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The Hindu Editorial Analysis | PDF Download

Date: 10 September 2019

Belated realization

An erratic President Trump changes his mind over talks with the Taliban

  • In a dramatic set of posts on Twitter, U.S. President Donald Trump announced the cessation of peace negotiations with the Taliban while also revealing that the insurgent group’s representatives were to have participated in secret talks at the Camp David retreat in Maryland. This is yet another instance of the stock that the maverick President puts in personal diplomacy in the conduct of America’s foreign affairs.
  • His tweets abruptly seem to have indicated the end, at least for now, to the negotiations conducted by the chief U.S. negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, with the Taliban. Mr. Khalilzad had disclosed that he had reached an “in principle” agreement with the Taliban, but the details have not been revealed. The negotiations were over U.S. troop withdrawal from the country and assurances from the Taliban of not letting the country to be used as a safe haven for terrorists targeting the U.S. Mr. Trump said that a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul on Thursday was the trigger for his sudden decision.
  • But the Taliban has been continually engaging in a series of wanton attacks against civilians throughout the course of the talks that the U.S. had with the group in Qatar. One estimate suggests that it has engaged in 173 terror attacks resulting in 1,339 fatalities in 2019 alone. The Taliban has perversely used the attacks as a bargaining chip of sorts, to undermine the Afghanistan government and to seek concessions on its own terms. It is not clear why Mr. Trump chose this moment to call off talks as little has changed in the Taliban’s behaviour. What all this ambiguity reveals is Mr. Trump’s erratic nature.
  • Afghanistan has continued to be wracked by internecine violence, with the Taliban increasing its control over several provinces and the government’s writ prevailing only in the north-central parts of the country. A durable peace, with the U.S. seeking early troop withdrawal, is only possible if there are talks between all Afghan groups and other regional stakeholders, with a guarantee by the Taliban that it will eschew terror. But the Taliban has refused to engage with the Afghan government and the U.S.’s decision to delink the violence from the Doha talks only seemed to have emboldened the group. Mr. Trump must reveal the contents of the so-called “in principle” agreement and set more meaningful terms of engagement involving the Afghan regime in any further talks with the Taliban. It serves neither the U.S.’s own interests, as Mr. Trump seems to have belatedly realized, nor those of the beleaguered Afghan people if the Taliban is allowed to get away with repeated murder.
  • The upsurge of global environmental anxiety over the recent spate of forest fires in the Amazon, apparently marking a renewed push to deforestation, is clearly testimony to the heightened awareness of the danger to human security represented by global warming. The provocatively anti-environmental and climate denial views of Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, and his colleagues, the reining in of environmental controls if not disabling them, the President’s initial air of unconcern, and his absurd counter-allegations regarding the causes, have all contributed to exacerbating this anxiety. Predictably, this has drawn the ire of environmentalists, and public and government opinion globally, though the global media has been more circumspect.
  • Unfortunately, in this confrontation, facts and scientific evidence have become collateral damage, obscuring in the hype some of the substantive challenges to global climate action. The confrontation is also in danger of skewing the global discourse on climate policy, opening the way for unprecedented pressure from developed countries on the global South.

