Q+A: Current Geo Politics in the Arctic Region

The Arctic and the Antarctic are relentlessly changing due to the global warming and the exponential melting of ice. This has led to the Geographical changes, which mainly govern the interests of the nations. By this means, the Arctic has gained the Geopolitical apprehension in the recent years.

What is the main reason behind the Arctic Region entering the forefront of Global Geopolitical map?

“RESOURCES & SEA ROUTES”

As the ice melt new areas open up providing opportunities for the countries in exploring the regions and hunting resources. A 2008 assessment of US – The Arctic holds 90 billion barrels of oil and 47 trillion cubic metres of natural gas.

According to the Energy Information Administration, currently there are about 22% of unexplored oil and gas in this part of the world. The three major big hands involved in the regime are the US, Canada and the Russia.

Because new regions are uncovered from the arctic ice, the political claims and disputes among the American, Asian and the European countries increase as well. In 2017, while the US claims its reserves over the arctic to be 7 trillion dollars, Russia has claimed its reserves as 22 trillion dollars. The main reason for the Russians to lead the competition is their possession of more icebreakers while compared to the other countries. The countries are also showing interests in setting up new naval bases to protect their claimed territories.

Apart from the fossil resources, the countries also extend their territorial rights over the region for fishing.

How does the United Nations handle the situation?

As a major step to protect these resources from being exploited at a faster rate, the United Nations has introduced an exclusive clause on the Arctic in its UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea). According to which, the EEZ – Exclusive Economic Zone can extend up to 370km from a country’s shore. It can further be increased to 650 km for scientific measurement.

The United Nations has a separate wing called the Arctic CLCS – Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The role of the CCLS is to consider the data and other material submitted by the coastal countries. And it makes recommendations to the states on their establishments of the outer limits.

Who are the major players of The Arctic Geopolitical waters?
  1. The big Arctic insiders – USA and Russia
  2. Small Arctic insiders – Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland.
  3. The Arctic outsiders – India, China, Japan, and South Korea.
How does the changing Geo Polity of The Arctic lead to The Opening of New Shipping Routes ?

It is constantly argued that  sea route connecting Europe and Asia Pacific is becoming shorter day by day due to the melting or Arctic ice. Taking the Arctic route reduces 40% of the distance when compared to the Panama route. Since 2014, ships are being operated through the route without ice breakers and the route is opened for 2 months during the summer. This route also enables to comparatively carry more cargo as it is deeper.

What are Military interests in the Geo politics of The Arctic?

As the countries claim more and more on the international ice, it is palpable on their part to protect their Geopolitical waters by strengthening their military forces in the area. This has led to the installation of more and more military and naval bases in the Arctic.

Russia – Russia is replenishing its forgotten naval bases since its Soviet break down. Russia’s Northern fleet, near the Kola bay’s icy waters are being strengthened in particular. Russia is adding more and more ice breakers to its navy. On total Russia now own 40 ice breakers, 6 of which are nuclear.

US – While Russia is adding more icebreakers, US focusses on adding more submarines. The US naval bases in Groton, Connecticut are added with more and more submarines to guard the Geopolitical US waters.

The Arctic Council

Arctic council is an eight member organization including the US, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway. It was formed in 1991 to fix in the sovereignties of the countries. The council also includes observers.

On May 2017, the eight countries have signed an agreement called the “Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation” to work towards a joint research cooperation.

What are Political Consequences of the changing Geopolitics in the Arctic? 

The changing Geo polity in the Arctic has led to disputes among long standing partners like US and Canada. And so, the two countries entered into The Canada – Us Arctic Cooperation Agreement in 1988. The bilateral agreement relates to the NorthWest Passage. The issue arose when Canada claimed the major part of the US – Canada Arctic under its control. It was mainly towards its income from the traversing ships.

