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CWA # 183, 3 November 2019

The NIAS Arctic Series
The Scientific Imbalance: Is technology rightly being invested in the Arctic?

  Parikshith Pradeep

Nations are forgoing the notion of sustainability in the wake of acquiring regions. The balancing act of Arctic powers must ensure a transition to conducive research and scientific interventions in its preliminary stages. 

 

The Arctic is rapidly warming up, both geopolitically and climate-wise. While science plays a significant role in the two, technological imbalance in this region seems prominent. Recently, the US and Finland agreed to work together on defence preparedness and 5G technology to counter Russian and Chinese footprint in the Arctic. National priority for geopolitical hold in this region could erode the progress of science in Arctic conservation. A testimony to this trend is the gradual shifting of investments from research stations to defence infrastructure in the Arctic. 

Similarly, governments have started paying more considerable attention to shipping routes and the development of shipping technology rather than devising climate solutions. Not surprisingly, scientific investments on climate change are seen as a collective effort often failing to take shape while geopolitical competitiveness is pro-actively an individual effort by nations. Rising economic interests could overshadow the funding patterns of conservational science. This observation highlights the skewed application of technology in the Arctic for territorial greed rather than collaborative development. Also, it also brings out the transitioning nature of what one could call 'Arctic Science.'

Decoding the General Scientific Imbalance

Due to melting ice, the countries in their bid to delineate boundaries have found new expressions up north. Russia's aspirations have ballooned with Putin stationing floating nuclear plants in the Arctic. This innovation replaces the utilization of coal but poses a significant threat to the clean waters in the polar sphere. On the other hand, it indicates the intensity of research undertaken to obtain commercial dividends in the Arctic. Thereby, leveraging massive interest in energy and defence expenditure. Russia's venture at exploiting oil in the Arctic is ridden with drones and underwater robots to monitor energy rich icebergs and oil intensive landscapes. Recently, Norwegian defence officials flagged concerns on the rise of drones due to melting ice in the Arctic. Strategic technological enhancement and vacuum in developmental science could prove redundant during a natural crisis.

In the case of the Arctic, the concept of 'strategic ideation' must involve solutions to climate, environmental and ecological problems. Actions by the Arctic powers are slowing causing the scientific community to pursue a hawkish stance in deciding the region's affairs. Rise in the production of Arctic grade gadgets for defence purposes and the centrality of military exercises with extravagant arms leads one to question the fundamentals of 'Arctic Science.' 

Decoding the Territorial Scientific Imbalance

Scientific advancements have led to high competition for geographical grabs resulting in both domestic and global divides. First, the concept of 'Arctic Super Powers' can be flouted including countries such as China. The monopoly of Arctic states in research endeavours could lead to scientific inequality among northern nations. Countries such as Norway, Canada and Denmark have sustained research setups as contrary to Russia which had closed a significant chunk of its ongoing research stations in the Arctic. These setups are focused in matters such as climate change and ecological conservation. Russia's dominance and development of military tech could alter the direction of research by other competitors. On the other hand, the US's pressure to retain NATO's status quo also poses a threat to scientific progress by these countries.

Second, China's technological leap in the Arctic has earned itself high handed cooperation with nations such as Russia. The Chinese proclamation of 'near-Arctic State' stipulates the importance accorded to this region. Beijing's participation in the Vostok 2018 Military exercises with Russia signals its possible investment in Arctic military research. Recently this year, China and Russia vowed to invest in its 'Polar Research Laboratory' as a part of the ongoing establishment under 'Belt and Road laboratories'. While this facility would focus on polar scientific research, the centrality of the project lies in enriching China's Silk Road aspirations and fulfilling Russia's commercial objectives. 

Third, for developing and far off nations, the Arctic signifies scientific engagement rather than military cooperation. South Asian, European and countries across the Mediterranean have been sound in their scientific outreach to the Arctic. This is to highlight their value addition and capacity building with particular concern to environment and ecology. However, they must act swiftly and overcome geographical challenges to offset dominance by the Arctic nations. Their exclusion in the Arctic affairs could lead to a 'Polar North-South divide.'

Lastly, the isolation of the small island developing States is shocking, considering its critical and indirect dependence on the Arctic. While, one-sided actions from decision makers threatens the existence of such states, lack of inclusive scientific policies up north could hamper the survival of life in these islands.

Devising Solutions

Besides maritime entitlements, it is imperative the 'Arctic powers' cooperate in terms of scientific development. Independent conservation policies is a necessity considering the drastic militarization of the Arctic. The Arctic Council's agreement on 'International Arctic Scientific Cooperation' is a guiding initiative which promotes holistic research. 

However, in order to create sustainable ecosystems, stakeholders must ensure the translation of systematic research into actionable assets. Non-Arctic research outputs could provide constructive solutions to issues in this region. Active participation from civil society groups and science activists have provided viable perspectives for sustainable futures. Governments must embark on this capital to enhance Arctic conservation while decision-makers must strive to change the course of Arctic technology. Nations are forgoing the notion of sustainability in the wake of acquiring regions. The balancing act of Arctic powers must ensure a transition to conducive research and scientific interventions in its preliminary stages. 

 

The NIAS Arctic Series

Rashmi Ramesh
The EU and the Arctic: The interest is not mutual. Why?
CWA #250, 28 March 2020

Rashmi Ramesh
Iceland, Denmark and Norway: Small is Big in the Arctic
CWA #249, 28 March 2020

Harini Madhusudan
The Non-Arctic powers: Assessing the interests of Japan and South Korea
CWA #248, 28 March 2020

Rashmi Ramesh
The Arctic Littorals: Iceland and Greenland
CWA #185, 3 November 2019

Harini Madhusudan
The Polar Silk Route: China's ambitious search in the Arctic
CWA #184, 3 November 2019

Parikshith Pradeep
The Scientific Imbalance: Is technology rightly being invested in the Arctic?
CWA #183, 3 November 2019

D. Suba Chandran
Why an Arctic foray is essential for India
CWA #177, 27 October 2019

Parikshith Pradeep
Russia's Polar Military Edge
CWA #176, 27 October 2019

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