Russian Militarisation of Arctic Growing Foothold
Deploying Sea Icebreakers: Russia has renewed its efforts to re-equip and replenish the domestic icebreaker fleet. This will strengthen Russia’s status as a “Great Arctic Power”.
Russia has vessels such as Arktika and Sibir in service. Vessels such as Yakutia and Ural are in the initial phases of operation.
Arctic Military Bases: Russia has reactivated many Soviet era Arctic military bases and upgraded its capabilities. This will strengthen Russian military presence in the region.
Significance of the Move:
- Northern Sea Route: The route cuts down time to reach Asia by up to two weeks compared to the existing route via the Suez Canal.
- The unlocking of Northern Sea route will allow Russia to more fully unlock its export potential and establish efficient logistics routes, including to South East Asia.
Militarisation of Arctic Region Importance
- Melting of sea ice: National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) has said that the level of Arctic Sea ice is decreasing by 12.8 percent per decade since 1979.
- Arctic states and near-Arctic states are making all efforts to augment their capabilities in a bid to be ready to capitalise on the melting Arctic.
- Russian military modernisation in the Arctic has prompted other Arctic states to take steps to ensure their presence.
- Military presence: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has been conducting regular exercises in the region while partner countries are making efforts to upgrade military capabilities.
- Near-Arctic state such as China has also announced ambitious plans for a ‘polar silk route’ to connect to Europe as well building massive icebreakers.
- Trade route: The new trade route through Arctic is set to be shorter than the existing route for many Arctic countries. This will help them increase their exports in the upcoming years.
- Mineral exploration: Arctic is one of the least explored regions of the world due to harsh conditions. Melting of the ice provides opportunities to explore the region for minerals.
Arctic Council on Militarisation
- Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic region.
- Members of the Arctic Council are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US. India is an observer state.
- Organizations representing the concerns of indigenous peoples can be included as indigenous permanent participants.
Militarisation of Arctic Impact on India
- India’s Arctic Policy: India unveiled its first Arctic policy titled: ‘India and the Arctic: building a partnership for sustainable development’.
- Pillars of Arctic Policy:
- Strengthening India’s scientific research and cooperation
- Climate and environmental protection
- Economic and human development
- Transportation and connectivity
- Governance and international cooperation
- National capacity building
- Opportunities for India:
- Research: India has increased its research activity in Arctic region, especially in the fields of environment and climate change. The implication of Arctic sea ice melt is expected to have significant effects on Monsoons.
- Mineral exploration: India has signed agreements with Russian Oil companies in exploring onshore and offshore fossil fuel in the region.
- The Arctic region also holds minerals such as gold, nickel, cooper, graphite and uranium. These minerals are used in the manufacture of high-technology products such as mobile phones and nuclear energy.
- Unlike the Antarctic Treaty of 1959 that limited the use of the Antarctic only for scientific and peaceful purposes, there is no such treaty for Arctic region.
- This makes Arctic vulnerable to environmental, economic, political and military conflict.
- Considering the recent developments, the region will be marred with disputes as well as challenge the freedom of Navigation in the high seas.
- There is a need for international treaty that regulates activities in the Arctic region. It will reduce conflict between stakeholders as well as prevent over exploitation in the region.