

4.3. Asian Development Bank- Strategy 2030

About the ADB- Strategy 2030

  • It is policy framework for ADB that sets out the its broad vision and strategic response to the evolving needs of Asia and the Pacific.

  • Social Dimension: In contrast to earlier Strategy 2020- the Strategy 2030 document emphasis on human and social factors, in addition to the usual infrastructure and the private sector.

  • Regional or Country Specific Approach: Due to sheer diversity of this region (include both landlock and Small island countries), ADB has, for the first time, adopted a differentiated approach to various groups of member nations.

  • One ADB Approach: This includes bringing together expertise and knowledge in a range of areas across the ADB as an institution.

Priority Areas of Strategy 2030

About Asian Development Bank (ADB)

  • ADB was founded in 1966 and India is a founding member to it.

  • The ADB has 67-member countries, including —48 from the Asian region.

  • ADB has been led conventionally by a Japanese governor.

  • Top 5 shareholders in ADB are: Japan (15.6%), United States (15.6%), People's Republic of China (6.4%), India (6.3%) and Australia (5.8%)

  • It provides direct assistance to private enterprises of developing member countries through equity investments and loans.

  • Addressing remaining poverty and reducing Inequalities: Under this policy efforts will also address non-income dimension of poverty.

  • Accelerating progress in gender equality

  • Tackling climate change, building climate and disaster resilience, and enhancing environmental sustainability

  • Making cities more liveable

  • Promoting rural development and food security

  • Strengthening governance and institutional capacity

  • Fostering regional cooperation and integration

4.4. India and ADB

  • India was a founding member of ADB and is now the fourth-largest shareholder, but operations in the country began only in 1986, when India opted to become a borrowing member.

  • The country partnership strategy (CPS) 2018-2022 will focus on three pillars.

  • Pillar 1 will boost economic competitiveness to create more and better jobs by expanding infrastructure networks for transport and energy along economic corridors, enhancing management of corridor development and urban centers, and addressing the skills gap to support industrialization.

  • Pillar 2 will provide inclusive access to infrastructure networks and social services by improving the infrastructure bottlenecks in lagging regions, providing better municipal services for the urban poor, and supporting investments in rural infrastructure to improve agricultural productivity and reduce the growing rural-urban income gap. Efficient public sector management will be supported to create fiscal space for investments in inclusive growth for social and rural development.

  • Pillar 3 will address environmental degradation through mitigating the negative impacts of climate change and promoting sustainable natural resource use in the project design.

5. Un Development System

Certain principles for repositioning of UN development system

  • The countries of operation should develop their own plans regarding how to maximize the contribution by the UN development system (UNDS) in support of their own plans. In this, the role of UNDS in mobilising means of implementation (including finance & capacity building) should be sufficiently emphasised.

  • UNDS should prioritize economic structural transformation in the programming and work of the UN Country Teams.

  • The participation of countries of operation should be there in the early stages of the selection of the new RCs.

  • For those sustainable developmental challenges which can be better addressed at regional level, regional capacities should be strengthened through the work of Regional Commissions.

  • The role of member states with respect to managing risks and ensuring oversight should be clear.

5.1. More on the resolution

  • The “repositioning” process began with an ECOSOC dialogue series in 2014-2015 on positioning the UN development system for a post-2015 era.

  • Repositioning is required in order to align the development system with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially to support developing countries.

  • It calls for UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs) to better reflect country priorities and country needs as they would be prepared in full consultation and agreement with national governments, through an open and inclusive dialogue

  • In repositioning, an implementation plan for the inception of the reinvigorated Resident Coordinator (RC) system is presented. The functions of the Resident Coordinators (RCs) of the UN system in each country are separated from those of the resident representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

  • It also endorses the transformation of the Development Operations Coordination Office (DOCO) as a stand-alone coordination office within the Secretariat to assume managerial and oversight functions of the RC system.

  • It also presents an implementation plan for operationalization of the funding arrangements for the new RC system – hybrid funding, i.e., through the United Nations regular budget as well as voluntary contributions by UN Member states.

  • It stresses on national ownership with strong focus on accountability and results.

