1. No room for complacency: Omicron’s mild nature is more due to the protection offered by vaccines

Context: India records over 1 lakh cases again and its first death caused by Omicron in a fully vaccinated person with co-morbidities in Rajasthan on the last day of 2021.

The Reasons behind mild nature of Omicron:

  1. Majority population already vaccinated: Preliminary evidence from South Africa and the U.K. suggests that unlike the Delta variant, a majority of people with Omicron, particularly in the fully vaccinated, exhibit only mild disease; hospitalisation is relatively less among the vaccinated.
  2. Exposure to virus in previous wave: A huge percentage of the population in India was infected when the Delta variant raged last year. Studies from other countries have shown that such people might enjoy the same level or even better protection from severe disease than fully vaccinated people.
  3. Hybrid immunity achieved through full vaccination in people who have been previously infected offers the highest level of protection against severe disease, as several studies outside India show.
    • With vaccination picking up speed after the second wave peaked in India, a significant percentage of the fully vaccinated might possess hybrid immunity.
  4. No reason to doubt mRNA vaccines: Even a single dose of an mRNA vaccine in previously infected people has been found to induce a high level of hybrid immunity.
  5. Widening of the protective net:
    • The vaccination coverage with at least a single dose has already crossed 90% in those above 18 years.
    • The rollout of vaccines for adolescents will widen the protective net.

Different types of Vaccines

  1. Traditional vaccines such as a virion (entire virus particle) and subunit ones (pathogen fragment) contain inactivated parts of the virus that enter the body as antigens and trigger an immune response.
  2. subunit vaccine is a vaccine that contains purified parts of the pathogen that are antigenic, or necessary to elicit a protective immune response. 
    • “subunit” vaccine doesn’t contain the whole pathogen, unlike live attenuated or inactivated vaccine, but contains only the antigenic parts such as proteins, polysaccharides or peptides.
    • Ex: Covaxin is an inactivated type Subunit vaccine.
    • Advantage of Sub-unit vaccines:
      • Because the vaccine doesn’t contain “live” components of the pathogen, there is no risk of introducing the disease, and is safer and more stable than vaccine containing whole pathogens. 
      • Well-established technology and being suitable for immunocompromised individuals.  
      • Subunit vaccine can be created via genetic engineering.
    • Disadvantages include:
      • Relatively complex to manufacture compared to some vaccines (such as RNA vaccine), possibly requiring adjuvants and booster shots, and requiring time to examine which antigenic combinations may work best.
  • mRNA or DNA vaccines contain modified genes that use the body’s cells to make the immune-triggering antigen.
    • For example, Covishield is an mRNA vaccine and ZyCovD is a DNA vaccine.

It is too early to draw any conclusions about Omicron’s virulence.

  • For instance, in the U.S., the first Omicron-related death was in an unvaccinated person who was previously infected.
  • The time lag between infection and hospitalisation should be another reason why it is too early to pronounce any verdict on the virulence of the variant in India. Vulnerable populations run a risk of suffering from severe disease despite their vaccination status.
  • Very high virulence: The unprecedented speed at which Omicron is spreading in countries that have high levels of testing, the number of people a single infected person can spread the virus to, and a doubling time of less than three days are a loud warning that things can go out of control soon.
  • Its still possible to overload the health system: Overwhelmed hospitals can make it harder to provide much-needed care, leading to mounting deaths. The situation can become even more challenging when health-care settings suffer from staff shortage caused by increasing infections among health-care workers — as seen in many hospitals across India.

Conclusion: India should learn from the hard lessons of the second wave, strictly adhere to COVID-appropriate behaviour and increase vaccination coverage. Getting misled by the mild nature of the disease and throwing caution to the wind will be a dangerous gamble.


2. The status of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; What have world powers pledged on nuclear weapons? Has the NPT been successful to stop the arms race between countries?

Context: On Monday (January 3), five global nuclear powers, China, Russia, U.S., U.K., and France, pledged to prevent atomic weapons from spreading and avoid nuclear conflict. The joint statement was issued after the latest review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which first came into force in 1970, was postponed from its scheduled date of January 4 to later in the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  •  The statement ‘Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races’ affirms to non-offensive uses of nuclear weapons and committing to the NPT agreement.

About Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT):

  •  Goal of NPT: Cessation of the nuclear arms race and working towards not just more peaceful uses of nuclear energy but also towards complete nuclear disarmament have been the primary goals of NPT.
  • However non-proliferation is a difficult task:
    • Nuclear competition among major powers could encourage states without nuclear weapons to acquire their own. An ideal way to solve this would be for all nuclear states to abandon their nuclear stockpile. This certainly hasn’t been the case.
    • Waning concept of nuclear deterrence among large powers – to  provide a nuclear umbrella to non-nuclear states is being increasingly ineffective. More countries are realizing that they are in charge of their own security. The belief have been confirmed by the retreat of US from Afghanistan.
    • Rising Economic Insecurity: For example, The hegemonic rise of China and its debt trapping tactics in order to gain access to the other country’s key infrastructure projects has led other countries within China’s immediate sphere of geographical influence to wonder if they need to acquire or develop strategic capabilities to safeguard their security.
    • Expansionist tendencies: China has been warning occupation of Taiwan recently. The current situation with regard to Ukraine and Russia doesn’t seem to paint a pretty picture either.
    • Deterrence: Australia, through AUKUS, seems to be on a path to acquire nuclear capabilities for its naval fleet, in a bid to counter China. While this may seem like an effective counter to China’s belligerence in the Indo-Pacific, the ramifications could be severe as it sets a terrible precedent.

Other treaties and agreements on nuclear bans:

  • Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I & SALT II): These were signed mainly between US & Russia. It had the Interim Agreement and Protocol on Limitation of Strategic Offensive Weapons Offensive Arms.
    • SALT -I was signed in 1972 between Nixon-Leonid Brehznev in Moscow. It comprised of an ABM(Anti-ballastic missile) treaty and Limitation of strategic offensive arms-Interim agreement.
    • SALT-II between Leonid Brehznev-Jimmy Carter was signed Vienna. It Limits Strategic arms offensive weapons.
  • The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (I and II) – between P5 countries.
  • Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT), 1963: It was a precursor to CTBT signed later on. 
  • Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT):  a multilateral treaty that bans all nuclear explosions, for both civilian and military purposes, in all environments. It was adopted by the UNGA on 10 September 1996 but has not entered into force as eight specific states have not ratified the treaty.
    • As of today, eight Annex 2 states have not ratified the treaty. US, China, Egypt, Iran & Israel have signed but not ratified the Treaty; India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed it.
  • Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)

Nuclear capabilities Outside of the P5 (China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.):

  • India and Pakistan are known to possess nuclear weaponry.
  • Israel is strongly suspected of possessing it.
  • North Korea has a nuclear weapons programme but its actual possession of nuclear weapons is debated. It has, in recent times, conducted multiple missile tests, to showcase its supposed capabilities. It has a total of seven major types of long-range missiles (Nodong, Pukguksong-3, Pukguksong-2, Musudan, the Hwasong-12, Hwasong-14, Hwasong-15) ranging from a limit of 1,500 km to 13,000 km.

Total Stockpile of the world:

  • Stockpile within P5: China’s current stockpile stands at around 350, France’s at around 290, Russia’s at around 6,257(1600 operational), the U.K.’s at around 225, the U.S.’s at around 5,600(1650 operational).
  • Outside the P5: Pakistan possesses about 165, India possesses about 160, and Israel and North Korea either possess or have enough fissile material to build approximately 90 and approximately 45 weapons respectively.
  • The world’s stockpile peaked during the 1980s and started to reduce considerably up until 2005.

The worthlessness of the Joint Statement:

  • Limited impact of existing statements & agreements: There’s clearly no dearth of treaties and agreements, and yet the situation hasn’t improved considerably.
  • Little reduction Since 2005: most of the reduction has come from the dismemberment of the retired stockpile. Development in technologies also means that the world keeps seeing new ways to deploy these nuclear weapons which is another worrying trend.
  • Newer countries to add nuclear capabilities: With Australia already on the road to acquire nuclear capabilities, it stands to reason that other nations would work towards developing or acquiring nuclear weapons. This could, in principle, also re-ignite another arms race.
  • Negative interpretation of the P5’s joint statement: It affirms to non-offensive uses of nuclear weapons and committing to the NPT agreement but the wording of this statement and previous statements on arms reduction could be understood in a different light as well—to use nuclear weapons against conventional weapons if the nation feels its security to be threatened so as to merit the use of nuclear weaponry.

