India’s Deep – Sea Diplomacy,Navigating Geopolitical Currents in Persuit of Oceanic Resources-Why blaming Ranil

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stands as a monumental international treaty, sculpting the laws that govern our vast oceans and maritime activities. Born in 1982 and brought to life in 1994, UNCLOS provides a comprehensive legal framework designed to oversee the use and conservation of the world’s seas and oceans. This framework ensures the fair and efficient use of marine resources, upholding international order and fostering global cooperation.

To breathe life into UNCLOS and oversee its broad provisions, four pivotal institutions were created. Each plays a unique and crucial role in adjudicating disputes, regulating seabed activities, delineating continental shelf boundaries, and ensuring the Convention’s smooth administration.

1. International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)

2. The International Seabed Authority (ISA)

3. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS)

4. Meeting of States Parties (SPLOS)

Together, these four institutions act as the guardians of our oceans, promoting peaceful and cooperative use of maritime resources in harmony with international law. Their collective efforts ensure the seas remain a domain of peace, prosperity, and sustainability for all.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establishes a comprehensive framework for the exploration and sustainable use of ocean resources. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) plays a central role in managing mineral exploration in the international seabed area, known as “the Area.” Countries and their sponsored entities can apply to the ISA for exploration contracts, which are reviewed for compliance with legal, technical, and environmental standards. These contracts typically last 15 years and require detailed environmental protection measures and regular reporting. Should commercially viable resources be found, contractors can apply for an exploitation license, subject to rigorous review to ensure sustainable and responsible mining practices. UNCLOS ensures global participation by providing training and support to developing countries and establishing benefit-sharing mechanisms, guaranteeing that the exploitation of marine resources benefits all humanity while safeguarding the ocean’s health for future generations.

In the heart of the Indian Ocean, a strategic dance unfolds as India stakes its claim on the cobalt-rich Afanasy Nikitin Seamount . This underwater treasure trove, nestled east of the Maldives, holds the promise of critical minerals essential for the global shift towards clean energy.

Driven by the specter of China’s overwhelming control of the cobalt supply chain, India’s bid at the International Seabed Authority (ISA) reflects not just a quest for resources, but a bold geopolitical maneuver. The ISA, Jamaica-based guardian of seabed rights under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, found India’s ambitions tempered by a rival claim, likely from Sri Lanka, whose own extended continental shelf bid complicates the seascape.

Behind India’s application lies a deeper strategy: to establish a deterrent against encroaching Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean, where Beijing already commands significant deep-sea exploration contracts. This strategic push comes amidst a backdrop of rising global demand for cobalt, a critical component in electric vehicles and battery technology pivotal to achieving global climate goals.

While India’s deep-sea mining initiatives are in nascent stages, the nation’s commitment is underscored by its ambitious Deep Ocean Mission. Launched with a robust $500 million investment, this initiative aims not only to explore but to harness the polymetallic bounty of the ocean floor, including coveted cobalt-rich nodules.

India’s pivot on Sri Lanka’s continental shelf claim, from initial non-opposition to assertive objection, underscores the high stakes involved. With China controlling 70% of global cobalt supplies and India eyeing a net-zero emissions target by 2070, securing access to these critical minerals is not just a matter of economic strategy, but a crucial step towards sustainable energy independence.

As the international community watches, India navigates the murky waters of deep-sea diplomacy, striving to carve out its place in the blue frontier while balancing geopolitical tensions and environmental imperatives.

In this intricate maritime ballet, where every move is scrutinized for its geopolitical implications, the pursuit of resources under UNCLOS is not merely a legal exercise but a crucial arena for defining international relations in the 21st century. As India and others navigate these waters, the outcome will resonate far beyond the seabed, shaping the balance of power and the sustainable development agenda for generations to come.

India’s pursuit of the Afanasy Nikitin Seamount in the Indian Ocean is emblematic of more than just a quest for cobalt. It signifies a strategic assertion within the complex realm of maritime geopolitics, where the stakes are high and competition fierce. India’s ambitions here transcend mere resource extraction; they underscore a deliberate effort to secure its economic interests and bolster its geopolitical standing amidst regional power dynamics.

A critical question arises, why does India focus on deep-sea mining rather than exploring similar resources on land? The answer lies in both the strategic and practical advantages of ocean-based resource extraction. Deep-sea mining allows India to diversify its resource base and reduce dependency on terrestrial sources, which are often subject to geopolitical tensions, environmental concerns, and limited supply. Moreover, the ocean floor presents untapped potential with polymetallic nodules that are richer in valuable minerals like cobalt, essential for the global shift towards clean energy.

India’s primary claim to this resource-rich area is based on Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which governs the extension of continental shelves. However, this claim is met with competing interests, notably from Sri Lanka, whose primary assertion is based on the Statement of Understanding (SoU). Sri Lanka also leverages Article 76 for its secondary claim, further complicating the strategic seascape of the Indian Ocean. Conversely, India’s secondary approach utilizes the SoU, highlighting the intricate interplay of legal frameworks in this geopolitical contest. The International Seabed Authority (ISA), tasked with overseeing mineral exploration in the international seabed area under UNCLOS, serves as the arbiter in this contest. Here, India’s bid faces challenges, notably from Sri Lanka, whose own claims complicate the strategic seascape of the Indian Ocean. In addition to the Afanasy Nikitin Seamount, India is also staking a claim on the “Carisberg Ridge”. This further underscores India’s strategic push to secure access to vital underwater mineral resources, enhancing its position in the global maritime domain and supporting its long-term energy and economic security.

Despite the clear provisions under UNCLOS that allow any nation to stake claims on the international seabed, the intervention of Sri Lankan political figures, such as Ranil Wickremesinghe , complicates matters. It raises questions about the motives behind such interference, especially when the international framework is designed to ensure equitable access for all countries.

Ultimately, many of the challenges faced in these complex geopolitical maneuvers stem from a broader issue: a lack of widespread understanding about our oceans. This knowledge gap can lead to misunderstandings and mismanagement of oceanic resources. To pave the way for a sustainable future, it is essential to integrate ocean literacy into our education systems. From primary school curricula to higher education, fostering a deep understanding of marine science, oceanography, and maritime law will empower future generations to make informed decisions. Educating society about the oceans will cultivate a culture of stewardship and innovation, ensuring that our marine resources are managed wisely and sustainably for the benefit of all.

I personally agree and endorse the India’s application as the China’s intervention will be ended up in another nine dotted line ?

Ayesh Indranath Ranawaka
Executive Director INORA

ocean 1 st by oceanlust

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