Danes pipe up with their own North Pole claims
(Randy Boswell, CanWest News Service, August 10, 2007)
Just a week after Russia's controversial flag-planting expedition to the North Pole drew fire from Canada, and with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his own Arctic sovereignty tour in the North, Denmark's science minister has claimed that findings by his country's researchers indicate "Denmark could be given the North Pole."
The claim by Helge Sander, Denmark's minister of science, technology and innovation, comes on the eve of a new Danish-led expedition to the Arctic and amid intensifying interest among northern nations in securing shipping and seabed rights in the oil-rich region around the North Pole.
In an interview Thursday with the Danish television station TV2, Sander said the joint Danish-Swedish expedition -- with its path toward the pole being cleared by a chartered Russian icebreaker, and with one Canadian scientist on board the research vessel -- was aimed at cementing Denmark's claims to extended seabed territory north of Danish-controlled Greenland.
Mr. Sander said "preliminary investigations done so far are very promising" and suggest the disputed Lomonosov Ridge -- a 1,500-kilometre undersea mountain range that runs past the pole between Siberia and North America - is a geological extension of the northern coast of Greenland.
"There are things suggesting that Denmark could be given the North Pole," he said.
In Ottawa, the Danish ambassador to Canada, Poul Kristensen, told CanWest News that "it's no secret that Denmark, on behalf of Greenland" has interests in the Arctic and "of course, potentially, we can make claims."
Mr. Kristensen added: "That's the whole point. We've been co-operating with Canada to get data on the Arctic."
But even as scientists from the five Arctic countries continue collaborating on polar research aimed at mapping the seabottom, the governments of Canada, Russia, the U.S., Denmark and Norway remain on competitive terms when it comes to staking claims in an area that is becoming more accessible because of global warming and is thought to contain 25% of the planet's untapped petroleum reserves.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in the Arctic on Friday to announce a new deep-water seaport and military training centre to help strengthen Canada's presence in the North, has said the Russian trek to the pole shows that "sovereignty in our Arctic is going to be an important issue as we move into the future."
Now the Danes - still at odds with Canada over the ownership of tiny Hans Island in the boundary waters between Ellesmere Island and Danish-controlled Greenland - are again pressing their claims to the potentially lucrative seafloor area around the North Pole.
Kristensen, quoting other recent remarks by Sander, said Friday that "we are speaking of values in the billions" when it comes to potential Arctic oil, "and therefore the area, of course, is of interest to us."
Canadian scientists believe the Lomonosov Ridge could well be interpreted as a continuation of Ellesmere Island, giving this country a strong counterclaim against potential Russian and Danish land grabs.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the five polar nations could acquire huge swaths of Arctic seafloor territory if they can prove the claimed areas are linked to their continental shelves.
Canada and Denmark have been collaborating over the past two years in gathering data about the Lomonosov Ridge on this side of the Arctic Ocean.
Russia initially claimed ownership of the ridge in 2001, but its scientists were sent back to the Arctic by the UN to gather more evidence supporting the claim, now due in 2009.
In June, Russian scientists said they had fresh proof that the ridge is connected to their country, a claim quickly dismissed by Canada and other countries as premature, unverified and ultimately subject to UN approval.
But the Russian assertions led to last week's audacious dive in a small submarine by a team of scientists and politicians to plant a flag on the North Pole seabed. The feat was impressive but widely mocked. In Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay dismissed it as "just a show" that didn't threaten this country's sovereignty in the Arctic.
Canada has until 2013 to submit its territorial claims, but the federal scientist leading the seafloor studies told CanWest News Service earlier this week there's a chance the research mission might be in jeopardy because of the tight deadline, strained resources and unpredictable Arctic ice conditions.
Jacob Verhoef, head of the Atlantic division of the Geological Survey of Canada, noted that one of his researchers would be aboard the Danish-Swedish expedition that prompted Sander's latest comment about Denmark's claims in the polar region.
On Thursday, a top U.S. climate researcher announced that the Arctic ice cover is shrinking faster this summer than at any time since reliable satellite images of the polar cap became available in 1979.
The Danish government first stated its intent to vie for possible North Pole riches in 2004, back when its Hans Island feud with Canada -- now being dealt with quietly by diplomats -- was still boiling amid heated public exchanges over the remote and icy rock.
There is a chance that the North Pole could become Danish," Mr. Sander said at the time, and "it could give us access to oil and gas."
The town is the northern terminus of the Hudson Bay Railway Leased by OmniTRAX. It is a useful link in the export of Canadian grain to European markets, with rail-sea connections made at Churchill. The port of Churchill, also owned by OmniTRAX and run by the General Manager, Lyle Fetterly. It is Canada's principal seaport on the Arctic Ocean.
