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India's Arctic Policy

India’s History in the Arctic goes back almost a century. The Svalbard Treaty, formerly known as the Spitsbergen Treaty, acknowledges Norway's sovereignty over the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic, which was formerly known as Spitsbergen. The treaty was signed on 9 February 1920 and submitted for registration in the League of Nations Treaty Series on 21 October 1920. India at that time under the rule of Britain Signed this treaty. 

An Illustration on India's Arctic Policy

Illustration by The Geostrata

In independent India, the first significant development took place in 2007 August when India launched its first expedition to the Arctic. Further development took place in 2008 when  India developed its first permanent Arctic research station (Himadri) which is located in Spitsbergen, Norway. It is 750 miles from the North Pole. India has been sending scientific teams to do research in the Arctic each summer and winter. The domains of glaciology, hydrochemistry, microbiology, and atmospheric sciences are the main areas of study in India.

Himadri's duties include atmospheric research and long-term fjord (Kongsfjorden) dynamics monitoring. Scientific research on aerosol radiation, space weather, food-web dynamics, microbial communities, glaciers, sedimentology, and carbon recycling are among India's main scientific objectives. The research base has set aside time to study Arctic governance and policy. India has prioritized study and research in a number of areas, including genetics, geology, glaciology, atmospheric pollution, and space weather.

Since 2007, India has undertaken 23 ongoing scientific initiatives and has deployed 13 expeditions to the Arctic. According to the Ministry of Science and Technology, about a hundred peer-reviewed articles on Arctic concerns have been published since 2007. Approximately 25 institutes and universities are now engaged in Arctic research in India.


The Arctic Nations - The United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden make up the eight Arctic nations. The Arctic Circle contains parts of all eight states, including continental shelves that straddle the region. Every state is free to assert its territorial claims over portions of the Arctic.

The contradictory nature of many of these territorial claims, however, has led to territorial disputes between the governments for more than a century and a major rise in tensions in the region. This can be seen clearly as almost all arctic nations participate in military exercises on a periodic basis.

In 2023 Exercise Northern Forest, along with Exercise Arrow and Exercise Lightning Strike, made up Finland’s largest modern land force drill in the Arctic Circle. Many observers think that the Arctic area may be the scene of a Cold War in the twenty-first century due to the increasing tensions between the countries that make up the region.

The Arctic Council - With participation from all eight Arctic states (the United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden), the Arctic Council is the only intergovernmental institution in the region.

The Aleut International Association, the Arctic Athabaskan Council, the Gwich'in Council International, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North Thirteen, and the Saami Council are the six permanent participants that represent the various indigenous populations found in the Arctic.

In order to contribute their knowledge and facilitate regional information transmission, thirteen non-Arctic states have been granted formal observer status within the organization. The organization wants to see more cooperation between Arctic states in environmental preservation and Arctic administration. 

Indigenous Groups -  For thousands of years, the native inhabitants of the Arctic have lived there. Currently, the region is home to 4 million People. The Arctic is home to forty distinct ethnic groups, with 10% of the population being considered to be Indigenous. 

Saami, Nenets, Khanty, Evenk, and Chukchi in Russia; Aleut, Yupik, and Inuit (Iñupiat) in Alaska; Inuit (Inuvialuit) in Canada; and Inuit (Kalaallit) in Greenland are some examples of indigenous groups.

Due to their heavy reliance on the environment and ecosystem for fundamental needs, indigenous populations in the Arctic are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change.

Non-Governmental Arctic Organizations - Numerous non-governmental organizations concentrate only on the Arctic region. These groups include Oceans North, The Polar Connection, World Wildlife Fund - Arctic Programme, Arctic Institute, and ArcticNet. To monitor the consequences of climate change and resource extraction in the Arctic, these groups carry out impartial study on the region's ecosystem and animals.


After the signing of the Svalbard Treaty in 1920, India finally unveiled its first Arctic Policy in March 2022. The Ministry of Earth Sciences unveiled the Arctic Policy, titled 'India and the Arctic: building a partnership for sustainable development'.


This policy focuses to improve national capacities and proficiencies in the fields of science and exploration, environmental protection and climate change, maritime affairs, and commercial cooperation with the Arctic region.

This also plays a major role in advancing India's interests in the Arctic by enhancing institutional and human resource capacities within the government and academic, research, and commercial organizations through inter-ministerial collaboration. Focus also lies in improving knowledge of how India's environment, economy, and energy security are affected by climate change in the Arctic and encouraging better forecasting, analysis, as well as coordinated policy-making about the effects of Arctic ice loss on India's strategic, military, and commercial interests in international shipping lanes, energy security, and mineral resource exploitation.


In 2019, Gao Feng who is Special Representative for Arctic Affairs for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave a statement at Arctic Circle China Forum that said that We are a ‘Near-Arctic State’ and we want a ‘Polar Silk Road’.

The Arctic is currently governed collectively by the Arctic Council.  The Arctic Council is an exclusive intergovernmental body that deals with problems that the indigenous people of the Arctic and the Arctic nations face. Currently, the council's member states consist of the following eight nations: the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. These nations also hold sovereignty over territories located inside the Arctic Circle.  

India was admitted as an observer state in the Arctic Council in 2013. In the council, observers are not allowed to cast ballots. Thirteen non-Arctic nations are observer states as of now. India & China were admitted together in 2013. 

Indian and Chinese approaches have been very different. China wishes to use the Arctic as a new polar silk route which will give China access to Europe in just 10 days through the Bering Sea and then the Arctic instead of the traditional route which right now takes 23 Days through the Suez Canal. This will give China an alternate and shorter access to the European markets. 


The short-term goals of this policy are focused on scientific research and environmental protection, economic and human development. All of these are the ones that can be achieved by soft power that India possesses.

The main focus lies in  how India aligns itself alongside the eight permanent members of the Arctic Council. Russia has been constantly fast-pacing its military and capacity-building Initiatives in the Arctic.

Russia has around thrice as many outposts inside the Arctic Circle than NATO, according to statistics collated by Reuters and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Russia has made significant investments in infrastructure, ships, and ports in order to expand and safeguard the Northern Sea Route. It upgraded the Northern Fleet to become the fifth military region in the nation last year.

Russia is now better able to operate in the Arctic thanks to a series of newly constructed and renovated air strips from the Soviet era along its northern coast. A pair of MiG-31 fighter aircraft performed a demonstration flight to the North Pole and returned in March 2021, departing from Nagurskoye, its northernmost base.

In the Arctic Circle, Russia has more ground force bases than NATO.

This scenario thus challenges the traditional Indian policy of non-alignment, if India inclines itself to the Russian block then it will have to support the Chinese efforts of the polar Arctic route which in the future will make Chinese shipping to Europe faster hence providing significant economic gains over the long term.

If India supports the Western block then it will lose its perceived potential stakeholding from the massive resources that currently fall under Russian control in the area. On the other hand, a policy of non-alignment will only keep India in the Arctic as a shallow member with only secondary access and influence. It remains to be seen how India navigates these challenges deftly and pragmatically.





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