UPSC Essentials | Key terms of past week with MCQs and Points to ponder

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Essential key terms from last week’s news headlines or beyond the headlines for the UPSC-CSE and other competitive exams. Let’s not just limit ourselves to facts. Dive deep to know: What does the WHO’s report on hypertension say about India? What did latest incidents teach us about ransomware attacks? Why for the west a shipping lane through Israel, an alternative to Suez Canal, would be ideal? Will Saturn’s rings actually disappear in the future? And more… INDO-US 2+2 MINISTERIAL DIALOGUE WHY IN NEWS? — As External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh hosted visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin for the Indo-US 2+2 ministerial dialogue, the two sides discussed Friday China’s behaviour in the region, the contentious row between India and Canada, the implications of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and the upcoming elections in Bangladesh – a range of issues on which Delhi and Washington agree and disagree at many levels. KEY TAKEAWAYS — There were also conversations of bilateral defence cooperation, space as the next area of collaboration, and semiconductors as the next growth area between India and the US. What are 2+2 meetings and what is the rationale behind them? — The 2+2 meetings signify the participation of two high-level representatives, Ministers holding Foreign and Defence portfolios, from each of the two countries who aim to enhance the scope of dialogue between them. — Having such a mechanism enables the partners to better understand and appreciate each other’s strategic concerns and sensitivities taking into account political factors on both sides, in order to build a stronger, more integrated strategic relationship in a rapidly changing global environment. JUST FYI: Defence and strategic agreements under 2+2 — India and the US have signed a troika of “foundational pacts” for deep military cooperation, beginning with the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016, followed by the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) after the first 2+2 dialogue in 2018, and then the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) in 2020. — The strengthening of the mechanisms of cooperation between the two militaries is of significance in the context of an increasingly aggressive China, which threatens a large number of countries in its neighbourhood and beyond, and which has been challenging several established norms and aspects of international relations. — The establishment of the mechanism with Japan, which is also wary of China’s role, is another example of this. — However, India also talks to Russia through 2+2 dialogues, keeping in mind its security and energy interests and the countries’ historical depth of relations. Point to ponder: Who are India’s 2+2 partners? (Thought Process: — The US is India’s oldest and most important 2+2 talks partner. — The first 2+2 dialogue between the two countries was held during the Trump Administration, when then Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and then Secretary of Defence James Mattis met the late Sushma Swaraj and then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in New Delhi in September 2018. — It was also seen as a replacement for the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, held between the foreign and commerce ministers of the two countries during the previous Obama administration. — The launch of the dialogue was seen as a “reflection of the shared commitment” by India and the US to provide “a positive, forward-looking vision for the India-US strategic partnership and to promote synergy in their diplomatic and security efforts”. — Additionally, India has held 2+2 meetings with ministers from Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom and Russia. Notably, in this year’s meeting, Antony Blinken reiterated the significance of India’s relations with some of these countries that are also important US allies. — “We are promoting a free and open, prosperous, secure and resilient Indo-Pacific, including by strengthening our partnership through the QUAD with Japan and Australia,” he said. QUAD or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an informal security forum, and these four countries comprise its membership. — The talks with Japan via this platform began in 2019, with the aim that it would “further enhance the strategic depth of bilateral security and defence cooperation,” according to a joint press release from back then. — In 2021, at the inaugural edition of the talks with Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “Both Russia and India have a similar worldview of a more polycentric, more multipolar, more equitable world order. We advocate similar or identical positions on the most important political and military issues.” He also said that the 2+2 would turn into an “efficient dialogue platform to talk about a wide range of regional and international topics a little further deepening our traditional, mutual understanding.” — The same year, 2+2 dialogue with Australia also began. In October 2023, the first such meeting with the UK took place.) 