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Devvrat Singh asked: Does temperature rise in different parts of world affect geopolitics?

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  • Anurag Bisen replies: Global warming impacting geo-politics is very much evident in the radically transformed Arctic region, which is warming four times faster than other parts of Earth.  Arctic’s ice meltdown and its geographical location is likely to transform global maritime commerce and also opens up possibilities of extraction of huge potential oil and gas and other mineral resources, and expanded fishing and tourism in the Arctic.

    The big three—the United States, China and Russia, and NATO, are jockeying for position and influence in the Arctic region, raising geopolitical stakes. In January 2018, China released a white paper on the Arctic, in which it called itself as a ‘near-Arctic state’.  China is also the only country apart from Russia that is building a nuclear ice-breaker. That same year, Russia and NATO conducted Exercise Vostok and Trident Juncture respectively, their largest since the Cold War.  While the former witnessed participation by China, the latter comprised all 29 NATO members (at that time) plus Sweden and Finland and included the first deployment of a US Navy aircraft carrier above the Arctic Circle since 1991.

    Russia has substantially beefed up its military presence in the Arctic. On January 1, 2021, Russia’s Murmansk-based Northern Fleet was upgraded to the status of a Military District. In the same year, its Umka exercise saw three of its SSBNs surfacing through Arctic ice for the first time. In 2021, Russia also released a strategy for the Arctic for the period up to 2035, stating its intentions to develop the region’s abundant hydrocarbon and mineral resources, and establish the Northern Sea Route (NSR) as the preferred international shipping route.

    In October 2022, the US released the second edition of its Arctic Strategy which highlighted the vying for resources by countries due to increased accessibility caused by climate change-induced Arctic ice-melt. US maintains six military bases in the Arctic. In 2022, the US Army established the 11th Airborne Division in the Arctic, placing about 12,000 soldiers under a single command for Arctic military operations.

    The Russia-Ukraine conflict has seen the Arctic become an unintended victim of global geopolitics. In protest against Russia's actions, on March 3, 2022, seven (A7) of eight members of the Arctic Council, announced a historic suspension of participation in all activities of the Council. The suspension of dialogue and scientific engagement in the Arctic is a serious setback to global efforts to mitigate climate change risks since the Arctic is a bellwether of climate change.

    Global geopolitics, has, therefore, spilled over to the Arctic region which has become a new arena of strategic contestation and there is an increased risk of conflict due to unintended consequences of confrontation.

    Posted on 31 January 2023

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.