Wednesday, October 19, 2005


India often lacks a pro-active and far sighted foreign policy. The Antarctic continent is just one example. While India is a signatory of the Antarctic Treaty and a member of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, it does not leverage its scientific presence in that continent to broaden its role in the southern oceans. India's annual Antarctic budget is a mere US$ 4 million. Other countries such as China have entered the region in a big way. There is no consensus in the Ministry of External Affairs as to India's international role 50 years down the road. Had there been one, India would have heavily invested in Antarctic research. While it has organized 24 expeditions to the southern continent since 1982 and has had two permanent bases there i.e. Dakshin Gangotri (which has since been submerged) and Maitri, India's long term goals in the area have not been clearly defined. India does not vigorously participate in the annual meetings of the Antarctic Treaty countries.

There are four reasons why the Antarctic is important to India. The continent is rich in minerals, fossil fuels and marine resources. Research there would afford useful data on solar-terrestrial processes, remote sensing, geological mapping, and magnetic and gravity studies, not irrelevant to defence applications. It would generate information on the atmospheric sciences that would help better understand the monsoons and the currents in the Indian Ocean. And lastly, scientific exploration would include the technical feasibility for the exploitation of the southern seas. India's plans for a third base on the continent are laudable in this light, but much more needs to be done.

Argentina, Australia, Britain, Chile, France, New Zealand and Norway have territorial claims in the Antarctic. The Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959 does not invalidate such claims. The treaty needs to be reviewed to ensure a level playing field. India should more aggressively assert its presence in the region as a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty. It should venture deep into the continent rather than remain at the periphery. India could begin by strengthening the mandate of the National Center for Antarctic and Ocean Research in Goa.

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