Churchill is the main Arctic Ocean seaport in North America with a rail connection to the south.
OmniTRAX, Inc. is one of North America's leading transportation services companies and the largest privately-held rail services company in North America. An affiliate of The Broe Group, it offers a broad range of transportation services to clients in the industrial and transportation sectors.
Canada to strengthen Arctic claim
As the race to back up claims over the resources of the Arctic Ocean heats up, Canada has said it will build two new military bases in its far north.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the announcement during a tour of Canada's northern territories.
It comes as a Danish mission prepares to sail to the North Pole to map the seabed under the ice.
Last week, a Russian expedition planted the country's flag on the floor of the Arctic Ocean under the North Pole.
'Use it or lose it'
Mr Harper said a cold-weather army training base would be set up at Resolute Bay and an existing port at a former mine at Nanisivik would be refurbished to supply Arctic patrol vessels.
He said the facilities would bolster Canada's claims to disputed portions of the Arctic.
"Canada's new government understands that the first principle of Arctic sovereignty is use it or lose it," Mr Harper said from Resolute, a small Inuit community about 600km (372 miles) south of the North Pole.
"Today's announcements tell the world that Canada has real, growing, long-term presence in the Arctic."
Melting polar ice has led to competing claims over access to Arctic resources, including the Northwest Passage, a shipping channel between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans currently blocked by ice during the winter months.
Mr Harper announced plans last month to build six naval vessels to patrol the passage.
Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway and the United States also have competing claims to the seabed below the North Pole, an area containing as much as 25% of the world's undiscovered oil and gas according to a US study.
The area is not currently regarded as part of any single country's territory and is governed instead by complex international agreements.
Last week a Russian expedition sent a mini-submarine to the ocean floor four kilometres (2.5 miles) below the North Pole to further Moscow's claim to the Arctic.
Moscow argues that waters off its northern coast extending to the North Pole belong to its maritime territory because an underwater feature, the Lomonosov Ridge, is an extension of its continental territory.
On Sunday, Denmark is sending a month-long expedition to the North Pole to study the same underwater ridge to see if it is connected to Greenland, a Danish territory.
The Danish team plans collect data to map the seabed under the ice.
have you staked your claim yet ?
Emerging Conflict Over the Arctic
(By Rowan Wolf, OpEdNews.com, August 11, 2007)
As the sea ice melts in the Arctic, conflict heats up over who it belongs to. The Russians wasted no time at all in sending a submarine to to plant the flag on the ocean floor.
There are five nations with Arctic claims - Russia, Canada, United States, Denmark, and Norway. According to the Struck article, these nations had ten years (1982-1992) to agree on the boundaries. They have not, and Russia claims that it the Arctic is theirs.
Of course, Canada claims it is theirs. Further, that Russia is trying to claim territory beyond the 200 mile international limit. The Canadian response is to announce that they are building two military bases in the region.
Not to be outdone, Denmark is launching an expedition to see if they have a claim to some of the region.
Once again, we have the merging issue of hydrocarbons (oil and gas) and global warming. The Arctic ice is retreating rapidly. This is making accessible portions of the ocean floor that have not been accessible for thousands of years. The decreasing global supplies of oil and gas raise the stakes on any of those resources that might be claimed.
The irony of the burning of hydrocarbons causing increased CO2 which is a major contributor to global warming is unavoidable. Using fossil fuels accelerates global warming which causes more ice melt exposing more of the Arctic for exploitation of potential oil and gas reserves. It is nuts, but it is a sure indicator that: 1. there is no near term plan to move away from fossil fuels, and 2. there is no serious commitment to addressing global warming.
Can there not be any place on the planet that belongs to everyone (or no one)?
Some might laugh at the "quaintness" of planting the Russian flag on the ocean floor. However, be assured that military conflict over who claims what in the Arctic is not a far fetched fantasy.
U.S. claims Arctic shipping expedition not about sovereignty
(Associated Press, August 12, 2007)
SEATTLE -- A U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker is headed to the Arctic to map the sea floor off Alaska as Canada, Russia and Denmark assert their claims in the polar region, which has potential oil and gas reserves.
The lead scientist on the expedition scoffs at the political implications.
"We're basically just doing science," said Larry Mayer, director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire. "There's no flag-dropping on this trip," he said in an interview from Durham, N.H.
