Reviews

The strategic South Pole

Antarctica, The Frozen Continent’s Environment, Changing Logistics and Relevance to India Dr. Jagadish P. Khadilkar Bloomsbury ₹999  

It was about 200 years ago that mankind entered into Antarctica, the southernmost continent covered in ice. Ever since, nations have competed with one another to make their strategic presence felt in the continent. In this non-fiction book, Jagadish P. Khadilkar, a former Lieutenant Colonel of the Indian Army, who had served as the leader and station commander of the Indian Antarctic Station Dakshin Gangotri, has turned an advocate for a national dialogue to create a polar vision that addresses India’s national interests in the long term.

The snow burial of this Station in 1991 had led to its decommissioning, but the experience of leading the efforts in running the Station has prepared the author thoroughly to write about how the logistics of running a strategic mission in the continent works. There is an entire chapter on Antarctic Logistics that reads like an explorer’s guide to conducting a mission in the continent. The author points to India’s vulnerability in being over dependent on overseas organisations and resources for vital logistical needs such as structures, ships, aircraft, etc. Self-reliance alone can guard India’s strategic interests here, he notes.

The strategic importance of the continent, however, is inextricably linked to its ability to regulate the global climate. The Southern Ocean that surrounds the continent absorbs both heat and carbon dioxide thus helping to maintain life on Earth as we know it now.

The book talks about changes observed in the wind currents and ocean currents originating from here that have begun to influence weather patterns world over. The author points to a probable 25% decrease in summer sea ice extent in the continent and a reduction by a week in the last 30 years of its sea ice season till now, as a direct result of global warming.

One may wonder why given the global importance of the continent and the Antarctic Treaty presently ruling out territorial claims to the continent, the author keeps harping on India’s strategic interests here.

He points to the rapid melting of ice in the Arctic and the possibility of opening up of sea routes there to exploit natural resources such as oil and gas, as a premonition of what may happen down at the southern tip too. But one wishes that environmental preservation and not narrow nationalistic interests were emphasised in the book. The sidelining of the urgency of the ecological threat to the continent is conspicuous.

Antarctica, The Frozen Continent’s Environment, Changing Logistics and Relevance to India; Dr. Jagadish P. Khadilkar, Bloomsbury, ₹999.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 8:43:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/the-strategic-south-pole/article19193037.ece

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