INDIA’S DEEP SEA MISSION PUSH GEOPOLITICS VS ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
In one of the more visionary steps taken, The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), has approved the Ministry of Earth Sciences proposal on ‘Deep Ocean Mission’ to explore the deep ocean for resources and develop deep-sea technologies for sustainable use of ocean resources.
Why control over oceans is important?
India is a large maritime country and is located right into the center of the Indian Ocean. The role of the Indian Ocean in the global economy is hard to overestimate: Gyrostatically, three-quarters of the worldwide maritime trade and half of the world’s oil supplies pass through its waters. Chokepoints such as the Malacca Strait in the east and the Hormuz and the Bab el Mandeb straits in the west make much of that shipping exposed in case of military conflict.
The Oceans as the last frontier of mankind offer enough resources to guard against any potential threat in the future.
The six dimensions of the Deep-Sea Mission
Its multidimensional form can be gauged from the components, that includes Technology development deep-sea mining and manned submersible;
innovations for exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity, deep ocean survey and exploration, and an advanced marine station for ocean biology, apart from the more anticipated variables like ocean climate change and energy from the ocean.
If we actually take all components forward, India will indeed become a marine superpower.
What are we looking for into the oceans?
Three main types of deep-sea mineral deposits are being targeted for mining:
It is deep into the oceans that you find rare earth metals and high-value minerals that are overgrown by entire biological communities. The number of potential compounds obtained from marine organisms now exceeds 28,000, and hundreds are being discovered every year.
Imagine it being used for the genetic transformation of human soldiers that the Chinese are going to employ everywhere.
India is in a prime position to explore its maritime environment like no other country.
Understanding the economics behind ocean exploration
Spending Rs. 4077 crores on this mission mode project in a phase-wise manner will be a game changer.
According to the latest Global Marine Biotechnology Industry Report, this field will have a global market size of USD 5.4 billion by the year 2027. In March 2020, Report Ocean stated that “the global biotechnology market is estimated to reach USD 741 billion by 2026”, pretty high compared to the forecasted market size for seabed mining, which is estimated as USD 7 billion.
What we stand to lose in the exploration?
India’s ability for ocean exploration may not make India secure, geopolitically and economically and not even against any potential Chinese threat, but it has the potential to bring huge cost to humanity and the environment and like every country India will contribute to it.
Most of the technologies will come with their own problems and at a huge environmental cost.
Cost of deep-sea mining
Deep sea mining comes with issues not known in general. But some environmental costs that may arise include:
The threat comes from every action-fish farming, desalination plant construction. Shipping cable laying and what not.
Are we going to end up increasing the cost of cleaning our oceans much more than what we can actually harvest?
India is not the only country going after ocean exploration
This effort is not unique as almost all the Great Powers have intensified their pursuit of dominating the maritime domain. All of the major powers are running behind maritime exploration for their own vested interests.
Russia is working out New shipping routes in the Arctic, where summer sea ice has shrunk by about two-thirds over three decades. The northern sea route (NSR) along Russia’s edge, which is likely to be free of ice helped by global temperature changes, can reduce the sailing distance between Asian ports and northern Europe by 40 percent.
China’s Intent in the South China Sea is not hidden. The significance of this region lies in terms of increasingly imposed conflict over control of resources, high population density, maritime trade routes, and as the fastest-growing economic region in the world. The region consists of the South China Sea which is located in the Central Indo-Pacific region. It consists of the Strait of Malacca, Sunda Strait, and Lombok Strait – routes that are vital for global trade.
Chinese are in direct confrontation in the South China Sea so much so that The Chinese regime claims that it has historical ownership over nearly the entire region. China is increasingly expanding its geopolitical reach in Asia and beyond by the use of trade and military with an ostensible aim of controlling the entire resources of the South China Sea, its deep seas. along with its trade routes. China not only has a hold over Hambantota port (Sri Lanka), which is just a few hundred miles off the shores of India. China is supplying military equipment to India’s neighbors such as submarines to Myanmar, a frigate to Sri Lanka, equipment to Bangladesh and Thailand, thus, in a way, colonizing the entire region.
India has no option but to develop deep-sea technology
For India to tackle Chinese dominance in deep-sea exploration, REE, and in the South China Sea, India not only needs to have a maritime alliance with QUAD but also share the know-how related to anti-submarine activities, develop. the infrastructure to deploy more and larger warships and explore the entire maritime domain with a different intent, different technology, different strategy, and different approach altogether. It is a necessity for India to control maritime waters and develop multidimensional technologies for making its presence felt in the maritime domain.
Word of caution
True, if India does not wake up now, the Chinese with all their posturing and intent will dent the peace of mankind and the Indian ocean community led by India in a severe manner. However, we cannot willfully keep damaging our oceans in this race to be secure, powerful, and be just ahead. In this pursuit, are we not creating a new recipe for loss and a new background for a Copenhagen-type summit but for the Oceans this time?
For India to be a geopolitical power, economic power to be a Vishva guru only geopolitical aspects, economic and technology aspects are not important but also its environmental and sustainability aspects. India cannot be a true leader without innovation in blending all approaches together. India needs to rethink its approach towards a new soft power as it has always been so…but this time blending everything together.
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