 The emissions math

  • What has been the overall contribution of deforestation and land-use change to global carbon emissions? As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes in its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the cumulative net addition of carbon to the earth system from terrestrial ecosystems since 1750 amounts to 30 Gigatonne (Gt) with an uncertainty of plus or minus 45 Gt. In the words of the IPCC in the AR5: “The net balance of all terrestrial ecosystems, those affected by land use change and the others, is thus close to neutral since 1750.”
  • The key word here is net. Though cumulative emissions from land-use change since 1750 amounted to almost 180 Gt, driven largely by the more than six-fold expansion of cropland, they were compensated by the 160 Gt of absorption by existing vegetation not subject to land use change. Fossil fuel use, in contrast, contributed 375 Gt since 1750, that is more than 12 times that of the net cumulative emissions from terrestrial ecosystems.
  • This pattern in carbon accounting also extends to annual emissions. On an average, the Global Carbon Project reports, fossil fuel emissions currently pump about 9.9 Gt of carbon annually into the atmosphere, while land-use change accounts for 1.5 Gt. But terrestrial ecosystems absorbed 3.8 Gt. Taking sources and sinks together, they are a net sink.
  • For tropical forests alone, following literature cited in the AR5, annual emissions (averaged over 1990 to 2007) due to deforestation and logging amounted to 2.9 Gt of carbon, while this was compensated by carbon absorption due to forest regrowth (1.64 Gt), recovering from deforestation and logging, and carbon absorption by intact forests (1.19 Gt). As a result, overall, tropical forests were marginally a source of emissions of about 0.11 Gt of carbon per year. Clearly there is no cause for complacency here, but nor is this yet an emergency.
  • No magic bullet
  • The story with respect to the Amazon River Basin and its tropical forest cover is very similar. By one scientific estimate, the Amazon, in 1980, stored 128 Gt of carbon, with 94 Gt in vegetation and 33 Gt in the reactive component of soil carbon. Subsequent evolution of the carbon storage in the Amazon, makes for a complex story. But while preservation of the Amazon as a carbon pool is essential, such preservation clearly is not the magic bullet that would counteract the impact of fossil fuel emissions.
  • But the bottom line from this evidence is that fossil fuel emissions have a lasting impact of a kind that deforestation and land use change do not. The effect of the latter can be partially repaired over time, albeit slowly, as the data on tropical forests demonstrates, while untouched forests and living biomass continue to absorb carbon. Fossil fuel emissions from coal, oil, and gas cannot however be put back in to where they came from. Nor can their cumulative emissions be compensated by increased vegetation, since it will amount to increasing the cumulative absorption of terrestrial ecosystems to an improbable level. Forest ecosystems, in balance, will suffer from the overall impact of global warming, degrading their extent and quality.
  • Even the alarm expressed over the current forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon, lacks a sense of proportion. Data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research shows that the number of fires this August, while large, is not exceptional. The year’s tally, till August 25, was 80,626, a 78% increase yearon-year. However, in Peru it is 105% higher, and in Bolivia 107%, both part of the Amazon basin. There are forest fires elsewhere, extensive in Africa, particularly in Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (attributed to slash-and-burn agriculture), in Siberia (three million hectares) and in Canada, both attributed to unusually high summer temperatures (this July being the warmest month ever). Brazil’s tally this year is nowhere yet near its highs from 2005 and 2010, when it exceeded 120,000 for the comparable period of the year.

Brazil’s efforts

  • Brazil has also put in substantial effort over the last decade to slow down deforestation, with some notable success, reducing it by 2013 to 75% of its pre-2005 annual average, success that was hailed globally. It is quite likely that Mr. Bolsanaro represents a reaction to the tough measures that accompanied this effort, not only from agribusiness in soy and beef production, as has been plausibly argued, but also a large section of small farmers who found it difficult to shift from slash-and-burn to intensified cultivation. Apart from deforestation though, Brazil is by no means a high emissions country, and a model of renewable energy use from hydro power and biofuels.
  • What then has driven the global outrage against Mr. Bolsanaro? On the part of global public opinion, the notion that afforestation constitutes some kind of magic bullet to fight global warming, is a popular one. The Amazon was always the poster-child of conservation and biodiversity, and halting deforestation there a global cause célèbre among environmentalists and their movements. With global warming, the difficulty in slowing down fossil fuel emissions provides added fuel to such views, even if the evidence militates against them.
  • However, the attitude of the governments of developed countries and many international nongovernmental organizations that share these views, is clearly driven by other considerations. These nations have notably failed to deliver in reducing their fossil fuel emissions. As a 2018 report of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has noted, the developed countries (excluding the former Soviet bloc nations whose emissions plummeted along with their economies) have achieved a reduction of only 1.3% over 26 years from 1990. The only way to maintain the Paris Agreement’s promise, that they brokered, of restricting global warming to well below 2° C or indeed 1.5°C is by turning the screws on mitigation in the non-industrial sectors. These sectors play a major role in the emissions of most developing countries, however low they may be in absolute terms.