6. Caspian Sea Breakthrough Treaty

6.1 Background

  • The 5 nations have tried to define the Caspian Sea’s legal status since the collapse of Soviet Union in order to divide up the waters and its natural resources for new drillings and pipelines. Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have contested the ownership of several oil and gas fields.

  • According to an estimate by the US Energy Information Administration in 2013, the Caspian offshore reserves contain atleast 20 Billion Barrels of Oil and more than 240 trillion Cubic Feet of natural gas.

  • These nations have already developed offshore oil and gas reserves that are located near enough to their coast.

  • Projects in the northernmost waters- Kazakhstan’s giant Kashagan field and Russia’s Filanovsky and Korchagin deposits- are seen as sources of future oil-output growth for the countries.

6.2. Significance of the Treaty

  • The treaty declares 15 Nautical Miles from the coastline as Sovereign waters and an Exclusive Economic Zone, with a further 10 nautical miles to be used for fishing and beyond this would be open waters.

  • Agreement included economic as well as security cooperation: this would have enormous implications for the global energy market and addressing security issues as the Caspian Sea is situated near the zones of international terrorist activities. (Afghanistan and West Asia)

  • The treaty ends a conflict over whether the Caspian is a sea or a lake, granting it a special legal status and clarifying the maritime boundaries of each surrounding country. The major concern is if it is a sea, it would become governed by international maritime law (UNCLOS) and outside powers would have access to these waters.

  • It allows each member nation to lay pipelines with consent only from the neighbouring states affected, rather than from all Caspian Sea Nations. The development of seabed reserves will be regulated by separate deals between Caspian Nations, in line with international laws which essentially cements the current situation as countries such as Kazakhstan and Russia already have bilateral accords on joint projects.

  • It might also remove a legal barrier to building a Trans- Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Europe.

  • It prevents the Caspian nations from opening their borders to third party aggressors such as the US and NATO or allowing any foreign military presence on Caspian waters.

6.3. Remaining Issues

  • Delimitation of oil and gas rich Caspian Sea bed will require additional agreements between littoral nations.

  • Russia is reluctant to allow Turkmenistan to pursue its proposed 300 Km gas pipeline to Azerbaijan which would open its huge cheap gas reserves to European Market at present dominated by Gazprom (Russian company).

7. India Becomes President Of Aibd

7.1. More on News

  • President status will help India in leveraging itself as the broadcasting and media hub in Asia Pacific Region.

  • India got the presidency of the organisation for the first time by defeating Iran in the election.

7.2. About Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD)

  • It is a regional inter-governmental organisation servicing countries of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) in the field of electronic media development.

  • It was established in 1977 under the auspices of UNESCO and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) is a founding organisation of the Institute and is a non-voting member of the General Conference.

  • It is hosted by Malaysia and its secretariat is located in Kuala Lampur.

  • The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), are also founding organisations of the Institute.

  • Its function is to achieve a vibrant and cohesive electronic media environment in the Asia-Pacific region through policy and mobilizing the intellectual and technological resources available within the national broadcasting organizations.

8. Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy Manual

8.1. More on News

  • In December 2014, Sweden became the first country to adopt a feminist foreign policy. Led since its inception in 2014, its goals include the promotion of economic emancipation, fighting sexual violence and improving women's political participation.

  • As an example, In 2015, Sweden’s diplomatic ties with Riyadh were frozen after the Swedish Foreign Minister called Saudi Arabia a "dictatorship", denouncing its treatment of women in particular in a way that other western diplomats might have avoided while dealing with the oil-rich state.

  • The manual stated that while gender equality was "an object in itself," it was "essential" in achieving more general government objectives, like peace, security and sustainable development.

What is Feminist Foreign Policy?

  • It is a course of action towards those outside national boundaries that is guided by a commitment to gender equality. It takes a step outside the black box approach of traditional foreign policy thinking and its focus on military force, violence, and domination by offering an alternate and intersectional rethinking of security from the viewpoint of the most marginalised.

  • Traditional gender stereotypes exclude women from power or restrict them to governance of “soft” areas. These stereotypes associate violence with men and portray it as an appropriate tool for solving conflicts and maintaining dominance. Feminist foreign policy seeks to counter these value preferences and stereotypes.

July International Relations

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