The Healy left Puget Sound on Monday and should be in Barrow around Aug. 17, said Russ Tippets, a spokesman at the coast guard Pacific area office in San Francisco. Mayer will meet the Seattle-based icebreaker Healy at Barrow, Alaska, and head about 800 km north with a team of about 20 scientists to map an area known as the Chukchi Cap.
Russian media assert that the Healy's mission signals that the United States, along with Canada, is actively joining the competition for resources in the Arctic. Melting ice could open water for drilling or create the long-sought Northwest Passage for shipping.
A Russian submarine dropped that country's flag Aug. 2 on the floor of the Arctic Ocean under the North Pole.
But Mayer maintained: "We've had this trip planned for months, and it has nothing to do with the Russians planting their flag," he said.
The mission will last a couple of months, and it is due back in Seattle in early October, said spokesman Stephen Elliott.
The purpose of the mapping work aboard the Healy is to determine the extent of the continental shelf north of Alaska, Mayer said.
It's not a claim, he said, but a process of registering boundary information with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
"In that area, the country would have rights over the resources of the sea floor and subsurface that would include drilling for oil and gas," he said.
The Arctic Cold War
TheStar.com - Ideas - The Arctic Cold War
August 12, 2007
Foreign minister Peter MacKay was indeed correct when he said of Russia's provocative flag planting in the North Pole's sea bed that, "This isn't the 15th Century."
He was suggesting that in our modern, more civilized world, codified international law, and not antediluvian games of finders-keepers, will decide claims of geographic ownership. And Russia, a sophisticated player in global diplomacy, has made statements in the past that it couldn't agree more.
But then MacKay's Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, said he was amazed by Canada's response. "We're not throwing flags around," he told the Russian media. "We just do what other discoverers did."
Most experts believe that international law, in the form of the United Nations' Convention on the Law of the Sea, will play an integral role in figuring out the unfolding conflict in the Arctic.
But don't count out the intrepid explorers of yesteryear and the kind of de facto international law they practised. In spite of the convention, some believe it's possible for countries to operate in a manner predating international law - or to ignore whatever decisions may flow from it.
With precious little ability to enforce its claims in the Arctic, Canada may be falling behind in asserting itself not in law, but in real life.
The story of the Arctic is still one of the future. Currently, it's a frozen hinterland, but with the polar ice caps melting, some predictions have it opening up to serious exploration and economic exploitation within 30 years. And the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 25 per cent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas remains locked up deep beneath the frigid waters.
"It's striking that the confluence of high energy prices and melting has created a vast new area that countries are going to have to fight over," says international law specialist Eric Posner. "Not necessarily in a military sense, but they will struggle over this area, and we haven't had a situation like this for quite a long time."
One of the main struggles will be over the 1,800-kilometre-long Lomonosov Ridge between Siberia and Canada's Ellesmere Island. Russia believes the ridge belongs to it, and therefore so does the North Pole. Its dramatic submarine dive in the Arctic this month, the first to reach the polar sea bottom and carried out by Russian scientists, was to "prove" that fact.
The next step is for Russia to submit its scientific findings to a UN commission of geological experts struck to review any country's claim to the sea bed far beyond its borders - a "continental shelf." These procedures were set out in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, regarded as one of the most important pieces of international law, governing the use of our vast oceans and their rich resources.
For many centuries, the seas belonged to no one. Except for a narrow band around a nation's coastline, the high seas were a free-for- all. But growing concerns over foreign fishing vessels and pollution, and knowledge of the rich mineral and oil wealth under the sea floor, changed everything.
In 1945, U.S. President Harry Truman unilaterally tossed aside the freedom-of-the-seas doctrine and proclaimed exclusive ownership of its huge continental shelf. Other countries, including Canada, soon followed, asserting control over waters sometimes hundreds of kilometres beyond their borders. By the 1950s, oil drilling on the ocean floor was rapidly expanding.
The Law of the Sea eventually gave legal status to navigational rights, resources, marine protection and territorial sea limits, as well as a way to settle disputes. It established a generous "exclusive economic zone" for coastal states, extending 320 kilometres from their shorelines. But potential riches, from gas and oil to diamonds and gold, didn't always stop there. States realized continental shelves would need to be accounted for.
A process to submit claims to these extensions and a commission to evaluate them and make recommendations was set up. Russia made the first claim, in 2001, followed by Brazil and six other countries. The most recent was France earlier this year. Canada has yet to make its claim.
How that process will play out remains anyone's guess, because no claim has yet been resolved.
For this country, says Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in global politics and international law at UBC, the Law of the Sea is "a good news story in terms of the rule of law and of multilateral cooperation in a situation where one of the alternatives is a military contest over resources, which is the last thing any sane person from a less powerful country would want. International law is what protects our interests most of the time."
