NEW DELHI: As global temperatures rise and sea ice thaws, geopolitics is hotting up in the cooler climes of the Arctic, courtesy the Northern Sea Route (NSR). If the passage becomes ice-free the whole year round due to global warming, it could have a major impact on the global commercial markets.
It will become a shorter shipping route between Northeast Asia and Europe, reducing transit time from Asia by at least 40 per cent compared to the route that goes via the Suez Canal, says Japanese scholar Dr Daisuke Kawai. Currently, the route is operational for about 80 days a year.
“It would also allow access to the huge untapped deposits of oil, gas and mineral resources such as rare earths in the region, which would impact the global energy markets,” Dr Kawai, Deputy Director of Economic Security Research Program at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Tokyo, told StratNews Global.
The Russian Advantage
Rusia, which has more than half (about 53 per cent) of the Arctic Ocean coastline, stands to gain more than just economically. Collection of transit fees and extraction of resources could kind of shift the global economic order in its favour. This, in turn, will help it gain leverage over global shipping partners which may challenge the dominance of the United States, said Dr Kawai, who was in New Delhi to attend the Indo Pacific Regional Dialogue hosted by the Indian Navy and the National Maritime Foundation.
The Polar Silk Road (PSR), as China calls the Northern Sea Route, was added to the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s mega connectivity project, in 2017. Russia is already building a port along the Northern Sea Route in which China has a 30 per cent stake, Dr Kawai said. “When it comes to cost-benefit analysis, China has less benefit economically but it can be used for strategic gains and can be propped up as a de-dollarisation route, maybe for BRICS nations, to diminish U.S. influence.”
Impact On Japan
Japan meets 80 per cent of its energy needs through imports, mainly from countries like Australia and those in the Middle East, which means it relies heavily on the Suez Canal route. It has also endorsed U.S. sanctions on Russia for the Ukraine war. That geopolitical tussle with Russia doesn’t bode well for Japan, says Dr Kawai. “If Russia dominates the Northern Sea Route, it may assert political influence which could affect Japan moving around the NSR.”