China may have conducted low-level nuclear test blasts, U.S. says

GS Paper III

Topic: International relations

Prelims: Zero yield

Mains: CTBT, New START treaty

What’s the News?

China may have secretly set off low-level underground nuclear test explosions despite claiming to observe an international pact banning such blasts, the U.S. State Department said in a report that could fuel U.S.-Chinese tensions.

U.S concerns:

  • U.S. concerns about Beijing’s possible breaches of a “zero yield” standard for test blasts have been prompted by activities at China’s Lop Nur nuclear test site throughout 2019.
  • The finding may worsen ties already strained by U.S. charges that the global COVID-19 pandemic resulted from Beijing’s mishandling of a 2019 outbreak of the coronavirus in the city of Wuhan.

Zero yield refers to a nuclear test in which there is no explosive chain reaction of the type ignited by the detonation of a nuclear warhead.

  • China’s possible preparation to operate its Lop Nur test site year-round, its use of explosive containment chambers, extensive excavation activities at Lop Nur and a lack of transparency on its nuclear testing activities raise concerns regarding its adherence to the zero yield standard.
  • Beijing’s lack of transparency included blocking data transmissions from sensors linked to a monitoring center operated by the international agency that verifies compliance with a treaty banning nuclear test explosions.

The 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT):

  • It allows activities designed to ensure the safety of nuclear weapons. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization verifies compliance with the pact.
  • The Treaty was negotiated at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva in 1994 and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It was opened for signature in 1996. The Treat has been signed by 184 nations.
  • China and the United States are among eight signatories that have not ratified it. But China has declared its adherence to its terms, while the United States has observed a unilateral testing moratorium since 1992.
  • Russia, France and Britain – three of the world’s five internationally recognized nuclear powers – signed and ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which still requires ratification by 44 countries to become international law.

Objectives of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty:

  • The CTBT has been seen as an essential step toward nuclear disarmament for over four decades.
  • The Treaty is intended to stop the qualitative nuclear arms race.
  • The CTBT aims to prevent further horrendous health and environmental damage caused by nuclear test explosions once and for all.
  • It curbs the development of new nuclear weapons and the improvement of existing nuclear weapon designs.

India and CTBT:

India finds CTBT a threat to national security because of its –

  • Discriminatory in nature as US which has already conducted more than 2000 tests suddenly realizes that here was no need to test nuclear devices any more.
  • No time-bound disarmament schedule for nuclear weapon states
  • CTBT would not help towards nuclear disarmament since it only banned nuclear explosive testing, but not other activities related to nuclear weapons, such as sub-critical (non-nuclear explosive) experiments, or computer simulations.

New START treaty:

  • It is a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation. It was signed on 8 April 2010 in Prague.
  • New START restricted the United States and Russia to deploying no more than 1,550 nuclear warheads, the lowest level in decades, and limited the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers that deliver them.
  • Looking at china’s testing activities forced trump to propose for getting china to join New start treaty.
  • China, estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons, has repeatedly rejected Trump’s proposal, arguing its nuclear force is defensive and poses no threat.

Conclusion:

The pace and manner by which the Chinese government is modernizing its stockpile is worrying, destabilizing, and illustrates why China should be brought into the global arms control framework.

Mains:

Discuss the reasons why India is not a signatory of CTBT treaty and  why India finds CTBT a threat to national security?


Why are gold prices rising?

GS Paper III

Topic: Indian economy

Mains: Reasons behind rising gold prices

What’s the News?

Much before Covid-19’s impact reverberated across economies and led to a crash in global stock markets, gold prices had started their upward glide since May 2019 to culminate into a nearly 40 per cent jump in less than a year.

Background:

  • Last year, there have been intermittent reports based on economic indicators suggesting that the US economy could enter into recession after a record 11 years of economic surge since the global financial crisis of 2008.
  • After the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 in the US, which led to a world wide economic crisis, gold prices jumped from around $700 an ounce in October 2008 to peak at around $1900 an ounce in September 2011.
  • In the next four years, gold was on a steady decline and crashed to nearly $1000 an ounce in December 2015. Between 2015 and 2019, gold was in a range of $1000 an ounce and $1350 an ounce, after which it started its steady run.

Reasons behind rising prices:

  • The expectation of recession and the Covid-19 impact sowed the seeds of the gold rally which has virtually led to a shutdown of major economies across the world, added momentum to the rising gold prices as a major global recession now looks certain. The nearly 40 per cent crash in benchmark equity indices in the US and India, forced the US Fed to announce a record amount of liquidity injection and bond buying programme of more than $3 trillion, and the promise to do more.
  • On March 27, the Reserve Bank of India too cut its key policy rate by 75 basis points and announced liquidity injection of Rs 3.74 lakh crore in the financial markets.
  • Any expansion in the paper currency tends to push up gold prices. Apart from this, major gold buying leading central banks of China and Russia over the last two years supported higher gold prices.

Significance of gold:

  • While gold by itself does not produce any economic value, it is an efficient tool to hedge against inflation and economic uncertainties.
  • It is also more liquid when compared with real estate and many debt instruments which come with a lock-in period.