A big tension prevailed after Russia planted its flag in a 3, 300 metre deep waters in the Arctic to claim its territory. The mission was said to be highly dangerous and involved 2 submarines and many experts. Russia justified its claim by proving that its Siberian shelf is directly linked to the Lomonosov ridge and it runs under waters to 1, 240 miles across the polar region. The sediment samples were proved to the UN to justify the claim.

What are Economic consequences of the new Geopolitical circumstances in the Arctic Region? 

The first and foremost victim would be the Suez and Panama canal regions. As more and more Arctic regions are explored and exploited, the use of these canals would perceptibly minimise. This will not only affect the canal regions but also the countries which rely on their storage incomes on these routes. One such country is Singapore which owns the world’s biggest storage arena for the ship cargos.

However, globally the outcome of the melting of polar ice in economic point of view is absolutely valuable. Mainly because, it reduces the fuel consumed and there by reduces global warming though the situation is due to increased Global warming!

It also saves a lot more of time and increases business trades among the big giants situated here. The route saves 13 day time when compared to the Suez canal. This includes 13 day labour, fuel, and food cost

India and the Geo Politics of Arctic

While the Arctic Coastal countries are claiming their territories in the region, India has to play its role to compete them to withstand its position in the global market. Though India currently cannot politically benefit the region, it can categorically play a role of a “benefactor”. It would be unwise on India’s part not to show interest on the RESOURCE RICH Arctic.

India became an observer of the Arctic region in 2013. It has set up a research station calledThe Himadri” in the Arctic region. As an observer, India has to follow the criteria set by the Arctic council

  • Fasten to the sovereign rights of the Arctic states.
  • Respect the indigenous people, their culture and tradition
  • Follow the UNCLOS strictly

Having said India is just an observer, it is yet to make use of the resources of the Arctic. However, an optimistic way to exploit the resources of Arctic is through FTAs – The Foreign Trade Agreements.

A possible way is through South Korea – Why and How?

India is trying to have a greater say over the Arctic through South Korea. With strategic partnerships with Russia or China has waned away with India’s current US – leaning policies, India has to find an alternate route to enter the Arctic, which is through the US ally South Korea. But, why South Korea?

Currently oil is transported to Asia through the Suez canal. It is then stored in Singapore, with Singapore making the world’s biggest oil storage hub. As the Arctic trade routes open, the Suez canal and Panama canal traffic would obviously become thin. Having to learn this, South Korea is now emerging as the next hub for oil storage. South Korea has recently passed a resolution to ass 60 million barrels of crude and refined products by 2020. It has also finalised its plans of framing policy goals, 4 strategies and 31projects in connection with the Arctic region.

Therefore, to have a stronger trade relation with South Korea is a politically and economically feasible option for India. To begin with India has to initiate more negotiation on this matter with the South Korean officials and

 China and the Arctic – With china’s Silk Route

The only forum through which China is connected to the region is through its Silk route initiative. As a part of the Belt and Road initiative China and Russia had an agreement that China would enjoy a 10% share Yamal LNG project, a large Russian project situated in the Russian Arctic region.

Conclusion

Thus the Geopolitics of the Arctic region is mainly on the resources and the sea routes. Military forces are also a growing concern over claiming the international geopolitical ice. However the Un has been playing its role through the UNCLOS and the CLCS to keep the growing exploitation of the Arctic Geopolitical region under control.

Summary
  • The growing Geopolitical concern in the Arctic is mainly for the hunt of resources and the sea routes.
  • With the ice cap melting, using the Arctic sea route is much shorter when compared to the Suez and the Panama.
  • There is also an intensification of military tensions in the region due to the Geopolitical claims of the coastal countries.
  • UN plays a major role in controlling the situation and monitoring the Arctic with its UNCLOS and CLCS
  • The net result of the changes in the Geo polity of the Arctic has led to disputes between long standing partners like US and Canada.
  • Though the exploration of new resources leads to an overall global development, it also affects the major income sources of regions of Suez and Panama. It also affects the countries that act as storages in these routes.
  • India has just now put its first baby step of being an observer. India has to travel a longer way to benefit from this part of the world.

 

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