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CWA # 249, 28 March 2020

The NIAS Arctic Series
Iceland, Denmark and Norway: Small is Big in the Arctic

  Rashmi Ramesh

In the Arctic, location is essential alongside the size of the landmass, as it defines political roles. Finland and Sweden do not have a coastline with the Arctic Ocean, rather they have a part of their territories within the Arctic Circle.

 

The dynamic nature of Arctic has opened the doors for external powers to explore opportunities in the field of economics, energy, tourism, shipping, scientific cooperation and infrastructural development. Small states of the region provide a window of opportunities for cooperation for non-Arctic countries in these facets. This commentary focuses on those small Arctic countries (Iceland, Norway and Denmark) that can provide a platform for India to expand its Arctic endeavours. 

Small states in the Arctic: Geography and Location
In the Arctic, location is essential alongside the size of the landmass, as it defines political roles. Finland and Sweden do not have a coastline with the Arctic Ocean, rather they have a part of their territories within the Arctic Circle. Iceland for all practical purposes lies in the North Atlantic Ocean, outside the Arctic Circle, except for the Grimsey Island which lies 40 kms inside the Circle. 

Not being a coastal state in the Arctic Ocean can substantially define a country's identity, as observed during the Arctic Ocean Conference held in Ilulissat, Greenland. The five coastal states- Norway, Denmark, US, Canada and Russia, have a distinguished advantage over the regional affairs and the Ilulissat Declaration ensured the same. This is where the lines between "small" and "big" fade away and Norway and Denmark assert their political identity. 

If the political questions are kept aside, all the Nordic countries seem to be on the same platform, following similar policies and having a similar outlook about Arctic affairs. 

Small states in the Arctic have a different perspective of the region when compared to that of the big countries. The Nordic countries focus on developing a "Nordic narrative" about the Arctic. This narrative encompasses a distinguished history, culture, lifestyle, societal norms and principles and the belongingness in an interconnected northern world. It also includes the role of the indigenous communities in the governance of the region. The narrative is manifested in the form of knowledge building and disseminating with regards to various aspects of the Arctic region. 

They also stress the concept of circumpolar cooperation. Finland played an important role in the process of establishing the Arctic Council. Usually, small countries depend on institutions to stay relevant in the international system. In this regard, the Council is an important platform for these countries to voice their opinions. 

Arctic: What are the small states looking at?
Iceland's Arctic policy emphasizes on climate change and environment. The country's settlements and flora and fauna are high risk due to the melting glaciers and warming temperatures. Economic development and investments are also its priority, as its economy was severely affected during the 2008 recession. The policy also talks about its Arctic identity and knowledge building about the region. Iceland currently holds the chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Its priorities during these two years include sustainable development, Arctic marine environment, green energy solutions, Arctic residents and indigenous communities' welfare, and strengthening the Council. 

Denmark's Arctic identity is derived from Greenland. The country's priorities include climate change and sustainable development. Greenland's ice sheet is extremely crucial for both the Arctic as well as the sea level across the world. In order to monitor this, Denmark has set up Program for Monitoring of the Greenland Ice Sheet (PROMICE). Launched in 2007, it works towards mapping ice flow with the help of satellites, measuring heights and thickness of ice, creating a network of automatic weather stations directly on the ice sheet and continuously measuring the outlet glacier flow rate. Denmark also gives importance to economic activities such as sustainable fishing and tourism in Greenland; shipbuilding and trade; and energy extraction. 

Norway is a significant player in the Arctic in terms of scientific research and science diplomacy. The Svalbard island, which hosts several research stations of other countries, is a classic example of science diplomacy. Norway's Arctic economy includes fishery, tourism, energy (renewable and non-renewable), mining, and transportation. Other priority areas are resource management, climate change and monitoring, strengthening the Arctic Council, protection of the marine environment, conservation of flora and fauna, academic collaborations, and socio-economic development. 

Areas of cooperation for India
"Are small states the gateway for non-Arctic states into the region?" is an important question to ponder over. The various economic necessities of Iceland, Denmark (Greenland) and Norway are attracting the non-Arctic countries, particularly the Asian powers. Iceland and Greenland especially are in need of infrastructure and investments that can boost their economic wellbeing. The melting Arctic is also an opportunity for these countries/territories to develop tourism, resources and other economically beneficial activities. 

China has been taking the lead in investment and infrastructure creation in this part of the world. Beijing has been investing in telecommunication lines, mining and infrastructure in Greenland; tourism and free trade and scientific engagement with Iceland. The latter hosts China's Polar Research Institute, set up to study the phenomenon of aurora borealis. China also ventured into expansion of the Nuuk Airport in Greenland. This became a thorn in Greenland-Denmark relations, as Copenhagen was sceptical of China's foray in strategic areas of the Arctic. 

India's engagement in the Arctic and with the regional countries is mostly scientific in nature. In recent times, India has been focusing on energy, in Russian Arctic. In the near future, India can think of establishing its second research station in one of the three countries. Greenland would be an ideal place to set up a station, given its location, climate and the weightage it possesses in climate change discourses. Glaciology, climate change and changes in the Greenlandic ice sheet can be best studied in the territory. Outer space cooperation can also be one of the areas to focus, as it would help in better data collection and to get a comprehensive picture of the planet. 

Currently, India academic collaborations with few Norwegian institutions. However, this needs a breath of fresh air, and cooperation must be expanded. India should also actively participate in the academic network called "UArctic" which is a platform for all Arctic academic institutions. At the domestic level, multidisciplinary studies on the Arctic should be encouraged and this could happen in collaboration with the institutes in the small countries of the Arctic. 

Iceland, Norway and Denmark have an abundance of non-renewable energy, and this can be tapped, considering India's interest in this area. On the long term, India can also focus on infrastructural development in non-strategic domains in Greenland and Iceland. 

Small countries, therefore, provide a wide array of opportunities for India to foray into the Arctic. The basis for such cooperation is a mutual necessity- these countries/territories, especially Iceland and Greenland, require development and India needs a strong partnership to gain a substantial foothold in the Arctic. 

Rashmi Ramesh is a PhD Scholar at the Science Diplomacy Programme within the School of Conflict and Security Studies in NIAS. 

 

 

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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