Pressure tactics

  • Mr. Bolsanaro’s revolt is particularly unwelcome in this context, even if it is inspired by the United States, and its President, Donald Trump. But while a superpower cannot be brought to heel, nor indeed can large developing nations such as China and India, Brazil is a softer target. The threat by the French President, Emmanuel Macron to block the EU-Mercosur trade deal to mark the European Union’s displeasure marks a new low in the global North’s pressure tactics on the South in dealing with the climate challenge.
  • In a dangerous portent, a noted U.S. foreign policy commentator, Stephen Walt, writing recently in Foreign Policy magazine, speculated on precisely such tactics. He further speculated that “major powers” could intervene even militarily to discipline nations recalcitrant in climate action. Global talk of a climate emergency that is not grounded in scientific evidence, however well-intentioned in their origins, could also unwittingly fuel thinking along these lines.
  • The Amazon and other terrestrial ecosystems offer much needed room to manoeuvre in dealing with global warming. But without reducing fossil fuel emissions drastically and the global North paying back its carbon debt by taking the lead, there can be little hope of meeting the climate challenge.
  • Despite the Russia-India-China triangle reconciling on a shared vision and responsibility for the future of Eurasia, watchfulness resurfaces behind the curtains. As the U.S.-China trade war is tending to get out of hand and China may invigorate its outreach throughout the continent to toss American presence, the strategic triangle might soon face increased pressure that could challenge the existing balance of power.
  • Though Russia and India benefit from the current status quo in interactions, enhanced exchange and geopolitical coordination, neither country is interested in becoming hostage to China’s galloping regional ambitions. New Delhi is specifically concerned about Moscow growing more dependent on Beijing, while the Kremlin wants to avoid possible rifts in China-Indian relations.
  • Such beliefs act as powerful catalyzers to boost more fruitful cooperation between the two nations on a number of areas.

