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Vipin Garg asked: With huge potential reserves of hydrocarbon and minerals in the Arctic region, is the balance of power again tilting westwards?

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  • Uttam Kumar Sinha: The international system is essentially about maintaining peace through balancing power. The balance of power is almost indispensable in diplomacy and one of the greatest exponents of this has been Russia. With reference to the Arctic, where the melting of the ice is opening the seas to vast resources and fisheries as well as shorter navigational routes, ‘great power’ politics is potentially high. Competition and contestation over future stewardship and exploitation of the resources in the Arctic may well lead to stand-offs and military expansion, a throw-back to the Cold War period. Russia, therefore, is a critical player and a counterweight to any ‘balance of power tilting westwards.’ In fact a resurgent Russia will find the Arctic region a perfect ground to proclaim its power status.

    It must be remembered that the Arctic is territorial proprietorship of the 5 nations called A5 (US, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark). Unlike Antarctica, which is governed by the 1959 Treaty that bans territorial claims, the Arctic region is sectorial. The odd country out in the A5 is Russia. The other 4 are NATO members with long standing Western liberal democracies and thus a natural ally. Yet Russia seems to be in a position to balance the unfavourable equation. It has greater cooperation with Norway, with which it shares border, over fishing and hydroelectricity. With Canada it cooperates on ice breakers. Oddly it is the US which seems to be maintaining a strategic silence in the A5 grouping.