The Arctic is witnessing dramatic physical changes. The effects of ice melting in the Arctic Ocean present both opportunities and challenges. The commercial openings range from harnessing potential resource wealth including oil and gas finds and the opening of the northern sea route for shipping and trade. Challenges also exist for example, political contestation among the littorals, possible militarisation of the region, and the adverse impact of human activity on the fragile ecosystem of the Arctic.
For India the developments in the Arctic region is important. Its interests are principally scientific. India not only has a scientific research station named Himadri at Ny-Alesund in Svalbard island about 1200-km south of the North Pole but is also an observer member of the Arctic Council since 2013 along with other Asian countries including China, Japan, Korea and Singapore. Its scientific footprint in the Arctic is an extension of its Polar research endeavours in the Antarctic and brings the science known as “teleconnections” closer home to the Himalayas. The Antarctic-Arctic-Himalaya is now described as the ‘Three Poles’ with the Himalayan system as the Third Pole.
There are also growing commercial and strategic interests that India cannot ignore. India’s Arctic approach needs to be well rounded and comprehensive considering the convergence of the 3 Geos: the geo-physical, the geo-economic and the geo-strategic.
India is one of the fastest energy consumer in the world and the Arctic presents an opportunity to join hands with the Arctic littorals like Russia in exploring the hydrocarbon potential. India’s labour force with skills in port development and mining can help develop the Barents region.
Arctic issues can be a core component of India-Norway relations. Norway led from the front in supporting India’s candidature in the Arctic Council and continues to back India’s candidature for permanent membership in the UN Security Council. Both the countries can further cooperate in the field of science and technology particularly as India is in the process of building its own ice-breaker to conduct scientific and business activities in the Arctic Ocean. Recently, India deployed the IndARC mooring in the fjord with the help of Norwegian vessel and a request has been made to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo to continue with this facility till India gets its own vessel.
Norway has strong relations with Russia in the Arctic and with India’s rising trajectory with Norway and its deep bonds with Russia, an informal triumvirate (Norway-Russia-India) can be an important catalyst of peace and development in the Arctic.
(The author is a senior strategic analyst and a senior Fellow at IDSA)