The New Arctic Policy released in March 2022 is undoubtedly a landmark as far as India-Nordic and Indo-Russia relations are concerned. “India and the Arctic: Building a Partnership for Sustainable Development” is a policy which primarily addresses strengthening India’s scientific research and cooperation, climate and environmental protection, economic and human development, transportation and connectivity, governance and international cooperation, and national capacity building in the Arctic region. 

The policy broadly talks about the need for an Arctic oriented approach for India, considering Arctic Circle’s relevance in the dynamic geo-political scenario. It looks at countering the effects of climate change, creation of sustainable development strategies by ensuring collective cooperation and involvement of multiple stakeholders, including governments, industry, academia and business. There is a strong need to look at the Arctic policy through an analytical lens, to examine the rationale behind its development, even when India has no geographical proximity to the region itself. 

The popular perception that the Arctic is a region with just polar bears, sheets and sheets of ice and glaciers, old stereotypical images of eskimos and igloos is breaking down as time passes. Countries are looking at ways and methods that can be employed to capitalise on the vast resource opportunities offered by the belt. Being an area with a high percentage of untapped gas deposits and minerals, including titanium, vanadium, zirconium, copper, cobalt, hydrocarbons, there is already enough competition for it and is bound to increase exponentially in the decades to come. The warming of the planet offers an opportunity in the polar territory due to the resulting melting of ice caps, leading to the opening of new sea-lanes for an easy commute of ships and carriers. Moreover, the possibility of reducing the travel time for the ships to cross Eurasian belt to reach the North American zone should not be overlooked. The stakes are, therefore, very high. 

The previously existing engagements of New Delhi as well as the ongoing ones in the Arctic zone are indicative of a certain amount of interest and ambition to acquire a foothold in the region. The government had formally launched an expedition to the Arctic in 2007, and in the same year initiated a research programme with climate change as its primary focus. ‘Himadri’, the Indian research base in Svalbard, conducts studies in Glaciology, Atmospheric and Biological Sciences. Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) have been signed with the Norwegian government which provides logistical support for Himadri, in order for it to carry out its research purpose. Besides, for India, Moscow’s engagement is a further fillip to its strategic and economic endeavours in the region. 

The Russian Federation shares almost 50 to 55 percent of its border with the Arctic region. As a consequence of the same, much of the untapped resources emerge to be under the jurisdiction of Russia. New Delhi already has its priorities outlined by having MOUs with certain Russian companies such as the Far Eastern Agency for Attracting Investments and Supporting Exports (FEAAISE), and Eastern Company of Russian Federation (FEMC), with a long term aim of increasing investments and economic returns from the region. Considering the deep and strategic relation India and Russia share even amidst the Ukraine crisis, there is certainty that the bilateral cooperation will deepen with respect to the Arctic. Morover, the impact of having an exclusive policy for the region will offer benefits in terms of strengthening India’s Arctic decisions. 

Upon analysing the far-sightedness of the framework, there is a necessity to look beyond the objectives the policy aims to establish. There is indeed a greater emphasis on climate change cooperation, sustainable development methods of investment, etc. However, foreign policy initiatives of a country are also telling of its national security interests, and the same goes for India’s Arctic Policy strategy as well. The New Arctic Policy will undoubtedly act as a window for deepening India’s critical engagements in the Arctic. Chennai – Vladivostok Maritime Corridor,  which is expected to connect the ports of Chennai, Visakhapatnam and Kolkata to ports at Vladivostok, Olga and Vostochny will be seen as a landmark among all the long term bilateral engagements between Moscow and New Delhi. 

One of the critical aspects of the bilateral engagements that could be seen in the Arctic will be through the Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement (RELOS). The Agreement, which is yet to be finalised, is an administrative arrangement that will enable both the countries to use each other’s logistic and naval facilities. As of now, India does not operate any permanent base in the Arctic. Considering the fact that Russia has established a strong military base in the region, the Indian defence capabilities will further enhance, giving the Indian Navy access to Arctic waters and furthering the strategic presence of New Delhi. 

Nevertheless, there are factors that challenge India’s initiatives for cooperation in the region. China, being an observer country in the Arctic Council, the extent to which co-operation can be established between the two countries to ensure “mutually beneficial and sustainable economic co-operation” is extremely doubtful.  As a counterweight to China’s possible influence, India is looking at multiple opportunities to enhance cooperation with respect to the Arctic. Apart from the Scandinavian countries, India is also looking at engagement with Germany, Denmark and France with regards to the Arctic. Now that the repercussions of Russia-Ukraine war is felt on the strategic and economic fronts and China’s belligerence is poised to escalate in the coming years, securitisation of the Arctic pole is emerging as a great matter of concern for India. 

Meghna Manoj was Research Intern at Centre for Public Policy Research. Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

Featured Image Courtesy: pixabay.com

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