In the wake of global warming, Arctic Ocean could be foreseen free of ice during summertime, says a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. This is a big news that concerns the geostrategic importance of India. It implies that reduced ice coverage combined with technological improvements may allow this region to become accessible to large-scale economic activities to a degree never experienced before.
India can be a victim to this increasing environmental threat in more than one way. For which the country will have to develop policies to safeguard its environment and also its geostrategic importance in the world.
India, a geographically privileged country can come under the threat of losing its geo significance and can shift to a zone of less importance due to international paradigm shifts in geostrategies.
Renowned geopolitical theorist, Sir Halford Mackinder had said that geographic locations and natural resources are the paramount factors in determining a nation’s foreign policy and power base. He believed the actual world political power at any given time was, “the product, on the one hand, of geographic condition of both economic and strategic, and on the other hand, of the relative number, virility, equipment, and organisation of competing people.”
The Indian Ocean signifies the above factors and, thus, becomes of extreme importance to Indian Navy targeting at building the ”Blue Water” navy. We find India at the fulcrum of the Indian Ocean region. It is the nerve axis of the sea lanes of communication (SLOC) as they initiate and terminate here.
China is attempting to develop an overwhelmingly powerful strategy in the Indian Ocean to protect its sea lanes of communication, especially for the transportation of energy through the Malacca Strait.
It is aware of the vulnerability of its SLOC’s from state and non-state actors. China is even more so susceptible in the Malacca Strait as over 82 percent of its oil imports pass through it. According to the former Chinese President Hu Jintao, this vulnerability represents China’s ‘Malacca Dilemma’.
Beijing is growingly getting concerned about China’s lacking to protect its SLOCs as it could be used as a bargaining chip against it in the context of a wider dispute. The argument is that Indian Navy might use it to impede oil traffic heading to China through the Malacca Strait. Both the countries aim to have a presence in the strategically located Strait where 40 percent of the world’s trade and more than 80 percent of China’s oil imports pass through.
China is not a member of Artic Council, yet has started devoting increasing attention to the political, commercial, and security implications of a much easily navigable Arctic. According to recent reports, the country can be expected to seek an active role in determining the “political framework and legal foundation” for future activates in the high north.
In 2009, China was the largest exporter and second-largest importer of globally shipped goods. As Arctic sea ice melts, two international shipping routes – the Northwest Passage and the Northeast Passage (also known as the Northern Sea Route) – will become increasingly usable for commercial shipping purposes.
China’s access to these alternate shipping routes could have profound impacts on China’s trade and shipping patterns in the future. One of the trade routes which will open up is, the Northeast Passage, which runs along Russia’s northern border from the Bering Strait to Nova Zemlya, is 6,400 kilometres shorter than China’s route to Europe via the Malacca Strait and the Suez Canal which will help China shorten its trade route.
China can benefit from the Northeast Passage because it will provide lower logistical and regulatory costs due to shorter journeys.
According to Dr Guo Peiqing, Associate Professor at the Ocean University of China in Qingdao and a respected expert on Arctic issues, the Northeast Passage “will change the structure of global trade. It may well bring about the emergence of a new, circumpolar super-economic belt made up of Asia, North America and Northern Europe.” Increased use of Northeast Passage would also alleviate dependence on the Malacca Strait, helping to address China’s “Malacca Dilemma.”
With global warming peaking, the melting of the arctic belt can create these alternative routes pushing the prime importance of the Indian Ocean. Which will inversely affect India’s upper hand in the region. To safeguard its importance, India is will have to develop a pre-emptive plan.
MV Xue Long, a second generation Chinese icebreaker, made a trip north to Alaska in order to support China’s growing needs in the Arctic. This indicates china’s tangible interest not being climate change rather an alternative to reduce India’s maritime prominence in its SLOCs.
India can become less important in the global geopolitical arena with better natural resources and sea lines opening for the world in the Arctic. India might also need to develop its weapon strength as lack of interest can lead China to show-off of its military strength as well.
There is an urgent need to develop specific strategies to improve India’s maritime relation with other countries involved in the East China Sea as those sea lanes will become the trading giants then.
The Indian Ocean can lose its marine importance due to the effect of melting of Arctic cap and thus weaken it on the global biodiversity map.