More fruitful cooperation

  • In 2017, the bilateral economic turnout grew by almost 22% and by more than 17% last year; trade is projected to touch $30 billion by 2025. Despite Russia’s well-known trade model that is often marked by asymmetry, exporting raw materials and importing value-added products, this does not seem to be the case with India any longer.
  • A few years ago, Russia’s oil giant, Rosneft, invested $12.9 billion in India’s second largest private oil refiner, Essar Oil, marking one of the biggest foreign investments in years. Russia is also studying the feasibility of the Nagpur-Secunderabad High Speed Rail and the construction of major energy and transportation projects.
  • Petrochemicals is another area that Russian companies are looking at. India is now the world’s fastest growing market for butyl rubber and halogenated butyl rubber thanks to its rapidly expanding car manufacturing industry which is pushing for electric vehicles. In February 2012, Sibur and Reliance Industries entered into a joint venture, setting up the Reliance Sibur Elastomers Private Limited in Jamnagar, Gujarat. The region’s first butyl rubber halogenation plant is set to become operational this year and has a capacity of 120 ktpa of butyl rubber and 60 ktpa of halogenated butyl rubber, respectively.
  • In addition, Sibur has agreed to share proprietary butyl rubber technology, staff training and access to the complex equipment of polymerisation reactors, which is unprecedented for a Russia company and marks a unique case of partnership between the two countries.
  • The new areas of cooperation contribute to those where India and Russia have already developed a relatively stable pattern of interaction and exercise evolved traditions on the state level. Dwarfed by the Soviet times and experiencing an overall decrease in total market share, Russia, nonetheless, continues to serve as the largest arms supplier and just recently signed an agreement to carry payments through national currencies to circumvent the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act norms of the U.S.
  • In October last, Moscow and New Delhi signed a $5-billion S-400 air-defence system deal that is among the agreements cumulatively worth $10-billion. The list includes joint production of Kamov Ka-226T helicopters, four Admiral Grigorovich–class frigates and a joint venture in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, producing 750,000 Kalashnikov AK-203 rifles. More deals are under way, including acquiring additional Su-30 MKI and about 21 MiG29 fighters, as well as possible participation in the multi-billion ‘Project 75’ of the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force’s contract for 114 fighter jets.
  • Strong personal ties between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi act as additional powerful catalysers. Moscow played a key role in facilitating India’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which allegedly helped to dilute China’s dominance. Mr. Modi has also become a regular at Russia’s key national events and the two met during the Russia-India Summit on September 4-5.
  • The China factor
  • Demand to boost relations also prevails in the corridors of the Kremlin. Currently, China’s GDP is four times larger and defence spending almost three times bigger than that of India. As both nations also have prolonged territorial disputes that occasionally turn into border stand-offs, a peaceful exchange between New Delhi and Beijing is perceived as fragile and Moscow’s balancing role seen to be in high demand.
  • Russia’s relations with India rely on traditions that follow from Soviet times and encompass New Delhi’s quest to sustain balanced and diversified policy that keeps enough space for manoeuvering.
  • In 1971, India signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union to balance a China-U.S. rapprochement, a move that performs a vital role in Russia’s interpretation of Indian foreign policy till date. Thus, Moscow is aware of New Delhi’s long-term quest to diversify its economic and political relations to preserve maximum independence in decision-making. In effect, close U.S.-India relations do not seem to be having a serious impact on the exchange.
  • Despite the agreement to bypass U.S. sanctions and use of national currencies with Moscow, New Delhi is still hoping to acquire a waiver from the White House. India acknowledges Washington’s support in its claim for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. India has also benefited from the rift in Pakistan-U.S. relations that emerged under the Trump administration and it became more assertive in Kashmir by revoking its special status.
  • Although Russia acknowledges its augmenting dependence on China, it also envisions potential threats to the current balance of power in Eurasia. Unlike in Europe, however, Moscow is not willing to punch above its weight and prefers the role of an intermediary. New Delhi acknowledges Moscow’s growing dependence on Beijing that has accelerated amid the Kremlin’s never-ending melee with the West. Nevertheless, with the Eurasian balance of power at stake, the need to bet on each other seems to be a shared strategy that supplies strong impetus to greater cooperation.
  • The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration was simply called the Academy of Administration when it was set up in 1959 in Mussoorie. It signalled a resolve to systematically train members of the higher civil services in order to equip them to be the change agents of a resurgent India. The two All-India Services, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and the Indian Police Service, instituted earlier under a specific provision of the Constitution, as also other Services attracted some of the finest minds from the university system. The IAS motto, ‘Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam (proficiency in action is yoga)’, and the Academy song, ‘Hao Dharomete Dheer, Hao Karomete Bir (Be firm in your faith, courageous in action)’, symbolised the nation’s expectation from them. The majestic Himalayan peaks viewed from the campus constantly reminded the recruits to strive for strength, rectitude and excellence.
  • The Academy introduced in 1960 a common Foundation Course (FC) in order to “instil a shared understanding of government and build camaraderie among the civil services”. It is the professional training institution for the IAS, and continues to conduct an FC for various All-India and Central Services.
  • Keeping with the times
  • In the last six decades, there have been transformational changes in the country. There have also been failures and inadequacies. Consequently, to meet with the myriad challenges, the civil servants have also had to constantly upgrade themselves. How is the Academy coping with the changing times?
