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What is the Arctic Council? The geopolitical significance of Arctic region for India – Northern Sea Route

What is the Arctic Council? The geopolitical significance of Arctic region for India – Northern Sea Route


  • GS 2 || International Relations || International Organizations || Miscellaneous

What is the Arctic circle?

  • The Arctic is a polar region located at the northernmost part of Earth.
  • Land within the Arctic region has seasonally varying snow and ice cover.

Which are the Arctic States?

  • As per the Ottawa declaration, the following 8 countries form the Arctic States
  • Canada
  • Denmark(Greenland)
  • Finland
  • Iceland
  • Norway
  • Russia
  • Sweden
  • United States(parts of Alaska)

Significance of Arctic circle/Arctic region

  • The Arctic’s Commercial Importance
    • The opening of the Arctic presents enormous commercial and economic opportunities, particularly in shipping, energy, fisheries, and mineral resources.
  • Trading routes and Commercial cruising
    • The melting of sea ice is also making way for new trading routes via seaways.
    • The melting of Arctic ice will reduce the sailing distance between Asian ports and northern Europe by 40 per cent.
    • This could be a major opportunity for exporters that ship goods in bulk from Asia to the West.
    • The most appealing route is the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which would connect the North Atlantic to the North Pacific via a short polar arc.
  • Deposits of minerals, oil and natural gas
    • The Arctic region is very rich in minerals, and oil and gas.
    • Estimated to be 22 percent of the world’s unexplored resources, mostly in the Arctic ocean, will be accessible, as will mineral deposits buried in Greenland, including 25 percent of the world’s reserves of rare earth.
    • The Arctic contains 90 billion barrels of oil, 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 44 billion barrels of natural gas, which is approximately 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil resources, 30% of its undiscovered natural gas resources, and 20% of its undiscovered natural gas.

Conflict over Arctic Region

  • The Arctic is under siege as never before. The Russians send submarines deep below the North Pole. The Americans dispatch surveillance planes to monitor new threats in the North. And Canada scrambles to defend territories it has ignored for too long.
  • Russia -the dominant one in the region
    • Russia is the dominant power in the Arctic, with the longest Arctic coastline, half of the Arctic population, and a fully developed strategic policy.
    • Russia anticipates huge dividends from commercial traffic, including the use of its ports, pilots, and icebreakers, claiming that the NSR falls within its territorial waters.
    • Russia has also activated its northern military bases, refurbished its nuclear-armed submarine fleet, and demonstrated its capabilities, including through an exercise in the eastern Arctic with China.
  • Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark have filed competing claims for extended continental shelves and rights to sea-bed resources.
  • China has moved quickly, projecting the Polar Silk Road as an extension of the Belt and Road Initiatives, and has invested heavily in ports, energy, undersea infrastructure, and mining projects to gain an economic advantage.

Challenges in front of the countries

  • Mining and deep-sea drilling are both extremely expensive and dangerous to the environment.
  • The Arctic, unlike Antarctica, is not a global common and is not governed by a single treaty.
  • The lack of deep-water ports, the need for icebreakers, the scarcity of workers trained for polar conditions, and the high insurance costs all add to the difficulties.
  • The navigation conditions are hazardous and only available during the summer.
  • It is in the Arctic that global warming presents its most dramatic face; the region is warming up twice as fast as the global average. The ice cap is shrinking fast since 1980, the volume of Arctic sea ice has declined by as much as 75 per cent.

Global warming and the arctic circle

  • Ecological Impact of Arctic Warming
    • The loss of ice and warming waters will affect sea levels, salinity levels, as well as current and precipitation patterns.
    • The tundra is reverting to the swamp, permafrost is thawing, hurricanes are wreaking havoc on coastlines, and wildfires are wreaking havoc on interior Canada and Russia.
  • Biodiversity under threat
    • The lack of year-round ice and rising temperatures are making it difficult for Arctic marine life, plants, and birds to survive while encouraging species from lower latitudes to migrate north.
    • The Arctic is also home to approximately 40 different indigenous groups, whose culture, economy, and way of life are in jeopardy of extinction.
    • Increasing human encroachment, with its attendant stresses, will exacerbate this impact and upset a delicate balance.
    • The Arctic Council does not prohibit the commercial exploitation of resources in the Arctic. It only seeks to ensure that it is done sustainably without harming the interests of local populations and in conformity with the local environment.

