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The Hindu Notes for 6th October 2018

Preserving the taboo

Existing nuclear arms control agreements need to be brought in line with today’s political realities

  • Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump declared that the U.S. is quitting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a bilateral agreement with Russia signed in 1987. The decision was not unexpected since the U.S. has long maintained that Russia has been violating the treaty and Mr. Trump has been critical of arms control agreements because, according to him, other countries cheat putting the U.S. at a disadvantage.
  • Mr. Trump’s decision has generated dismay and concern that this will trigger a new nuclear arms race in Europe and elsewhere. What it ignores is that the INF Treaty reflected the political reality of the Cold War — of a bi-polar world with two nuclear superpowers — no longer consistent with today’s multi-polar nuclear world. The greater challenge today is to understand that existing nuclear arms control instruments can only be preserved if these evolve to take new realities into account.
  • Under the INF Treaty, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. agreed to eliminate within three years all ground-launched-missiles of 500-5,500 km range and not to develop, produce or deploy these in future. The U.S. destroyed 846 Pershing IIs and Ground Launched Cruise Missiles (GLCMs); and the U.S.S.R., 1,846 missiles (SS-4s, SS-5s and SS-20s), along with its support facilities.
  • Politics of negotiations

  • The INF Treaty was widely welcomed, especially in Europe because these missiles were deployed in Europe and the treaty was signed on December 8, 1987 in Washington by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan had earlier declared, “A nuclear cannot be won and must never be fought,” marking a ratcheting down of Cold War tensions that had been rising. By the early 1980s, the U.S.S.R. had accumulated nearly 40,000 nuclear weapons, exceeding the U.S. arsenal. In Europe, Russia replaced single warhead SS-4s and SS-5s with more accurate 3-warhead SS-20 missiles, heightening concerns. To reassure its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies about its nuclear umbrella, the U.S. began deploying Pershing IIs and GLCMs in the U.K., Belgium, Italy and West Germany, setting off a new arms race.
  • Growing rhetoric made the Europeans nervous. Realisation dawned that any nuclear conflict on European soil would only lead to more European casualties, catalysing a movement for ‘no-deployments’ in Europe. In the 1980s, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. began three sets of parallel negotiations — on strategic weapons leading to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), on intermediate-range weapons leading to the INF, and the Nuclear and Space Talks to address Soviet concerns about Reagan’s newly launched ‘space wars’ programme (Strategic Defense Initiative).
  • The INF talks originally considered equal ceilings on both sides but then moved to equal ceilings and non-deployment in Europe to address the sensitivities of allies. The U.S.S.R. wanted British and French missiles of similar ranges to be covered but the U.S. rejected the idea as also the inclusion of older 72 Pershing I missiles already deployed in Germany. To break the stalemate, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl made an announcement that Germany would unilaterally dismantle the Pershing 1s while the U.S.S.R. came up with a double global zero covering both shorter-range and intermediate-range missiles.
  • The U.S. agreed, Europe breathed a sigh of relief and the INF was hailed as a great disarmament treaty even though no nuclear warheads were dismantled and similar range air-launched and sea-launched missiles were not constrained. Since it was bilateral, the INF Treaty did not restrict other countries but this hardly mattered as it was the age of bi-polarity and the U.S.-U.S.S.R. nuclear equation was the only one that counted.
  • Changing political backdrop