Byers says the conflict over the Arctic involves only those areas where nations' continental shelves may "overlap," perhaps less than 10 per cent of any claims made or yet to come. He maintains that the fact the treaty is steeped in science, along with the expertise of the commission, will lend the whole process legitimacy and compel countries to accept the commission's recommendations.
But even if it's all about science, this won't be an exact science. Countries will, for instance, try to justify ownership over the same seabed. "The Russians are going to make the most extensive claim possible," Byers predicts. "It will be based on an interpretation of the scientific evidence that is as favourable to them as possible."
Others think cases where conflicts are already apparent - Canada and Denmark have claims to the same continental shelf as Russia, even if we don't precisely know where those claims lie - render the commission irrelevant. "The commission can't deal with information presented where there is a conflict," explains University of Victoria's Ted McDorman, an expert in the Law of the Sea. "It has no power to decide ... so like other ocean boundary disputes, it will ultimately come down to some level of negotiation. Political negotiation."
International law allows for disputes to be adjudicated through a special Law of the Sea Tribunal. But Canada and Russia, in ratifying the treaty, both declared they would opt out of being compelled to send a dispute over maritime boundaries to the tribunal.
It could be years before nations reach that stage. Canada is still gathering details for its submissions to the UN. Countries have just 10 years after ratifying the Law of the Sea to submit claims. For Canada, this means 2013.
Meanwhile, Russia isn't wasting a moment. It has capitalized on its stable of useful vessels, nuclear-powered icebreakers for instance, to show that it's serious about the north. "The Arctic always was Russian, and it will remain Russian," expedition leader Artur Chilingarov said last week.
"Why drop their flag" at the North Pole? asks Posner of the University of Chicago. "I take it as a signal they're going to claim this regardless of what the UN commission is going to say sometime in the future."
In other words, states could ignore the UN commission or simply not comply with their international legal obligations. "Usually they make a legalistic argument, which may be implausible, but they make it anyway and go ahead and do whatever they want to do."
In these cases, power may, in the end, trump international law in determining who gets what in the Arctic, he says. "Power means the ability to keep other people out."
Posner considers Russia's flag caper less benign than most, reflective of a more "aggressive" Russia, seeking to reclaim through energy dominance the global stature once held by the Soviet Union.
He has a hunch that, if the ice cap continues to melt and energy prices keep rising, Russia will send more and more ships into the Arctic. Eventually, "they'll define an area, maybe what they've claimed already, maybe less, and say, `This is our water,' and come up with an excuse, such as the Eurasian continent extends below this, `and we'd be happy to sell licences to extract oil and gas,' and so on."
He doesn't think there would be war, but the concern is "Russia has a head start," Posner argues. "It's got a lot of ships that can operate in the Arctic. Canada has very few."
Planting a flag could be more important than we think, says Robert Miller, an expert in the "Doctrine of Discovery," which started with Pope Nicholas V in 1455 and was used by New World explorers to lay divine right over land for European Christian societies.
"There are definitions in the treaty, and Russia is trying to prove that the ridge runs to the North Pole. That's outside the parameters of the Doctrine of Discovery," says Miller, who teaches at the Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore. "But look at how Russia is dotting its i's and crossing its t's by planting a flag. If they can't win this, they're doing what lawyers do all the time: try to prove it in a different way. They could say, `We were the first to have planted a flag on the seabed.'
"The treaty supplemented the Doctrine of Discovery," Miller argues. "It didn't replace it."
The idea of planting flags and showing up every now and then - say at a deserted island - to show you exert control is called "effective occupation." Byers says Canada has done this with Hans Island in the Arctic, whose ownership it disputes with Denmark.
Some experts suggest that while control of an area used to occur before sovereignty was established, today sovereignty over an area must be established by international law before taking control.
Law may be supreme on paper, but there's something to be said for the old behaviours. That's why there are growing calls for the government to do more to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.
Aside from continental-shelf claims, the Northwest Passage, which links the Atlantic and Pacific, is of primary importance for this country. As the climate warms, the ice pack preventing shipping could open up a much quicker route from Europe to China.
Canada considers the Passage to be inland waters. Other nations, including the U.S., say it's part of the high seas, and want free access.
Byers has said Canada needs heavy-duty icebreakers, not the smaller vessels the government has promised to the navy, to properly assert its sovereignty in the Passage, but also to properly research its claim to the Arctic seabed.
One solution, Posner says, may be for Canada and the U.S. to work together to counterbalance Russian designs on the area - Canada with its knowledge, the U.S. with its money and military power.