Formation of Arctic council

  • The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental body established by the Ottawa Declaration in 1996 to promote cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic States, indigenous communities, and other Arctic inhabitants.
  • The Council has eight circumpolar countries as member states and is mandated to protect the Arctic environment.
  • Participants
    • The Council has members, ad hoc observer countries and “permanent participants”
    • Members of the Arctic Council-Ottawa Declaration declares Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States of America as a member of the Arctic Council.
    • Denmarks represents Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Accomplishments of Arctic council

  • The Council has also served as a forum for the eight Arctic States to negotiate three important legally binding agreements.
    • The first, the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic, was signed at the 2011 Ministerial Meeting in Nuuk, Greenland.
    • The second, the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic, was signed at the 2013 Ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden.
    • Third, at the 2017 Ministerial meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, the Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation was signed.

Efforts and Interests- India in Arctic region

  • India has been given Observer status(no voting rights)in the Council.
  • India has forged favourable relations and form alliances with the coastal states within the present framework of Arctic governance.
  • Strategic Interest
    • Countering Chinese Influence-The strategic implications of an active China in the Arctic, as well as its growing economic and strategic relationship with Russia, are obvious and must be closely monitored.
    • Membership in the Arctic Council- Since 2013, India has had observer status in the Arctic Council, the primary inter-governmental forum for cooperation on Arctic environmental and development issues.
  • Scientific Interest
    • India, for one, opened Himadri, its only research station in the region in 2008.
    • In July 2018, India displayed an increasing commitment to Arctic research when its National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research was renamed the National Centre for Polar and Oceanic Research.
    • Furthermore, India and Norway’s bilateral research cooperation is realised in the Norwegian Programme for Research Cooperation with India (INDNOR).
  • Energy
    • In the economic domain, and particularly in energy, India and Russia’s top oil and gas companies have signed agreements and are cooperating on shared production projects and offshore exploration.
    • India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) Videsh Ltd. holds a 26-per cent stake in Russia’s Vankorneft and a 20-per cent stake in the Sakhalin-I project.
  • Environmental Interests
    • Because of India’s extensive coastline, it is vulnerable to the effects of Arctic warming on ocean currents, weather patterns, fisheries, and, most importantly, the monsoon.
    • Arctic research will assist India’s scientific community in studying the melting rates of the Himalayan glaciers, which have the world’s largest freshwater reserves outside of the geographic poles.

Challenges for India

  • In the absence of an official Arctic policy, India’s Arctic research objectives focus on environmental and scientific aspects rather than the region’s economic potential.
  • While China, Japan, and South Korea may benefit significantly from such connectivity with the region, and particularly Russia—India, for its part, is not as strategically located to extract similar commercial advantages.
  • The Arctic has enough hydrocarbons to meet India’s energy needs, but India lacks the technical capability to conduct Arctic exploration.

Saving arctic region

  • The only way to deal with Arctic amplification is by halting global warming as a whole.
  • The Paris Agreement provides a clear vision of limiting global warming.
  • Cutting fossil fuel emissions, conservation of forests and afforestation and carbon sequestration are some of the ways to bring down the global temperature levels.
  • Coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.


  • Today, when the Arctic is growing in both environmental and geopolitical importance, India would be foolish to ignore the region’s significance.
  • As an Observer in the Arctic Council and a country aspiring to occupy a compelling position in global governance, India should take advantage of the meaningful platform provided by Arctic developments to demonstrate its competence in areas beyond its immediate neighbourhood.

Mains model question

  • The Arctic is emerging as a new geopolitical conflict in the global scenario. What advantages does it provide India, and where do we stand in the race for Arctic resources?