Trend in rising gold prices:

  • After any major economic crash and recession, gold prices continue their upward run. Analysts in market feel that gold could now overtake the previous peak of around $1900 per ounce.
  • The empirical findings suggest that gold prices fall with a rise in equity prices. Gold prices also move in tandem with heightened economic policy uncertainty, thereby indicating the safe haven feature of the asset, the RBI said in its latest Monetary Policy Report.

Prospects of rising gold prices:

  • Given the economic uncertainty, gold is expected to touch a new all time high, which will be over $1900 an ounce. In India, the prices will also be supported by any further weakness in the Indian rupee.
  • Any sudden sale of gold holdings by central banks to tide over the economic crisis, and crisis in other risk assets prompting investors compensate their losses through sale of gold ETFs (exchange traded funds), are the key events could stall the gold rise.

Conclusion:

  • The adverse economic impact of Covid-19 is expected to linger on for much longer — with comparisons being made to the great depression of 1929 in the US.
  • As an when economic recovery picks up pace, which is now expected in late 2021 only, investors will start allocating more funds to risk assets like stocks, real estate and bonds and pull out money from safe havens such as gold, US dollar, government debt and Japanese yen.
  • As per historical trends, when equity and risk assets start an upward trend, gold typically falls significantly as was the case from 2011 till 2015.

NHRC asks Centre to frame guidelines for lockdown without violating rights

GS Paper II

Topic: Statutory bodies

Mains: Structure and functions of NHRC

What’s the News?

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Wednesday asked the Centre to issue an advisory to all States and Union Territories to implement the ongoing lockdown without violating the public’s rights. 

Background:

The Commission issued the direction after one of its special monitors and human rights activist, raised the issue of public servants, including the police, undermining the rights of people, particularly labourers, while implementing the lockdown.

Standard operating procedure:

The NHRC said it had written to the Union Home ministry to issue a suitable advisory or standard operating procedure for all public officials, including police personnel, to behave in a sensible manner with the people, particularly those belonging to vulnerable sections, respecting human rights relating to their life, liberty and dignity.

Recent incidents:

  • The police were doing many “good things” and the recent incident of a policeman’s hand being chopped off while enforcing the lockdown in Punjab was “unforgivable”.
  • At the same time, those police officials who were “using this time to be cruel and harsh must be stopped.
  • Allegedly, those who are illiterate and less informed, mainly the poor labourers and daily wages workers etc., are facing extreme difficulties due to shortage of food and other facilities for themselves and their families.
  • They can be asked to stay off the streets with some degree of compassion without being cruel and abusive using excessive force.

Additional information:

NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION:

  • NHRC of India is an independent statutory body established on 12 October, 1993 as per provisions of Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, later amended in 2006.
  • It is the watchdog of human rights in the country, i.e. the rights related to life, liberty, equality and dignity of the individual guaranteed by Indian Constitution or embodied in the international covenants and enforceable by courts in India.
  • It was established in conformity with the Paris Principles, adopted for the promotion and protection of human rights in Paris (October, 1991) and endorsed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 20 December, 1993.

Structure of the Commission:

  • NHRC is a multi-member body which consists of a Chairman and seven other members. Out of the seven members, three are ex-officio member.
  • President appoints the Chairman and members of NHRC on recommendation of high-powered committee headed by Prime Minister.
  • The Chairperson and the members of the NHRC are appointed for 5 years or till the age of 70 years, whichever is earlier.
  • They can be removed only on the charges of proved misbehavior or incapacity, if proved by an inquiry conducted by a Supreme Court Judge.
  • Commission also has five Specialized Divisions i.e. Law Division, Investigation Division, Policy Research & Programmes Division, Training Division and Administration Division.
  • The chairman and the members of State Commission are appointed by the Governor in consultation with the Chief Minister, Home Minister, Speaker of Legislative Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the State Legislative Assembly. 

Functions and Powers of NHRC:

  • NHRC investigates grievances regarding the violation of human rights either suo moto or after receiving a petition.
  • It has the power to interfere in any judicial proceedings involving any allegation of violation of human rights.
  • It can visit any jail or any other institution under the control of the State Government to see the living conditions of the inmates and to make recommendations thereon.
  • It can review the safeguards provided under the constitution or any law for the protection of the human rights and can recommend appropriate remedial measures.
  • NHRC undertakes and promotes research in the field of human rights.
  • NHRC works to spread human rights literacy among various sections of society and promotes awareness of the safeguards available for the protection of these rights through publications, media, seminars and other means.
  • The Commission takes an independent stand while providing opinions for the protection of human rights within the parlance of the Constitution or in law for the time being enforced.
  • It has the powers of a civil court and can grant interim relief.
  • It also has the authority to recommend payment of compensation or damages.
  • NHRC credibility is duly reflected in large number of complaints received every year and the trust reposed in it by the citizens.
  • It can recommend to both the central and state governments to take suitable steps to prevent the violation of Human Rights. It submits its annual report to the President of India who causes it to be laid before each House of Parliament.