27 Apr 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) Safe return: On migrant worker distress-
A month after one of the most stringent(strict) global lockdowns was imposed in India to tackle the pandemic, the travails(hardships) of the migrant worker have shown no signs of ending.
The government told the Supreme Court in late March that arrangements had been made to provide temporary shelters with food for migrant workers and as of then, none of them was on the road, just days after the lockdown had triggered an exodus(mass migration) of people to their native places.
But reports have shown that thousands continue to travel long distances, most of them by foot, to escape distress conditions or to their families. Meanwhile, lakhs of workers, who were dependent upon daily and casual labour, are still stranded(trapped) in Mumbai and Delhi without wages. The functioning of shelters in several places has been uneven(not same) across States and metropolitan cities.
With the ongoing lockdown hurting the economy, the Finance Ministry’s relief measures have been insufficient in providing for their needs. Some migrant workers, who stare at a continuing loss of livelihoods in their adopted places of work, are better off depending upon the social safety nets and familial support structures in their native places.
They should be allowed to avail these in a dignified and humane way. Restarting work under the MGNREGA that went dormant(inactive) in the earlier period of the lockdown, has provided an incentive for workers to leave for their native places. It is evident that the option of keeping workers at their respective places is no longer viable(affordable) and the Centre must work at ways to allow for their transport to their native places.
HUGE HUMANITARIAN AND ECONOMIC COST:
India, among other Asian countries such as its neighbours in the subcontinent, Malaysia and others, has managed to avoid the high fatalities(deaths) and infection rates that have been seen in Europe and North America. The lockdown has helped, but it has come at a huge humanitarian and economic cost.
The question of whether to extend a lockdown amid an economic crisis is a moral dilemma(a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives) that can be resolved only through practical steps that compensate the poor and the workers in the unorganised sector, and protect the old and the infirm(weak).
RESUME RAILWAY SERVICES:
Maharashtra, the State with the highest incidence of COVID-19 cases, besides having the largest number of migrant workers, has urged the Centre to plan and resume railway services for the labourers once the lockdown ends on May 3; it is a request the Centre must heed(accept). It is futile(useless) trying to blame workers for flocking(assembling) to railway stations as had happened in mid-April.
States such as Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are also gearing(preparing) up to facilitate their return. These steps are welcome.
Allowing migrant travel in a safe way by train that provides for the necessary physical distancing is the least that the government can do. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the distress faced by migrant workers must not be ignored.
2) Pandemic and panic: On Tamil Nadu’s five-city lockdown-
Tamil Nadu government ordered intensifying the lockdown in Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Tiruppur and Salem from April 26. It caused panic in these cities, threatening to undo(negate) the gains achieved from avoiding crowding, maintaining physical distancing and preparing the public for a calibrated(measured) exit from restrictions.
If the idea was to halt the rising rate of infections, which cumulatively touched 1,821 on April 25, the government’s announcement of a ‘complete lockdown’ was counterproductive.
Thousands crowded grocery stores, vegetable shops and petrol pumps to stock up, many ignoring safety norms. Anxiety over access to essential goods, particularly among people who do not store articles for long periods, triggered panic buying.
Confusion also marked the issue of new passes for delivery agents in places such as Madurai, attracting massive crowds. Such chaotic events are an invitation to disaster, since the highly contagious(spread from one person or organism to another, typically by direct contact), and by many accounts dangerous virus infects people immediately, if they are in close proximity(distance).
UNDOING THE GAINS:
Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami must worry that the government’s commendable efforts to manage the pandemic while raising health system capacity during the lockdown have suffered a jolt(shock).
Tamil Nadu’s hard-won gains from quarantine of travellers, systematic screening and monitoring of individuals at higher risk, contact tracing and community surveillance faces an unexpected challenge.
RAISING ADMINISTRATIVE EFFICIENCY:
Although its fallout(consequence) will be known only in the days to come, the crowding episode could pass off as an aberration(one off event) if the focus returns to raising administrative efficiency.