1. MCQ: Which of the following statement is incorrect? (a) US is India’s oldest 2+2 talks partner. (b) India has held 2+2 meetings with ministers from France, Japan, and Russia. (c) In October 2023, the India’s 2+2 meeting with the UK took place. (d) LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA have been India’s Defence and strategic agreements with US. BEN GURION CANAL WHY IN NEWS? — It has been speculated that one of the reasons behind Israel’s desire to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip and completely control the Palestinian enclave is to give itself the chance to better explore a dramatic economic opportunity that has been talked about for several decades, but for which peace and political stability in the region is an essential prerequisite. KEY TAKEAWAYS — The idea is to cut a canal through the Israeli-controlled Negev Desert from the tip of the Gulf of Aqaba — the eastern arm of the Red Sea that juts into Israel’s southern tip and south-western Jordan — to the Eastern Mediterranean coast, thus creating an alternative to the Egyptian-controlled Suez Canal that starts from the western arm of the Red Sea and passes to the southeastern Mediterranean through the northern Sinai peninsula. — This so-called Ben Gurion Canal Project, which was first envisioned in the 1960s would, if it were to be actually completed, transform global maritime dynamics by taking away Egypt’s monopoly over the shortest route between Europe and Asia. — However, any attempt to construct the canal would have to overcome gigantic logistical, political, and funding challenges which, in the current situation, makes it seem largely fantastical. — It remains unclear when the first concrete plan for the alternative was suggested. The documented evidence can be seen in a declassified 1963 US government memorandum. The memo called for the use of nuclear explosives to dig the canal through the Negev Desert in Israel. — The Ben Gurion Canal Project, named after Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), remains one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever planned on paper. JUST FYI: What has stopped Israel from constructing the canal? — First and foremost, such a project would be extremely complex and almost prohibitively expensive. The estimated cost of such a project may be as high as the $ 100 billion, much more than what it might take to widen the Suez Canal and solve its traffic problem. — According to the previous cited memo, it was the cost of digging such a canal conventionally that made planners look at the nuclear option. Of course, the risk of nuclear fallout makes this option extremely risky as well. — Costs aside, the planned route of the Ben Gurion Canal is over 100 km longer than the Suez Canal, primarily due to limitations of the terrain and topography. Even if built, many ships might still favour the older, shorter route. — Most importantly, however, a canal which will potentially transport billions of dollars worth of freight daily cannot run in land under constant military threat, from Hamas rockets or Israeli attacks. Point to ponder: Why for the west a shipping lane through Israel, an alternative to Suez Canal, would be ideal? (Thought Process: Suez Canal’s salience — When it opened in 1869, the Suez Canal revolutionised global maritime trade. By connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas through the Isthmus of Suez, it ensured that ships travelling between Europe and Asia would not have to travel all the way around the continent of Africa. — The canal cut the distance between London and Bombay (now Mumbai) by a more than 41 per cent. — In the 2022-23 fiscal year, around 26,000 vessels crossed the Suez Canal, accounting for approximately 13 per cent of global shipping. Issues — First, the 193 km-long, 205 m-wide, and 24 m-deep Suez Canal is the world’s biggest shipping bottleneck. Despite being widened and deepened over the years, it remains perennially congested, with long queues at either end. — In March 2021, the mammoth cargo ship Ever Given got stuck in the canal, blocking passage for more than a week. It was estimated that the resulting “traffic jam” held up an estimated $ 9.6 billion of goods every day. — Also, Egypt’s control over the waterway has been a source of conflict for almost 70 years now. In 1956, after President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-70) decided to nationalise the canal, war broke out, with the UK, France, and Israel attacking Egypt in order to regain control. — The Suez Crisis ended in a military victory for the aggressors but an overwhelming political victory for Egypt, which kept control over the canal, which was shut for more than six months due to the conflict. This was also a pivotal moment in the Cold War, with Soviet threats of intervention key to stopping the allied aggression against Egypt. — The Suez Canal was also the focal point of both the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, and was shut from 1967-75. — The canal is, of course, critical to Egypt’s economy. It collects all the toll revenue generated, in addition to the benefits it brings to its local economy. In the 2022-23 fiscal year, Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority saw toll revenues reach a record $ 9.4 billion — accounting for nearly 2 per cent of Egypt’s GDP of $ 476.8 billion, according to the World Bank.) 2. MCQ: With reference to Suez Canal, consider the following statements: 1. By connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas through the Isthmus of Suez, it ensured that ships travelling between Europe and Asia would not have to travel all the way around the continent of Africa. 2. In March 2021, the mammoth cargo ship Ever Given got stuck in the canal, blocking passage for more than a week. Which of the above statements is/are incorrect? (a) Only 1 (b) Only 2 (c) Both 1 and 2 (d) Neither 1 nor 2 CHINA’S ICBC WHY IN NEWS? — The US arm of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) was hit by a ransomware attack that minimally disrupted trades in the US Treasury market on Thursday (November 9). KEY TAKEAWAYS What is ICBC? — ICBC, a Chinese state-owned commercial bank, is China’s — and the world’s — largest lender in terms of assets (over $ 6 trillion), and one of the most profitable companies in the world, according to Forbes. — It is also the 3rd largest bank in the world (behind JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America) by market capitalization, at $ 194.57 billion, according to a Fobes article from August. What are ransomware attacks? — Ransomware is a type of malicious software (commonly referred to as malware) that either blocks access to, or threatens to publish sensitive data until the victim pays a ransom fee to the attacker. — It is a type of a cyber attack that has become increasingly popular among bad actors in recent years. What do we know about this attack? — ICBC has not made public the specifics of the attack, nor the attacker behind it. All that is known for sure is that the company is in touch with law enforcement agencies in the United States, as well as in China. — However, the Financial Times reported that a ransomware called Lockbit 3.0 was behind the attack. What is Lockbit 3.0? — LockBit 3.0 was created by Lockbit, a group which effectively sells its malware bad actors on the dark web. Lockbit 3.0 is the most popular strain of ransomware, accounting for around 28 per cent of all known attacks from July 2022 to June 2023, CNBC reported. — “LockBit actors have executed over 1,400 attacks against victims in the United States and around the world, issuing over $100 million in ransom demands,” the US Department of Justice said in a press release in June. — The group previously claimed responsibility for ransomware attacks on Boeing last month. It is said to have Russian origins, though this has never been confirmed. Why is this attack such a big deal? — “We don’t often see a bank this large get hit with this disruptive ransomware attack,” Allan Liska, a ransomware expert at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, told Reuters. — Successful cyberattacks on banks are rare since the financial industry is extremely well protected, with serious investment in cybersecurity and segmented operations to discourage theft. — Thus, this particular attack is somewhat unprecedented, even though it is the latest in a string of ransomware attacks in the recent past. Given the salience of ICBC in the global financial system, such an attack could have had huge consequences. — The Treasury market appeared to be functioning normally on Thursday, Reuters reported. How have authorities responded to a spate of ransomware attacks? — Authorities around the world have struggled to curb a rash of these attacks, which hit hundreds of companies in nearly every industry each year. — Just last week US officials said they were working on curtailing the funding routes of ransomware gangs by improving information-sharing on such criminals across a 40-country alliance. — The latest attack shows just how vulnerable systems are, and is likely to spur questions on market participants’ cyber security protocols. JUST FYI: Even as cybersecurity grows in importance, threats will grow in severity and often outpace defences. In such a world, the success of cybersecurity will depend not just on how much organisations are willing to spend and what tools they deploy but rather on clear policies defined against the risk posture of the organisation and a strong bias towards consistent implementation and enforcement. Point to ponder: What did latest incidents teach us about ransomware attacks? (Thought Process: — Every organisation is a potential target: Today, you don’t need to be a target to be a victim. Cybersecurity risks have become indiscriminate and nearly every person and organisation are vulnerable to cyberattacks because of being tech-dependent and interconnected. It is thus crucial that all organisations, no matter the size, be prepared for the inevitable. — Not all attacks are sophisticated: While malware attacks are indeed getting progressively sophisticated, most attacks come from existing vulnerabilities that are not being remediated or from amateur mistakes. It is easy to become a hacker as several of the cyberattacks do not require specialised skills. Malware can be easily bought from the dark net allowing threat actors to develop attacks that are working at scale. — Insurance is no substitute for cybersecurity: Ignoring cybersecurity because you’ve paid for hefty cyber insurance is like giving up exercising and going on an unhealthy diet because you’ve landed a great medical cover. — Incident response is just as important as protection and prevention: A July 2022 IBM report finds that those businesses (from their study) that did not implement security practices across their cloud environments required an average of 108 more days to identify and contain a data breach than those consistently applying security practices across all their domains. A good strategy to stay ahead of the hackers is to always assume breach and bring controls as per the assumption.) 3. MCQ: Lockbit 3.0 refers to: (a) strain of ransomware (b) digital locker (c) cryptocurrency (d) content management system HYPERTENSION WHY IN NEWS? — There is a significant variation in the level of prevalence, diagnosis, treatment, and control of hypertension within Indian states, and even within districts in states, an analysis of the recent National Family Health Survey data published in the journal JAMA said. KEY TAKEAWAYS What does the study tell us about hypertension care in India? — The national-level data shows what doctors across the country already know — a larger number of those with hypertension do not get diagnosed; among those who get diagnosed, many do not initiate treatment; and among those who do initiate treatment, few are able to control their blood pressure. — Only one in three receives a diagnosis, one in five gets treated, and one in twelve achieves blood pressure control. — The study found that the prevalence of hypertension was similar among the southern states but it was higher than the national average — 29.9% of the population in the southern states as compared with 26.8% across India. — The proportion of people diagnosed with hypertension in the southern states was similar to the rest of India, but the proportion of people on treatment and under control was higher in these states, the study showed. — Not only at the state-level, there were significant variations within states as well. The researchers cited the example of two states to demonstrate this. — In Meghalaya, the prevalence of hypertension was similar in the districts of Garo Hills (21.8%), Jaintia Hills (19.8%), and Khasi Hills (23.1%). — However, the proportion of those diagnosed was lower in Garo Hills at 18.6% as compared with 29.4% in Khasi Hills and 41.1% in Jaintia Hills. — In Karnataka, four districts — Chikmagalur, Shimoga, Udupi and Chitradurga — have a similar prevalence of hypertension, but the proportion of people who received treatment and successfully controlled it was higher in Chikmagalur and Udupi. — Even at the national level, there were significant variations in the levels of continuum of care depending on the gender, age, socio-economic conditions, and education level of the person. — While it is well-known that men are more likely to have hypertension than women, surprisingly, the data show that women are much more likely to be diagnosed, be on treatment, and have their blood pressure under control. — The prevalence, diagnosis, treatment, and control were all higher among those over the age of 65 years when compared with youngsters. — When it comes to socio-economic conditions, the prevalence, diagnosis, treatment, and control of hypertension were found to be highest among the wealthiest fifth of the population. — While the prevalence of hypertension was similar among those who had had no schooling and those who had passed Class 11, diagnosis, treatment, and control was higher among those who had completed schooling. JUST FYI: Why look at inter-state and inter-district variability? — This district-level break-up of data can help state governments plan where and which level of care needs more resources, said Dr Nikhil Tandon, one of the authors of the paper and professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. — He said: “It is essential that healthcare systems are planned differently for the management of chronic conditions like hypertension than for acute diseases. For an acute disease, the patient is likely to seek out care, and the treatment is also finite. Once they seek care and are prescribed medicines, they are likely to take it for the recommended duration because they want to feel better. But we know this does not happen with hypertension.” — Take, for example, a district where medicines are not available at regular intervals. The local government then has to ensure that the medicines are available regularly and at centres close to people’s homes. Or, a push towards digitisation of records is needed, which can help health workers ensure regular follow-ups and stock-taking of medicines. — For hypertension, Dr Tandon said, continuum of care, and not just screening and diagnosis, is crucial. “This data will help local governments understand where the problem lies — whether there is high prevalence in a certain district, whether a particular district needs more screening or diagnostic facilities, whether medicines are accessible and available at regular periods, etc.” Point to ponder: What needs to be done to control hypertension in India? (Thought Process: A recently released WHO report on hypertension said nearly 4.6 million deaths can be averted in India by 2040 if just half of the hypertensives are able to control their blood pressure. While India has decided to put 75 million patients with hypertension or diabetes on standard care by 2025, a fact lauded by the WHO, the report shows that prevention, early detection and effective management of hypertension are among the most cost-effective interventions in health care. Globally, hypertension affects one in three adults or about 1.3 billion people. The report collected data from the 30 to 79 age group. The primary triggers for hypertension in India have been listed as high salt intake, tobacco use, obesity, alcohol consumption and lack of physical exercise. In fact, the report flagged tobacco use (28 per cent) and physical inactivity (34 per cent) as the two most potent triggers in India. The WHO report takes a look at the India Hypertension Control Initiative (IHCI), a government initiative to screen people and put them on hypertension treatment at their local health centres, that has now enrolled 5.8 million people with hypertension from 27 states. It flags issues with procuring the blood pressure medicine that the programme initially faced. This led to people not returning to the centres for treatment. The situation, however, improved by 2020. “By 2020, the IHCI had ensured that more than 70 per cent of health care facilities had ensured one month’s stock of the protocol medicines, and fewer than 10 per cent had experienced stock-outs,” the report says. Controlling hypertension, however, would not merely require an increase in infrastructure, but also a focus on active screening of people, putting them on treatment, ensuring availability of medicine close to their homes, and ensuring follow-ups.) 4. MCQ: Consider the following statements with reference to hypertension in India: 1. India has decided to put 75 million patients with hypertension or diabetes on standard care by 2025 2. A recently released WHO report on hypertension said nearly 4.6 million deaths can be averted in India by 2040 if just half of the hypertensives are able to control their blood pressure. 3. India Hypertension Control Initiative (IHCI) is a WHO initiative for Indian hypertension patients. Which of the above statements are true? (a) 1 only (b) 1 and 3 only (c) 1 and 2 only (d) 1, 2 and 3 SATURN RINGS WHY IN NEWS? — One of the most spectacular sights in the Solar System is the majestic ringed planet Saturn, which is clearly visible in the evening sky through a telescope. In 2025, however, Saturn’s rings will seemingly disappear from view. KEY TAKEAWAYS — It isn’t as if the planet will lose them forever. The rings will just be invisible from Earth and will reappear soon thereafter. The reason for this temporary disappearance has to do with Saturn’s tilt and an optical illusion. Why will Saturn’s rings be invisible from Earth? — Like Earth’s axis of rotation, which is tilted by 23.5 degrees, Saturn’s axis of rotation has a 26.7 degree tilt — its enormous ring system is also tilted to the plane of Saturn’s orbit. — As a result, when Saturn revolves around the Sun, it seems to nod up and down when viewed from Earth and the view of its rings also keeps changing. — Saturn takes 29.5 years to complete an orbit around the Sun and every 13 to 15 years, the edge of its rings aligns directly with Earth. — As the rings are very thin — in most places, just tens of metres thick — at this position, “they reflect very little light, and are very difficult to see, making them essentially invisible,” Vahe Peroomian, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Southern California, told CBS News. — Imagine seeing a piece of paper, which is parallel to the ground and at eye-level, from the opposite end of Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. — That’s what’s going to happen in March 2025 — Saturn’s rings will not be visible from Earth because they will be perfectly aligned with our line of sight. — The rings will gradually return to view as the planet will continue to revolve around the Sun. JUST FYI: Will Saturn’s rings actually disappear in the future? — Yes, they might. According to a 2018 report by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Saturn would probably lose its rings completely in the next 300 million years, or even sooner than that. — It will probably happen because the rings are being pulled into the planet by its gravity as a dusty rain of ice particles under the influence of Saturn’s magnetic field, said the report. — “We estimate that this ‘ring rain’ drains an amount of water products that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool from Saturn’s rings in half an hour,” according to James O’Donoghue of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. — The report also added that Saturn, which is four billion years old, got the rings much later in its life since the rings aren’t older than 100 million years. — “We are lucky to be around to see Saturn’s ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime. However, if rings are temporary, perhaps we just missed out on seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, which have only thin ringlets today!” O’Donoghue added. Point to ponder: How is Saturn different from Earth? (Thought Process: — Earth and Mars share similarities — both are terrestrial planets made of silicates, both have surface water. But Saturn is completely different. — Imagine landing on Saturn — there is no solid surface to walk on. Saturn has a metallic core, overlain with metallic and liquid hydrogen. It is made up of gas, and could theoretically float on water — Saturn’s density is 30% lower than that of water. Although the planet is about 700 times larger that Earth in volume, its density is one-eighth that of Earth. — Bored of watching just one Moon on Earth? There are 62 on Saturn. The largest of those, Titan, is larger than the planet Mercury. — If you thought Hurricane Irma was bad, think about this: the storms on Saturn are about 10 times stronger at 1,200 miles/hr, and last from years to decades. — Scared of lightning on Earth? The storms on Saturn sometimes produce lightning every 1/10th of a second. — Feeling old on Earth? A year on Saturn is 29 Earth years!) 5. MCQ: With reference to Saturn, consider the following statements: 1. The storms on Saturn sometimes produce lightning every 1/10th of a second. 2. Saturn has a metallic core, overlain with metallic and liquid hydrogen. 3. NASA’s Viking Project shared the wonders of Saturn and its family of icy moons. Which of the above statement/s is/are true? (a) 1 and 2 only (b) 2 and 3 only (c) 1 and 3 only (d) 2 only ANSWERS TO MCQs: 1 (b), 2 (d), 3 (a), 4 (c), 5 (a) Share your views, answers and suggestions in the comment box or at Subscribe to our UPSC newsletter and stay updated with the news cues from the past week.

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