  • Fast forward to 2018. Since 2008, the U.S. has voiced suspicions that with the Novator 9M729 missile tests, Russia was in breach; in 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama formally accused Russia of violating the INF Treaty. However, he refrained from withdrawal on account of European concerns. On the other hand, Russia alleges that the U.S. launchers for its missile defence interceptors deployed in Poland and Romania are dual capable and can be quickly reconfigured to launch Tomahawk missiles, constituting a violation. China has always had a number of Chinese missiles in the 500-5,500 km range but its modernisation plans, which include the commissioning of the DF-26, today raise the U.S.’s concerns.
  • The U.S.’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) reflects a harsher assessment of the security environment faced by the U.S. and envisages a more expansive role for nuclear weapons than in the past. Russia is blamed for seeking the break-up of NATO and a re-ordering of ‘European and Middle East security and economic structures in its favour’. China is identified for the first time as a strategic competitor seeking regional hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region in the near-term and ‘displacement of the U.S. to achieve global pre-eminence in the future’. A 30-year modernisation plan with a price tag of $1.2 trillion with new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCMs) and low-yield warheads is detailed in the NPR. Russia has unveiled plans to develop a new nuclear torpedo and nuclear-powered cruise missile.
  • Even more worrisome are developments that blur the line between nuclear and conventional weapons. In order to lessen its dependence on nuclear weapons, the U.S. developed layered missile defences and conventional Prompt Global Strike (PGS) capabilities that use conventional payloads against strategic targets. Other countries have responded with hypersonics and a shift to lower yield tactical warheads. With growing dependence on space-based and cyber systems, such asymmetric approaches only increase the risks of accidental and inadvertent nuclear escalation.
  • Preserving the nuclear taboo

  • The key difference with today’s return of major power rivalry is that it is no longer a bi-polar world, and nuclear arms control is no longer governed by a single binary equation. There are multiple nuclear equations — U.S.-Russia, U.S.-China, U.S.-North Korea, India-Pakistan, India-China, but none is standalone. Therefore, neither nuclear stability nor strategic stability in today’s world can be ensured by the U.S. and Russia alone and this requires us to think afresh.
  • The INF Treaty is not the first casualty of unravelling nuclear arms control. In December 2001, the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the U.S.S.R. which limited deployment of ABM systems thereby ensuring mutual vulnerability, a key ingredient of deterrence stability in the bipolar era. The next casualty is likely to be the New START agreement between the U.S. and Russia, which will lapse in 2021, unless renewed for a five-year period. This limits both countries to 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBMs) and heavy bombers and 1,550 warheads each. However, Mr. Trump has described it as “one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration”. The lapse of the New START would mark the first time since 1968 that the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals would be unconstrained by any agreement.
  • The political disconnect is also evident in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the most successful example of multilateral arms control. It has become a victim of its success. It can neither accommodate the four countries outside it (India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan) as all four possess nuclear weapons, nor can it register any progress on nuclear disarmament. It succeeded in delegitimising nuclear proliferation but not nuclear weapons. This is why NPT Review Conferences have become increasingly contentious.
  • The most important achievement of nuclear arms control is that the taboo against use of nuclear weapons has held since 1945. Preserving the taboo is critical but this needs realisation that existing nuclear arms control has to be brought into line with today’s political realities.
  • In defence of Urjit Patel

    The government has overreacted in negotiating its differences with the RBI

  • The unfolding public falling-out between the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Finance Ministry is post-liberalisation India’s nastiest such rift — that too when the two sparring sides are led by non-aggressive personalities. If Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is non-confrontational, RBI Governor Urjit Patel is scholarly and dignified.
  • Central bank-government tensions are a common phenomenon. Successive governments have been in provocative situations with the RBI. On each occasion, the individuals involved defused tensions and found durable solutions outside the Section 7 consultation process.
  • Never used before in the 83 years of the RBI’s history, this process has been initiated for managing intractable disputes in not one or two, but three policy matters. Post-consultations, the government can give written directions to the RBI in ‘public interest’.
  • The disagreements relate to the RBI’s stringent restrictions on government-run banks whose non-performing assets (NPAs) have grown so much, that the only way of preventing risk spilling from them into the whole financial system is to quarantine their lending. A second source of friction is government’s insistence that the RBI go soft on power companies defaulting on loan repayments.
  • The third dispute is seigniorage, an eternal conflict. The RBI generates surpluses in the various money markets operations it runs. The RBI transfers part of the surpluses to the government, and with the rest it maintains various reserves to draw from in times of financial instability or contingencies.
  • The Finance Ministry wants the RBI to reset the formulae so that larger surpluses become free for transfer to the government. Determined moves of the sort were resisted most recently by Governors Y.V. Reddy and D. Subbarao, both ex-IAS and old Ministry hands.
  • Changing procedures

