Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Arctic Governance Issues: India Should Take a Lead Role

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Arctic Governance Issues: India Should Take a Lead Role

Article excerpt

The Arctic Ocean is melting, new routes will open up for international navigation, large resources - especially oil and gas lying underneath the frozen ice, will also become more accessible and exploitable. This raises the strategic, economic and security implications of the region.

The climate in the Arctic has strong affects on the global climate. Melting of glaciers impacts global warming and affects other parts of the world. The melting of permafrost could lead to release of methane into the atmosphere, which could raise global temperatures considerably. Non-Arctic states are concerned about global warming and are demanding active participation and a role in matters relating to climate change policymaking.

Additionally, certain recent events in the Arctic have spurred renewed interest in the region. In August 2007, the Russian Federation dispatched a nuclear-powered icebreaker and two submarines to plant a rustproof Russian flag made of titanium on the seabed at about 4000m depth at the North Pole to articulate its claims to the Arctic. Days later, Russian bombers flew over the Arctic Ocean. The Canadian Prime Minister immediately announced funding for new Arctic naval patrol vessels, a new deepwater port and a cold-weather-training centre along the North-West Passage. A former Defence Minister of Canada made a helicopter landing on Hans Island, a 2 sq km uninhabited rock claimed by Denmark and Canada.

Western diplomatic and academic circles see in these events increased tension in the region. They have called for urgent action to address the issues involved and formulate action plans to avoid any escalation.

The Arctic region comprises eight states, namely Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. Five of these border the Arctic Ocean - Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the United States. In the debate over the Arctic, two issues are brought out sharply: navigation in new shipping routes and exploitation of the vast oil and gas resources. The definition of the Arctic is revisited such as by the distribution of permafrost, the Arctic Circle, the 10°C isotherm, the tree-line and /or the salinity boundary in the sea. These are purely geographical or climatic definitions and have no legal bearing. Territorial disputes are highlighted: the United States and Russia have not agreed on a border in the Bering Strait; the United States (Alaska) and Canada (Yukon) disagree on the boundaries in the Beaufort Sea; Canada and Denmark (Greenland) have a dispute over Hans Island and over delimitation in the strait between Greenland and Ellesmere Island and over fishing rights and control over the North-West Passage; in April 2010, Norway and Russia reached an agreement on their mutual borders in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean after decades of negotiation.

It is inconceivable that these states will engage in conflicts. More likely, they will engage in closer coordination and cooperation for managing the emerging navigational routes as well as the Arctic resources. In practice, for example, in the North-West Passage, Canada conveniently ignores the passage of US submarines, which may have to notify, surface and show the flag, were Canada to insist on its claim as internal waters. Melting of the Arctic is indeed seen as a huge economic boon. While not much is truly known about what lies underneath the Arctic Ocean and what is exploitable, a lot is anticipated. The melting of ice is likely to create abundance of resources. The fundamental issue is economic: who should control the activities in the region and who should benefit from what. The sporadic hue and cry and political demonstrations carry the hidden message: leave the Arctic Ocean for the Arctic countries to manage.

This brings us to the central question: Is there an existing legal regime that governs the Arctic? The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was opened for signature on 10 December 1982 in Montego Bay (Jamaica). …

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