This should not be difficult, since the government has a white list of permitted activity. Barring emergencies, care needs of patients with chronic non-COVID conditions should be taken. The average citizen can weather(bear) a lockdown reasonably well if food, medicines and other essentials are available. Longer shutdowns will create other stresses, since no household maintenance work is possible and spares are not available.
But the crowding challenge during the lockdown is posed mainly by the use of personal vehicles, including those used for purchase of essentials. Restricting this is feasible(possible) if governments can bring these articles virtually to the resident’s doorstep or make them available within walking distance.
Physical distancing and a ‘no mask, no service’ rule should apply. An expanded permit system for delivery agents not just from online platforms, but authorised local merchants could address this. Such an approach was envisaged(imagined) even in the lockdown order of the Union Home Ministry last month, and it assumes greater significance now.
Creating scannable codes, for instance, can help essential services function smoothly and enable easier policing. A system of codes may be inevitable(unavoidable), when select activity such as movement of industrial workers is permitted in future.
Periodic lockdowns may also become common, when there are spikes(increase) of infection. The administration needs refined tools and a consultative process with all sectors for this new normal. While ensuring physical distancing, governments shouldn't trigger crowding through abrupt changes
3) At the edge of a new nuclear arms race-
In mid-April, a report issued by the United States State Department on “Adherence(follow) to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation(non-increment), and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (Compliance Report)” raised concerns that China might be conducting nuclear tests with low yields at its Lop Nur test site, in violation of its Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) undertakings.
The U.S. report also claims that Russia has conducted nuclear weapons experiments that produced a nuclear yield and were inconsistent with ‘zero yield’ understanding underlying the CTBT, though it was uncertain about how many such experiments had been conducted.
Russia and China have rejected the U.S.’s claims, but with growing rivalry among major powers the report is a likely harbinger(indicator) of a new nuclear arms race which would also mark the demise(end) of the CTBT that came into being in 1996 but has failed to enter into force even after a quarter century.
WHAT DOES CTBT BAN MEAN?
For decades, a ban on nuclear testing was seen as the necessary first step towards curbing(preventing) the nuclear arms race but Cold War politics made it impossible.
A Partial Test Ban Treaty was concluded in 1963 banning underwater and atmospheric tests but this only drove testing underground. By the time the CTBT negotiations began in Geneva in 1994, global politics had changed.
The Cold War had ended and the nuclear arms race was over. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR, had broken up and its principal testing site, Semipalatinsk, was in Kazakhstan (Russia still had access to Novaya Zemlya near the Arctic circle). In 1991, Russia declared a unilateral moratorium(temporary prohibition of an activity) on testing, followed by the U.S. in 1992. By this time, the U.S. had conducted 1,054 tests and Russia, 715.
(TRIVIA- The Cold War was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies, the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc, after World War II. The period is generally considered to span the 1947 Truman Doctrine to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union)
France and China continued testing, claiming that they had conducted far fewer tests and needed to validate new designs since the CTBT did not imply(mean) an end to nuclear deterrence(action of discouraging an action through instilling doubt or fear of the consequences).
France and the U.S. even toyed(consider (an idea or proposal) casually) with the idea of a CTBT that would permit testing at a low threshold, below 500 tonnes of TNT equivalent. This was one-thirtieth of the “Little Boy”, the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 — its explosive yield was estimated to be the equivalent of 15,000 tonnes of TNT.
Civil society and the non-nuclear weapon states reacted negatively to such an idea and it was dropped. Some countries proposed that the best way to verify a comprehensive test ban would be to permanently shut down all test sites, an idea that was unwelcome to the nuclear weapon states.
“ZERO YIELD” TEST BAN:
Eventually, the U.S. came up with the idea of defining the “comprehensive test ban” as a “zero yield” test ban that would prohibit supercritical hydro-nuclear tests but not sub-critical hydrodynamic nuclear tests.