  • The long-standing battle escalated in 2015. Differences were so sharp that a substitute for the Finance Secretary was nominated to attend the RBI’s Board meetings. For the first time, an interview with a panel headed by Cabinet Secretary was instituted in the selection process for appointing the RBI Governor. Dr. Patel was chosen through this revamped process. Mr. Jaitley was not a member on the selection committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary or of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC). His views were taken onboard informally.
  • The RBI has in recent years passed on its surpluses in totality to the government, transferring nothing to its own reserves. It is working on a framework that will assess its risk-buffer requirements in a systematic way for determining the transferable surpluses every year.
  • Still not satisfied, the Ministry has initiated Section 7 consultations for dipping into the RBI’s war chest for ₹3.6 lakh crore. For Ministry mandarins, pressuring the RBI comes easier than raising resources through privatisation or expenditure reforms. Air India’s timid disinvestment plan has failed, as was expected. Its debt is burning holes in government finances. Would plugging those with the RBI’s surpluses serve ‘public interest’? This is political convenience masquerading as public interest.
  • The RBI is being blamed for the NPAs crisis — though at the height of public outrage over the Nirav Modi scam, the government dragged its feet on filling the vacancy of the Deputy Governor in charge of bank supervision and inspections. Mr. Patel was of the view that after decades of relying on public-sector banking background profiles, the job should be opened to a wider, global field of expertise. The panel that shortlisted candidates for approval by the ACC concurred with his opinion. Overcoming the IAS lobby’s resistance, applicants who combined exposure to public-sector banking system with experience at prestigious global banks were included in the shortlist.
  • But the ACC headed by the Prime Minister returned the shortlist, with a demand for more names, forcing re-advertisement of the vacancy and restarting of the process afresh. The previous Deputy Governor had retired in mid-2017. The successor was appointed in June 2018. The position remained vacant for nearly 12 months.
  • Such impasses accrue when differences, whether of policy or appointments, are framed as a contest for supremacy, limiting space for serious discussion. Feuds are spun in popular discourse as ideological conflicts of homegrown versus ‘imported’ economists. But for the first time, number of IAS officers holding PhDs in economics were shunted out of the Ministry.
  • Ila Patnaik, Arvind Panagariya and Arvind Subramanian left government. Raghuram Rajan’s messily-handled departure was followed by the sacking of a member, Nachiket Mor, from the RBI’s central board, another first for the RBI. When the government places low premium on qualified economists, non-technical actors and busybodies are able to muddy the waters and set the agenda.
  • In the public interest

  • The Section 7 process has been initiated in issues that were settled in the past without so much bad blood. The government has overreacted and exhibited poor timing. Public interest is hardly served by the initiation at a time of mounting macroeconomic stress. The RBI is a systemically vital institution that, barring its meek acquiescence on demonetisation, commands the confidence of the markets and the public’s respect. What it does not have in good measure is the government’s trust and support.
  • No respite from poverty for Muslims

    Government intervention is required to improve educational and economic indicators

  • The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) labour force survey reports that the economic condition of Muslims does not show any signs of improvement despite India being the fastest-growing large economy. An analysis of the data on economic and educational indicators for various religious groups reveals that Muslims are facing a vicious circle of poverty.
  • Lowest education levels