  • Fortunately, the Academy has been steered in critical junctures by sagacious administrators such as A.N. Jha, P.S. Appu, B.N. Yugandhar and N.C. Saxena. While the content and methodology of training have changed to meet the demands of time, the pattern introduced in 1969 — of district training being sandwiched between institutional exposures at the Academy — has remained broadly unaltered.
  • On successful completion, IAS trainees are now awarded an M.A. degree in Public Management by the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Besides, the Academy also conducts mid-career training programmes for officers, in keeping with their varying job requirements from policy implementation towards policy formulation.
  • The Academy now houses five national research centres on rural studies, disaster management, gender, public systems management, and leadership development and competency assessment.
  • Pursuant to the Kargil Review Committee recommendations, a joint civil-military programme on national security was introduced in 2001.
  • Some limitations
  • Even the best of training has its limitations. Nevertheless, the Academy has been engaging itself steadfastly with this onerous task. However, how much of its effort gets reflected in the performance of officers remains a moot question. The correlation between the training imparted in Mussoorie and the quality of public services in the heat and dust of Indian polity should be unquestionable. Second, there has been no serious attempt to record the experiences of the trainees/officers at the field/secretariat levels and publish them in scholarly journals, enabling others to benefit from such exposures. The Academy journal, The Administrator, does not seem to have any discernible impact on the academic discourse on the various facets of our governance. Are the days of scholar-administrators gone? Third, what have been the outputs of the five national centres? How does such research inform the training curriculum? Has the Academy realized its potential to emerge as the main think tank for civil service reforms?
  • Civil servants are aware that the public sometimes resent the bureaucracy, often for valid reasons. Politicians criticize the bureaucracy as blocking the course of development. These days, Ministers are not always willing to accept responsibility for their own decisions. The reputation of officers is being unduly tarnished all the time. Shouldn’t the Academy help build a national consensus on these contentious issues?
  • The challenge lies in how civil servants maintain their integrity and efficiency while serving in a system that deals with power play and corruption. Fortunately, there are umpteen instances of civil servants playing their role neutrally and resolutely. Idealism as a virtue may be on the wane, but has not vanished altogether.
  • In defending and expanding the constitutional values and in adhering to the spirit of various progressive legislation, the IAS and other Services have played a significant role in nation-building. Despite our ‘uncertain glory’, if one looks at the trajectory of independent India and compares it with that of our immediate neighbours, our higher bureaucracy appears to be a defining difference. The Academy in Mussoorie deserves some credit for that.
  • In a welcome judgment for India, a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel in June accepted its claim in a dispute concerning U.S. regulations on domestic content requirement in the production of renewable energy. This was also significant as New Delhi had earlier lost a similar dispute over its own domestic content requirements. Though Washington has since challenged the ruling, in the light of the Donald Trump administration’s allegations against the WTO, it is important to discern the reasoning adopted by the organization in reaching its conclusion.
  • The dispute revolved around certain States in the U.S. that give incentives to local producers in the form of tax rebates, refunds and credits when they produce renewable energy using locally manufactured products. Article III of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) requires that countries do not provide less favourable treatment to ‘like products’ originating from other nations. For instance, a solar photovoltaic cell manufactured in the U.S. should be liable to the same amount of tax as one made anywhere else in the world.
  • But how does the WTO determine whether an item is a ‘like product’? The organization’s criteria pertains to the product’s end use, composition, substitutability, consumer preferences and tariff classifications.
  • Disputing the causal link
  • In this case, the U.S. conceded that the import from India was a ‘like product’. What it disputed was the causal link between the incentives provided by the respective States and its effect on the Indian goods. For instance, the U.S. argued that the figures quoted by India showing a growth in the number of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed in Washington State between 2005 and 2015 do not support its assertion that additional incentives by themselves have induced the wide-scale adoption of locally made renewable energy products.
  • However, the WTO panel rejected this argument, stating instead that Washington State’s additional incentive accords an advantage on the use of local products not available for ‘like imported products’. India, the panel held, was not required to prove factually that the rise in the production of PV systems was caused by a rise in the production of upstream local products at the cost of ‘like-imported products’.
  • The ‘mere incentivization’ of only the local products was sufficient to make a prima facie case that Washington State’s additional incentive affected the sale, purchase, transportation, distribution or use of the relevant products, the panel said.
  • Solar module exports to U.S.
  • The ruling is also important considering that the U.S. imported 44% of the Indian solar module exports in the 2018-2019 period.
  • We believe that this dispute could have been easily avoided had the two countries settled their differences beforehand. This is especially so because there are various other disputes pending between the countries at the WTO involving the export promotion scheme brought in by India and the imposition of excess customs duty on steel and aluminium by the U.S.
  • New Delhi claims that its export promotion schemes are in consonance with its developing country status while Washington has cited ‘national security’ as the reason for the imposition of the duty.