From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Arctic Council
Mains level : Geopolitics of the Arctic
It is tempting to view the current geopolitics of the Arctic through the lenses of the ‘great power competition’ and inevitable conflict of interests.
Current geopolitical scenario in the Arctic: US-Russia Spat
- It is mainly viewed as the growing tensions between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and Russia.
- By the end of the Cold War, the geopolitical tensions and security concerns in the Arctic were almost forgotten.
- The perceived ‘harmony’ was broken in 2007, when the Russian explorers planted their flag on the seabed 4,200m (13,779ft) below the North Pole to articulate Moscow’s claims in the Arctic.
- This move was certainly viewed as provocative by other Arctic State.
- The regional tension increased after the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2014.
- Consequently, relations between the U.S. and Russia reached their lowest point again.
Note: Five Arctic littoral states — Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the USA (Alaska) — and three other Arctic nations — Finland, Sweden and Iceland — form the Arctic Council (estd. 1996).
Try mapping them.
Caution: India became an Observer in the Arctic Council for the first time in 2013. And, India isn’t a full-time observer.
China’s vested interests in Arctic
- China, for example, with its self-proclaimed status of a ‘near Arctic state’, has been actively engaged in various projects across the region.
- The importance of the Arctic region for China mostly stems from its energy security issues and the need to diversify shipping lanes.
Why China focuses on Arctic?
- Transport routes from China to Europe through the Arctic are not only much shorter but also free from the challenges associated with the Malacca Strait and South China Sea.
- In the latter case, China will continue facing a backlash from many Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, supported by US forces and Quad.
Impact of Climate change on Arctic
- The Arctic is warming nearly twice as fast as the rest of the planet with consecutive record-breaking warm years since 2014.
- The Arctic is likely to begin experiencing ice-free summers within the next decade, with summers likely to be completely free of sea ice by mid-century.
- Given the significance of the region, the Arctic will continue to draw increased attention.
- Hence, countries should refrain from mutual provocations, excessive militarisation, and quid pro quo tactics.
- All Arctic actors should have a long-term vision and strategic goals as compared to immediate short-term gains.
- Instead of creating a potential battleground that is reminiscent of the Cold War, the parties concerned should utilise their expertise and create the required synergy to achieve shared goals.
- Climate change and its dramatic consequences must be a catalyst for Arctic cooperation.
Back2Basics: Arctic Council
- It is an advisory body that promotes cooperation among member nations and indigenous groups as per the Ottawa Declaration of 1996.
- Its focus is on sustainable development and environmental protection of the Arctic.
- The Arctic Council consists of the eight Arctic States: Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
- In 2013, six Observers joined the Arctic Council, including China, Japan, India, Italy, South Korea, and Singapore, bringing their total number to 13.