  • The NSSO’s 68th round (2011-12) provides estimates of education levels and job market indicators across major religious communities in India. The educational attainment of Muslims is the least among all these communities. In urban areas, the number of male Muslim postgraduates is as low as 15 per 1,000. This number is about four times lower than that of other communities, including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. The situation is similar for Muslim women. The number of male graduates among Muslims is 71 per 1,000, less than even half the number of graduates (per 1,000) in other communities. Similarly, the number of Muslims educated up to the secondary and higher secondary levels is 162 and 90 per 1,000 persons, respectively, again the least among all the communities.
  • Poor achievement at higher levels of education is partly a reflection of sinilarly low levels of school education or of illiteracy. Around half the Muslim population over 15 years is either illiterate or has only primary or middle school education. The number of illiterate people is highest among Muslims (190 per 1,000), followed by Hindus (84), Sikhs (79) and Christians (57). The number of persons (over 15 years) who have obtained just primary or middle school education among Muslims is 257 and 198 (per 1,000 persons), respectively. Thus, as compared to other communities, the distribution of the Muslim population is least at the higher levels of education and highest at the lower levels of education.
  • Likewise, the current attendance rate among Muslims is least across all age groups. The number of Muslim males of 5-14 years in urban areas attending educational institutions is 869 per 1,000 persons, which is the least among all religious groups. It is higher among Christians (981), followed by Sikhs (971), though it is lower among Hindus (955), possibly because Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have lower rates. The gaps in the current attendance rates of Muslims and those of other religious groups are increasingly pronounced at higher age groups.
  • That Muslims have the lowest attendance rates and educational attainment, especially in higher education, can be explained by their income level and higher costs for post-secondary education. According to the NSSO survey, the average per capita consumption expenditure (used as an indicator of income) among Muslims is just ₹32.66 per day, which is the least among all religious groups. It is highest among Sikhs (₹55.30), followed by Christians (₹51.43) and Hindus (₹37.50). As per the 71st NSSO survey on education (2014), the average course fee for college degrees in technical courses in government and private unaided institutions was ₹25,783 and ₹64,442, respectively. That is too high for Muslims to afford, given their per capita income.
  • Although children up to age 14 have a right to free and compulsory education, the average course fee per student for upper primary education is still ₹508 for the academic session. While the course fee is the same for all religious groups, its burden is highest among Muslims due to their per capita income. The course fee for upper primary education accounts for 8.5% of the yearly per capita spending for Muslims, followed by Hindus (7.4%), Christians (5.4%) and Sikhs (5.03%). The higher burden of the cost of education among Muslims, relative to their incomes, could be one of the factors responsible for their lowest attendance rates.
  • The high level of illiteracy among Muslims and the low levels of general education ensure that they are trapped in a vicious circle of poverty. The lack of higher education is adversely affecting their job indicators. The dynamics of labour markets are largely a function of the degrees of knowledge and skills. For example, the labour force participation rate (LFPR), defined as the number of persons either employed or seeking jobs, is significantly linked to the desire for work, which in turn is dependent upon educational attainment. Similarly, the quality of employment is strongly linked to levels of education and skills. Therefore, if a community is lagging in education, it risks being trapped in a vicious circle of poverty. This is a situation that is difficult to break out of without government intervention.
  • The signs of Indian Muslims being caught in a vicious circle of poverty are visible in terms of their low consumption expenditure and poor job market indicators, including LFPR, employment status, and worker population ratio. The NSSO data show that LFPR among Muslims is 342 and 337 (per 1,000) in urban and rural areas, respectively, the least among all the religious communities. This implies that only 342 persons per 1,000 persons of working age among Muslims in urban areas are employed or available for work. Similarly, the LFPR among Muslim women is worse than that among women of other communities. Given that Muslims live predominantly in urban areas (unlike other poorer communities like SCs/STs), where work outside the home could be available, this low LFPR is likely explained by their low levels of education.
  • Likewise, the worker population ratio (WPR), defined as the number of persons employed per 1,000 persons, is lowest among Muslims, both in rural and urban areas. Further, among urban males, the number of Muslims employed in regular jobs is only 288 per 1,000 employed persons, while the corresponding figure among urban Muslim females is merely 249, which is the lowest among all other communities. The number of regular employees per 1,000 employed persons is higher among Christians (494 among urban males and 647 among urban females), followed by Hindus (463 and 439), and Sikhs (418 and 482). Similarly, the proportion of households with their major source of income from regular salaried jobs is the lowest among Muslims.
  • What could be done

