4 February 2020
By Amb PS Raghavan
Chairman, National Security Advisory Board(NSAB).
It is worthwhile to understand that not many in India’s the strategic community know about the geo political nature of the treaty and is aware about the Svalbard treaty because of India’s research station called the ‘Himadri.’ Prior to India becoming the observer in the Arctic Council in 2013, a debate broke out on why should India join a closed group called the Arctic Council when India has fought for the global commons status for Antarctica? As an observer country India would have to accept that the eight countries of the council will have sovereign control over the region and only be nibbling away at the edges.
As the Asian countries moved to join the Arctic Council, it started the next phase of geopolitics in the Arctic. Arctic received the international focus due to two factors: First, due to ecological factors the Arctic ice is melting at a faster rate than most environmentalists could anticipate. Simultaneously, technologies to navigate Arctic sea routes also developed much faster making the region more economical than imagined. Hence the countries have begun to talk about the Northern Sea route. Second, the US-Russia contention started aggravating after 2010. This has led to the threat to militarisation in the Arctic and with China entering the fray the geo politics of the region has led to the world looking at it carefully. The consequences will be two-fold. First, the Northern Sea route will get cheaper with a strategic alternative to the Suez Canal. Second, Russia will begin to assert itself on the shipping lanes.
The geo politics of the Arctic is important for the countries to agree on a common ground and will be preserved by the core stake holders and in this, the countries of the council function as the P5 member of the UNSC. India has to accept and remember that the Arctic Council is not a legal entity hence the rules of the body will change once its composition changes. India’s Arctic policy should be aimed at this.
The Northern sea route has more gains for the South east and the East Asian countries than India. At the same time, India has a potential link to the Arctic which is the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC). India’s scientific interest in the Arctic is equally important in the given consequences of the Arctic melting, its impact on the monsoons, Indian Ocean and the Himalayas. India’s investment and utility of space will expand with an additional station in the Arctic. Most of India’s investments in Russia like oil, off shore L&G is in and around the Arctic and these interests are linked to the Vladivostok–Chennai maritime corridor. There is a certain conceptual continuity of the Indo Pacific with the Arctic for India. The Arctic strategy should thus be the necessary adjunct to the India’s Indo Pacific