India’s role in the Arctic: boosting momentum through policy
Securing a strong scientific footprint in the Arctic is one of the main takeaways of India’s Arctic Policy Project. Arctic research is being carried out at ‘Himadri’, the Indian research base in Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway. Photo: National Council for Polar and Oceanic Research
In 2008, India inaugurated its research station ‘Himadri‘in Svalbard, Norway, marking the entry of an Asian country and an emerging power. Five years later he obtained the status of “observer” at the Arctic Council, raising the anticipation and expectations of Arctic countries and stakeholders as to what New Delhi could do in the North. After seven years, when momentum apparently waned and reached a standstill mode, India released its draft arctic policy. Now that India has decided to relaunch its strategy, it is necessary for it to maintain the momentum if it is to be counted as a stakeholder in the Arctic.
Justification determines the adventure of a state in less well-known regions. One might wonder and be curious about India’s role in the Arctic; the main question being: what drove India north?
Contrary to popular belief, India’s ties to the Arctic are not new. The UK was a signatory to the 1920 Svalbard Treaty which confirmed Norwegian sovereignty over the archipelago. Being ruled by the colonial government, British India was also a signatory. However, independent India, embroiled in the arduous task of nation building, did not feel the need to pursue and pursue Arctic policy. The Arctic has been ruled out, even after a three-decade history of Antarctic research.
With a capacity to influence the entire globe, the effects of changes in the arctic environment are gradually visible on the Indian meteorological system. The scientific community affirms a link between arctic climatic conditions and monsoons. Needless to say, the monsoon is the lifeline of agriculture in the Indian subcontinent, supporting the livelihoods of millions of people. This is one of the main reasons why India took a step forward in the Arctic in 2007. It launched its Arctic Research Program and launched its first scientific expedition the same year. The main objective was to further explore the Arctic’s link with the monsoons, to assess the flora and fauna of the North and to make a comparative assessment with that of the Antarctic, and to use technological expertise. of the country in the space field to study the effects of climate change in the Arctic. There was a significant demand from the scientific community to extend the scope of the study to the Arctic. With debates regarding the Himalayas as the ‘Third pole‘Gaining more traction, given common elements across the Arctic, Antarctic and Himalayas, the need for an active Indian presence in all three poles arose.
The draft policy: Putting it in a larger context
The world system has been hierarchical since the dawn of the Westphalian states, where the West has been the standard giver and the East, taker of standards. After WWII two blocs emerged and countries joined one or the other. India decided to take the path of non-alignment and presented its ideas mainly in developing countries. The post-Cold War world has witnessed multipolarity and the resurgence of Asian powers, including India and China. They have a say in the international system and carry specific value systems that are representative of their history, culture and social experiences. Particularly in the Arctic, Asian countries gained in importance in 2013 as they were considered “observers” at the Kiruna ministerial meeting.
India’s publication of the draft Arctic policy can therefore be placed in three broader contexts. First, India is a great emerging power, with tremendous military and economic power and goodwill across the world. His own great power ambitions dictate his increased role in the 21st century, including hitherto unexplored regions such as the Arctic. In 2011, Shyam Saran, former foreign minister of India said that in a Arctic undergoing geopolitical change, emerging world powers like India and China must “put this region on the international agenda”.
New Delhi, as a strong economic power, wishes to diversify its sources of energy. Since 2018, India focused on exploiting the oil and gas reserves of the Russian Arctic and also collaborated with Denmark, Norway and Sweden on issues relating to environmental protection and polar scientific cooperation.
Second, China’s acceleration in Arctic affairs. Beijing’s publication of a white paper and its emergence as a formidable external power in the Arctic may have put some pressure on New Delhi to expand its activities. Third, India was one of the few countries (with an Arctic presence) not to have published an Arctic policy. Stating the broader objectives in a policy document will guide a country’s approach to the Arctic.
India released its draft Arctic policy in January 2021. Like other non-Arctic states, India’s policy explains why and tries to place its identity within the larger arctic framework. By placing science as a tool to tackle the Arctic, India referred to the link with the monsoon and the persuasion of the idea that the Himalayas are the “third pole”. It can be noted that through politics India has also seen itself as a country that is part of one of the polar regions, thus emphasizing its identity while planning to actively engage in the Arctic. It’s quite similar to how China tried to project its Arctic identity by calling itself the ‘near arctic state“.
‘Sustainable engagement’ is the underlying approach which is emphasized through the ‘five pillars“- science and research, cooperation for economic and human development, transport and connectivity, governance and international cooperation, and the strengthening of national capacities. Knowing the Arctic and better understanding climate change and contributing to international efforts as an observer at the Arctic Council are part of India’s mission to engage and engage in the Arctic. The policy also talks about the need to strengthen ‘Himadri’, establish collaborations with scientific institutions working on polar science and acquire and build ice class ships which will enhance India’s scientific research in the world. North.
Transport and connectivity is a relatively new area that India is exploring in the Arctic and has been mentioned as one of the five pillars of the policy. He plans to explore the possibility of reaching the Arctic via the North-South international transport corridor (INSTC), a faster and more direct route. In this regard, it may be beneficial to integrate the INSTC into the European rail networks such as the TEN-T North Sea-Baltic Core Network Corridor, the TEN-T Baltic-Adriatic Core Network Corridor or the TEN-T Scandinavian-Mediterranean Core Network Corridor. India is also considering a sea route, establishing the Chennai-Vladivostok sea corridor, between the two major port cities. A memorandum of intent was signed in 2019, between Prime Minister Modi and President Putin, when the first became the first Indian prime minister to visit Russia’s Far East region. The proposal, in the long run, could be a counterweight to China’s Polar Silk Road.
The draft policy explains why and how it plans to engage in the Arctic, involving the state, civil society, including think tanks, academics, scientists and other experts, establishing collaborations with Arctic institutions, such as the University of the Arctic. (UArctic). But he fails to say what India will bring to the Arctic table, how it can use its immense potential and expertise, and make a substantial contribution to the region.
Rethink and Revise
The draft policy cautiously calls the Arctic as a “common heritage of mankind”, rekindling the debate on global commons. However, India is an observer on the Council and has accepted the Ottawa Declaration, which upholds the sovereignty of the Arctic states. It is therefore necessary to remedy this crucial contradiction.
India is also to formally appoint an “Arctic Ambassador / Representative” who will represent and express India’s views on Arctic affairs. The formation of a committee of experts dedicated to planning, monitoring, guiding, implementing and reviewing New Delhi’s Arctic policy can help streamline the country’s approach to New Delhi. a better way. Finally, there is a need to instill a multidisciplinary perspective in the study of the Arctic, given the range of interrelated issues facing the region today.
Rashmi Ramesh is a doctoral candidate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bengaluru, India.