Once the United Kingdom and France came on board, the U.S. was able to prevail(win) upon Russia and China to accept this understanding. After all, this was the moment of the U.S.’s unipolar supremacy.
Accordingly, the CTBT prohibits all parties from carrying out “any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion”; these terms are neither defined nor elaborated.
WHY IT LACKS AUTHORITY:
Another controversy arose regarding the “entry-into-force” provisions (Article 14) of the treaty. After India’s proposals for anchoring the CTBT in a disarmament(to disarm all countries from possessing nuclear weapons) framework did not find acceptance, in June 1996, India announced its decision to withdraw from the negotiations.
Unhappy at this turn, the U.K., China and Pakistan took the lead in revising the entry-into-force provisions. The new provisions listed 44 countries by name whose ratification(sign or give formal consent) was necessary for the treaty to enter into force and included India.
India protested that this attempt at arm-twisting violated a country’s sovereign right to decide if it wanted to join a treaty but was ignored. The CTBT was adopted by a majority vote and opened for signature.
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.
COMPREHENSIVE NUCLEAR-TEST-BAN TREATY ORGANISATION:
Nevertheless, an international organisation to verify the CTBT was established in Vienna with a staff of about 230 persons and an annual budget of $130 million. Ironically, the U.S. is the largest contributor with a share of $17 million.
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) runs an elaborate verification system built around a network of over 325 seismic(vibrations of the earth and its crust), radionuclide, infrasound and hydroacoustic (underwater) monitoring stations.
The CTBTO has refrained(hold back) from backing the U.S.’s allegations.
COMPETITION IS BACK:
The key change from the 1990s is that the U.S.’s unipolar moment is over and strategic competition among major powers is back. The U.S. now identifies Russia and China as ‘rivals’.
Its Nuclear Posture Review asserts that the U.S. faces new nuclear threats because both Russia and China are increasing their reliance on nuclear weapons. The U.S., therefore, has to expand the role of its nuclear weapons and have a more usable and diversified nuclear arsenal.
The Trump administration has embarked on a 30-year modernisation plan with a price tag of $1.2 trillion, which could go up over the years. Readiness levels at the Nevada test site that has been silent since 1992 are being enhanced to permit resumption of testing at six months notice.
Russia and China have been concerned about the U.S.’s growing technological lead particularly in missile defence and conventional global precision-strike capabilities.
Russia has responded by exploring hypersonic delivery systems and theatre systems while China has embarked on a modernisation programme to enhance the survivability of its arsenal which is considerably smaller.
In addition, both countries are also investing heavily in offensive cyber capabilities.
NEW U.S. REPORT:
The new U.S. report stops short of accusing China for a violation but refers to “a high level of activity at the Lop Nur test site throughout 2019” and concludes that together with its lack of transparency, China provokes concerns about its intent to observe the zero-yield moratorium on testing.
The U.S. claims that Russian experiments have generated nuclear yield but is unable to indicate how many such experiments were conducted in 2019. It suggests that Russia could be testing in a manner that releases nuclear energy from an explosive canister, generating suspicions about its compliance.
NEW STRATEGIC ARMS REDUCTION TREATY:
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.
Tensions with China are already high with trade and technology disputes, militarisation in the South China Sea and most recently, with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. could also be preparing the ground for resuming testing at Nevada.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal, is an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program reached in Vienna on July 14, 2015, between Iran and the P5+1 together with the European Union.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was an arms control treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union. US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on 8 December 1987. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and employ extensive on-site inspections for verification. As a result of the INF Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty's implementation deadline of June 1, 1991)
The Cold War rivalry was already visible when the nuclear arms race began in the 1950s. New rivalries have already emerged. Resumption of nuclear testing may signal the demise of the ill-fated CTBT, marking the beginnings of a new nuclear arms race.
(Rakesh Sood is a former diplomat and presently Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation)