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Arctic, its importance for the World and India; By Jai Kumar Verma

The mineral rich Arctic region encompasses one-sixth of the world’s landmass. The area provides several ecological services which are helpful in adjusting the planet’s temperature which is in danger because of merciless exploitation of earth’s resource. The unplanned and egoistical human activities are responsible for several devastating changes in the world including the hasty melt down of Arctic Ice pack.

Article Courtesy: India Strategic

Article: 21/2023

The Arctic ice pack is the sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding areas. The melting of snow would increase the sea level and it may endanger India’s more than 1,300 islands. On the other hand, India can also be benefitted by the vast mineral resources of the region which has the capability to help India in resolving its energy and rare earth metals deficits.

Besides Russia and United States, China which considers India as its potential adversary, is taking keen interest in the Arctic region. Hence India must take requisite interest in the region to safeguard its national interests. Although there should be honest exchange of scientific date between all the nations involved in the region but in reality, there is complete mistrust hence there is no truthful data sharing.

Last year India issued its Arctic policy. And it’s a crucial time for Arctic region as seven out of the eight permanent members of the Arctic Council have announced their boycott of Russia, which is the 8th member of the Council, because of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. India has to do a lot of balancing acts.

The Arctic circle includes the Arctic Ocean, which is parts of eight countries. These eight countries have constituted the Arctic Council. India is increasing its knowledge of the region as it wants to prepare for the future when various countries would start using the vast resources of the area.

The Huge Challenge of melting Ice

The world is facing a huge challenge in the region. As ice is melting, Russia, China and Western countries are trying to establish their military presence in the Arctic. Though Russia is weakened because of Ukraine war but with its vast resources it is an important power in the region.

Russia has the largest share of land in Arctic than any other country. Russia, which is also a dominant power in Arctic, has the longest coastline, and has stated that it would make Arctic as its fifth military district. At present, it has strengthened its northern military bases and deployed nuclear powered submarines there.

Both Russia and China have conducted an exercise in the eastern Arctic. Russia has half of Arctic population and a well chalked out strategic policy. Russia also claims that the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is within its territorial waters hence it envisages that in future it would get lot of commercial advantage.

China, which is an expansionist country and hungry for mineral resources, is also establishing itself in the region. China claims that the Polar Silk Road is an extension of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Arctic region. China has deep pockets, and has invested in developing ports, undersea infrastructure, mining projects as well as in exploiting the energy resources in the area. China is using new unfrozen roads.

NATO and Arctic

NATO on the other hand is trying to counter the efforts of both these countries. US, coordinating with NATO, has also increased its influence in Arctic. In 2018, US and NATO established a new operational command at Norfolk which would protect Arctic and other places.

Although no part of the Arctic region straightway falls in Indian territory, but the region is important for India too. According to researchers, Arctic region would be ice-free by 2050 hence all the world powers are scrambling in the region so that they can exploit the natural resources of the region. The prominent countries of the world are studying the region so that the vast resources of the area can be used by them. These countries are also considering the Northern Sea Route (NSR) for trade.

The Arctic Council

The Arctic Council consists of eight members including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. When the Russia-Ukraine war commenced, the US strongly protested, and on 3 March 2022, all members except Russia announced their suspension of participation of the activities of the Council. It affected the research work and data sharing in the region. The United States and the European countries have diverted the funds to European Arctic and North American regions.

India and Arctic

The Arctic Region is important for India from several angles including scientific research which would focus mainly on environment and climate change.

As it is a mineral rich area, India has to view it from economic angle too. Arctic region has Iron, lead, coal, copper, gold, tin, and oil in large quantity. Arctic has 22 percent of world’s unexplored resources. Greenland has 25 percent of the global reserves of rare earths. The present world has become a global village and as India is fast moving to become a world power, New Delhi has to visualise the strategic and Geopolitical significance of the region.

Indian scientists and researchers would try to ascertain the reasons of meltdown of Arctic region and how Himalaya can be saved. Himalaya is one of the largest sources of freshwater reserves of the world outside the North and South Poles.

Indian researchers would also like to ascertain the reasons for global warming, climate change, disturbed and irregular rainfall etc. The changes in Arctic would affect not only the weather of the world but it would have adverse impact on India’s rainy season and its economy. India understands the importance of Arctic. And since 2007, India undertook 13 scientific missions and is maintaining a permanent research station in the region.

The Permanent Himadri research base in Svalbard (Norway) was opened by India in 2008. India has a massive coastline in the Indian Ocean, and the warming of Arctic would have adverse impact on its weather pattern, fisheries as well as on monsoon.

China is very active in Arctic and its ties with Russia are being strengthened. Not only both Russia and China did joint exercise in Arctic, both countries have become very close as several sanctions are imposed on Moscow due to the Russian Ukraine war.

As at present India has the presidency of G-20, it should try to formulate a detailed policy about Arctic region. The policy should promote security and stability in the region and try to develop cooperation between interested parties in Arctic. After Russian Ukraine war there is rivalry between US-led NATO countries and Russia and China. India through G-20 can take a lead as 11 out of 19 G-20 countries have stakes in Arctic while US, Russia and Canada are permanent members of Arctic Council.

(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and Life Member of United Services Institute of India and member of Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views expressed are those of the author and does not reflect the views of C3S)

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