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Chandrayaan 3 Milestone Fuels Evolving Dynamics in Global Space Exploration and Moon Diplomacy

Chandrayaan 3 triggers complex debates on global space race dynamics, paving the way for diplomatic collaborations anchored in shared scientific exploration and cooperative Progress.

By Prof Sudhanshu Tripathi
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Chandrayaan 3
Chandrayaan 3 Lunar Exploration | Representative Image | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

The successful moon landing of Chandrayaan 3 has turned the incredible into reality for India, and this has been acknowledged by the whole world. The country has indeed jumped towards a higher orbit of influence and power among the global community of sovereign nations. An aspiring power has achieved an unprecedented feat nearly 240,000 miles from Earth.

As a matter of fact, India’s space program originated during the sixties of the previous century, and in pursuance of that, the country has launched numerous satellites so far. In fact, the Chandrayaan 1 mission in 2008 has already confirmed the presence of craters on the south pole of the moon that contain ice, as scientists still affirm. Unfortunately, the previous attempt in 2019 to execute a soft landing on the moon failed.

In addition to New Delhi’s considerable hike in social and political prestige across the world, the commendable feat may also be accompanied by a significant boost to the prospects of India’s possible Moon Diplomacy, thereby ensuring better bargaining power for the country vis-à-vis most of the mighty powers in the world. Although the symbolism of India’s moon landing is hard to overstate, this achievement represents a moment of arrival for India, with clear political gains for PM Narendra Modi.

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Chandrayaan 3 will likely enhance the country’s prospects of cooperation with other space-exploring agencies in the world, it shall also result in massive economic gains for India. Launching indigenous rockets to carry the satellites of many other countries into space is indeed a lucrative business for such a technology-capable country, with hefty economic rewards accruing to its coffers. This may touch the trillion-dollar economy, according to senior officials of India’s Ministry of Science and Technology. The success may also kick-start private space exploration programs in the country. India’s moon landing can enhance ongoing space research that has contributed to the development of communication and remote-sensing technologies.

Despite being a distant reality, India’s dream to achieve a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council and join the Nuclear Suppliers Group may possibly find fruition. However, this greatly depends on the wishes of a much smaller group of countries that have already been to the moon, including China, Russia, and the United States. Many aspirants to land on the moon, such as Russia, Japan, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, have not yet succeeded in reaching its south pole.

Furthermore, though being a scientific and technological success in the field of space exploration, the totality of results to calculate in terms of national power for the country is perhaps beyond one’s perception. Despite the global applause over the success, it may not find favour with the aggressive and imperialist designs of China and the hostile intentions of Pakistan, both of which are against India. This might result in adverse consequences due to their long-held animosity against the country. As Sino-India tensions and the continuing standoff on the international borders between the two asymmetric powers remain far from amicable resolution, despite several rounds of bilateral talks at various levels, and considering hostile relations with Pakistan consistently supporting cross-border terrorism into India, the likely emerging diplomacy may amass enough clout and consequential addition to its rising technological power. This could help the country balance the fast-rising aggressive, assertion-oriented, and imperialist power-profile of China, including Pakistan, not only in the East but also worldwide.

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This spectacular achievement by the country may lead to a few unexpected and unpalatable after-effects due to tough power rivalry in the world. The international arena remains perhaps the most unregulated and free-for-all phenomenon where naked power rules the roost, as illustrated by the illustrious realist scholar of the previous century, Hans Morgenthau, in his classic work "Power among Nations." This same spirit has been further articulated by another contemporary realist scholar, John Mearsheimer, who points out the structures that inevitably cause tensions between different competing nations as significant power players in the world. India had already suffered such adverse consequences, facing several harsh sanctions imposed by western states led by the US, when it successfully conducted its first nuclear explosion on May 18, 1974, for peaceful purposes.

As India has now become an influential power-player among a few top-level players like the US, Russia, and China, it needs to leverage its diplomacy to carry on its sincere efforts uninterrupted in further exploring the unfathomed fields of knowledge for the overall interest of humanity—whether in space, below the surface of the earth, or deep inside oceans. These are the probable areas where humanity can find solace in times to come, considering rising temperatures, melting glaciers leading to the submergence of island nations, increasing environmental pollution, soil erosion, water and food resource scarcity, energy crises, and several natural disasters such as earthquakes, heavy downpours, famines, and artificial calamities due to excessive extraction of natural resources without replenishment. All of these factors could eventually render the earth inhospitable for human beings.

Furthermore, India’s space research has also helped monitor underground water levels and predict weather patterns back home on earth. This is especially significant in most countries vulnerable to climate change. The presence of water that can be refined into rocket fuel in the future suggests an opportunity for other countries to use the moon's south pole as a base for deeper space exploration. Space experts also highlight that the Chandrayaan 3 mission can accelerate efforts to fight climate change, along with conducting focused research on Helium-3. Helium-3 is a helium isotope found in abundance on the moon and could serve as a potential source of renewable energy.

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However, the mission could introduce a new phase of great power competition by accelerating a long-running race towards space. India and Russia—partners on earth—have competed to become the first country to land on the lunar south pole; a recent Russian attempt failed just a few days ago. While anticipating the immense possibility of such competition, the US proposed and forged the Artemis Accords in 2020 to promote space cooperation through shared rules and principles. Although the Accord has been acceded to by many American allies as well as partners, including India, both Russia and China have not reciprocated the same so far. However, the geopolitical competition is likely to intensify, potentially shifting popular perceptions being upheld on earth regarding the moon and beyond into space.

Despite these possibilities, space exploration has found added thrust with the success of Chandrayaan 3, where not only India but many more nations will try their strength. This will lead to better prospects for humanity. Hence, the ongoing endeavour in search of future hospitable destinations for human kind, or the required living preconditions for sustaining life, such as water, oxygen, or fertile soil, must be collectively pursued. This would prevent competitive rivalry from stalling the noble pursuit for common welfare. India can mitigate possible suspicions among other competing nations through its aforementioned moon diplomacy, forging better friendly and cordial relations by evolving cooperative endeavours not only in the field of space exploration but also in other fields mentioned above and even beyond.

This is essential for New Delhi today, as a similar mission by a major global power, Russia, using its powerful spacecraft Luna-25, unfortunately failed just a few days ago. India must avoid falling into the watchful eyes of jealous nations like China and Pakistan, apart from smaller states like Nepal, Sikkim, and Bangladesh, which are always wary of the country’s rising profile due to asymmetric geographical and economic determinants between India and each of them.

Thus, Chandrayaan 3 may yield substantial benefits for New Delhi. Furthermore, the likely consolidating power-profile of India through its possible moon diplomacy can significantly boost its image vis-à-vis Beijing and Islamabad. This would essentially benefit global humanity, as India's approach to exploring broader areas of knowledge has always been for peaceful purposes, continuing in the larger interest of the world and upholding the true spirit of "vasudhaiva kutumbakam," or "the world is one family." This possibility remains achievable, as nothing is beyond human endeavour.

(Professor Sudhanshu Tripathi holds a position as a Political Science professor at MDPG College, Pratapgarh (UP). He is the author of several published books, including "India’s Foreign Policy: Dilemma over Non-Alignment 2.0" (2020) and "NAM and India" (2012), as well as being a co-author of the textbook "Rajnitik Avadharnayein" (2001). Additionally, he has contributed numerous articles and research papers to national, international, and online journals.)

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