  • The Central and State governments could take concerted steps to help Indian Muslims escape this vicious circle of poverty. One way to improve their situation is to provide a special incentive and subsidy system for higher education. That will ensure that schoolgoing students continue to higher levels of schooling and higher education. Similarly, students who don’t wish to continue in general academic education must have access to vocational education from Class 9 onwards.
  • The long arm of the state

    Authoritarian states are brazenly challenging the liberal order

  • We live in strange times. While discussions about ‘global disorder’ mostly pertain to U.S. President Donald Trump’s penchant for challenging the established liberal order and institutional frameworks, there is another side to this as well, reflected in the way authoritarian states are now more empowered than ever to challenge norms that the world was taking for granted until recently.
  • Empowered states

  • Last month, the Interpol chief and Chinese Vice-Minister for Public Security, Meng Hongwei, vanished after taking a flight to China from France. Beijing later revealed that Mr. Meng had been detained and was being investigated for corruption. His wife has denied these allegations and has made a public appeal for his safety, suggesting that even her life could be under threat.
  • Mr. Meng is the latest high-ranking official to fall victim to sweeping anti-corruption measures under Chinese President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi’s presidency has seen more than 1.5 million officials being punished as part of an expanding crackdown on graft in public office. He remains focussed on an extraordinary concentration of power in his own hands, underscoring the supremacy of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at every level. Central to ‘Xi Jinping Thought’, which is China’s new official political doctrine, is the idea that fealty to the party is no longer a choice but a duty, much like what it was in the Mao era. Mr. Xi enhanced his powers further this year by forming a National Supervisory Commission, which has sweeping powers to investigate not only CPC members but also state-owned companies, hospitals, schools and even sports teams.
  • China’s record of disappearing human rights activists and political dissidents is quite extraordinary by global standards, but under Mr. Xi, it has taken an altogether new dimension. In July, Fan Bingbing, one of China’s most well-known actresses, vanished for three months only to resurface with a statement in which she not only apologised for evading taxes but also underscored her loyalty to the CPC.
  • Saudi Arabia has gone a step forward in the Jamal Khashoggi case. The prominent journalist and vocal critic of the Saudi Arabian government was murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul last month. After denying any wrongdoing for days, Saudi Arabian officials finally blamed his death on a “rogue operation”. Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said that the murder was executed by people who operated “outside the scope of their authority.” He called the killing a “tremendous mistake” that was worsened by the “attempt to try to cover [it] up”. He insisted that the action had not been ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a line that no one is willing to buy.
  • Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS as he is called, was seen by many in the West as the great hope in Saudi Arabia. His reforms included lifting the ban on women driving, reintroducing public entertainment and curbing the power of the unpopular religious police. His ambitious undertaking to wean the country off its dependence on oil income by building a $500 billion futuristic city in the desert was hailed by many, but his political instincts remain as autocratic as his predecessors: he locked up dozens of princes and business figures last year in a luxury hotel on charges of corruption and even detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and allegedly forced him to resign on television.
  • Then there’s Russia, which turns its own political killings of Kremlin critics into something of an art form. Killings outside Russia of those accused of “extremism” were even given legal sanction by the Russian Parliament in 2006. According to various estimates, Russia is suspected to have organised the killings of at least 15 people on British soil alone over the past two decades. The poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal earlier this year was a state-sponsored Russian assassination attempt.
  • Gasping for breath

  • As Western liberal states get mired in their own domestic problems and start focussing inwards, authoritarian states like these are brazenly challenging long-held global norms, even creating new ones by the sheer force of raw power. The idea once held so dear by global liberal elites that economic and technological globalisation would undermine authoritarian systems by empowering the individual is being challenged as authoritarian states are now using the same forces to their own advantage. The long arm of the state is getting longer. No wonder the liberal order is gasping for breath.