Conclusion: The chequered history of nuclear weapons gives the impression that the NPT has not been entirely successful—but it hasn’t been an abject failure either. The impetus is on the major powers to stay on the path which the NPT has paved (even if a winding one) and signal commitment through its actions towards putting an end to the arms race and hopefully complete disarmament.


Gs 2 International Relations, The Editorial Page


Japan-Australia defence agreement signals that middle powers are willing to play a more active role in the Indo-Pacific.

About the Agreement

The agreement includes sharing military facilities between the countries, landing rights, securing port access, logistic support, legal regimes, logistic support. This means the advanced F-35s (fighter jet) of Japan can now practice in Australian soil. The Australian submarines can now operate in Japanese waters. The countries can build special forces together. Both Japan and Australia share a common interest of keeping the US engaged in the Indo – Pacific.

Why will the agreement anger the Chinese?

The following recent issues reflect that the world countries are not ready to accept Chinese domination:

  • AUKUS Security pact: Signed by Britain, Australia and US. Agreement helps UK to acquire nuclear powered submarines
  • QUAD cooperation strengthening by India, Japan, US and Australia. The Malabar military exercise which was a trilateral exercise (India, US and Japan) till 2020, has now become a QUAD exercise with Australia participating in the exercise in 2021.
  • Emergence of Japan – Australia – US cooperation
  • Increase in South Korea – Australia friendly relations

The countries are coming together under one objective. To put an end to Chinese domination.

How will the agreement stop Chinese influence in ASEAN?

The ASEAN countries are important for both Japan and Australia. China is trying to break ASEAN countries away from world countries. China is also trying to weaken their regional cooperation. According to Japan and Australia, the diplomatic efforts like that of the defence agreement will stop China from turning ASEAN into its business clients.

Still Japan kept away from ANZUS treaty

ANZUS treaty was signed between US, Australia and New Zealand in 1951. The agreement guarantees mutual security. New Zealand withdrew from the treaty in 1980s after it became anti – nuclear. The Japanese Diet and US Congress may not agree to a formal alliance agreement.

What Ahead?

In addition to its strategic importance to Asia and the Indo-Pacific, Australia and Japan are strengthening trends that are part of a changing security architecture region. On the one hand, it shows a deviation from the US-centric outlook.  Focus more on bilateral relations and regional grouping. This is also a sign that Japan is ready for it.

To play a more active role in the community. The security order that emerged in Asia and the Indo-Pacific after World War II Shaped by US bilateral relations with various players.

This was in contrast to American strategy in Europe, where NATO played a key role. With the rise of an assertive, even belligerent, Beijing, that seems to be changing. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or the Quad, with India, Japan, Australia and the US), the AUKUS, and now the RAA between Japan and Australia — two treaty allies of the US — all point towards a more empowered and committed regional strategic network. This has been enabled, among other factors, by Australia’s willingness to stand up to China on the question of a free and open Indo-Pacific and rules-based global order, despite their deep economic ties. For Japan, this marks an even greater shift, of a piece with the recent evolution in its outlook and global image. Thus far, Japan’s only major defence ally had been the US. This reticence in taking the lead in the strategic domain was driven by the legacy of the Second World War, and the fact that Japan had been an imperial power, which made many countries in the region wary of it. Yet, recently, both Vietnam and the Philippines have looked to Tokyo to provide a bulwark against Beijing, signalling a greater acceptance of Japan’s role as a strategic player. And Tokyo is now expanding its ties further: Reports suggest it will seek RAA-like agreements with the UK and France as well.

China’s reaction to the RAA has been predictable, ranging from the ambivalent to the negative. The treaty underscores the thrust its aggressive stance has provided to middle powers to expand their cooperation and build on the momentum created by the Quad. New Delhi, for its part, has done much to expand bilateral, trilateral and regional cooperation in the security domain— it has “2+2” ministerial dialogues with both Tokyo and Canberra. It must step up this engagement, as well as reach out too their players in the region.


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