"The only question for Canada and the U.S. is, how much effort (do they) want to start making in order to limit what Russia can get away with?"
Why they're fighting for the Arctic
(Gwynne Dyer, Niagara Falls, August 13, 2007)
Editorial & Opinion - Among the headlines I never expected to see, the top three were "Pope Marries," "President Bush Admits Error," and "Canada Uses Military Might."
But there it was, staring up at me from a British newspaper: "Canada Uses Military Might in Arctic Scramble." Read a little further into the story and the "military might" turns out to be some armed icebreakers and two small military bases in the high Arctic, neither of which will be operational for some time to come, but all the same....
At the beginning of August, remote-controlled mini-submarines planted a Russian flag on the Arctic seabed at the North Pole, symbolically claiming the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater mountain range, as part of the country's continental shelf.
If the claim were accepted, it would expand the Exclusive Economic Zone in which only Russians can exploit minerals and other seabed resources all the way to the North Pole, but it wasn't immediately obvious how planting a titanium-encased Russian flag on the sea floor advanced Russia's case.
Days later, Danish scientists headed for the Arctic to gather evidence for their claim that the Lomonosov ridge is actually an extension of Greenland's continental shelf, and therefore belongs to Denmark.
"We will be collecting data for a possible demand," explained Christian Marcussen of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.
And then last Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew to Resolute Bay in Nunavut for the photo-op of a lifetime.
"Canada's new government understands that the first principle of Arctic sovereignty is: Use it or lose it," said Harper, for the second time in a week trotting out a phrase originally coined to describe one of the uglier realities of nuclear strategy.
Nunavut is one of the coldest human settlements on earth, but Harper was having the time of his life. For once there was some sort of threat to Canada's sovereignty, or at least it could be made to look as if there were, and he was the staunch patriot standing up for Canada's rights.
What politician could ask for more?
It's actually the Canadian government that has led this round of Arctic posturing, beginning with its declaration in April that the Northwest Passage, a series of channels between Canadian-owned Arctic Islands that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans if they weren't choked with ice most of the year, would no longer be classified as "territorial waters" (through which foreign ships enjoy the right of innocent passage, although foreign warships are expected to seek permission).
In future they will be "Canadian internal waters," over which Canada exercises complete control.
It was a crowd-pleasing gesture in Canada, especially since the United States has long denied the Northwest Passage is even Canadian territorial waters, insisting instead it is "international waters" over which Canada has no control.
Washington has even sent warships through from time to time, deliberately not asking permission, which greatly annoyed Canadian nationalists. And global warming means that by 2015 or 2020, the Northwest Passage might even be open to commercial shipping for five or six months a year, so Harper had a plausible pretext for getting excited.
But it was a pretext, not a reason, since there is actually no danger the United States is going to steal the Northwest Passage from Canada, or blockade it, or even attack Canadian ships.
Yet Harper has announced Canada will spend $7 billion on six new armed ice-breakers to assert its sovereignty in Arctic waters, build a new deep-water port at Nanisivik on the northern tip of Baffin Island for both military and civilian use, and even open a new army training centre for cold-weather warfare at Resolute Bay.
This all makes great copy, but just whom are these soldiers supposed to fight? Russians infiltrating the Canadian Arctic on foot?
And what are the guns on the new Canadian ice-breakers for? Fighting the U.S. Navy the next time it sends a ship through the Northwest Passage without permission?
There is a scramble for the Arctic, but it is not military. It's about laying claim to potentially valuable resources on the basis of geographical and geological data, within the framework laid down by the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea.
The 1982 treaty, which now has 155 member-states, sets out the rules for claiming seabed rights, which is the only issue of real economic importance to the various Arctic players. It's all about mapping the seabed, doing the seismic work, and registering your claims within 10 years of ratifying the UNCLOS treaty.
In Canada's case, that means by 2013, and it would do better to concentrate on that task, like the Russians and the Danes, rather than make meaningless military gestures.
Gwynne Dyer is one of Canada's media renaissance men, an outstanding journalist, broadcaster, producer, author and filmmaker.
His radio productions include the CBC Radio series The Gorbachev Revolution (1990), which he wrote after spending much of 1988-90 in the Soviet Union; War (1981), a six-part international co-production; The Catholic Counter-Revolution (1980), a four-part international co-production; Brazil (1979), and Seven Faces of Communism (1978).
He has produced, hosted, written or directed numerous CBC and NFB films and series, including the seven-part series War, seen on CBC Television and broadcast in 45 countries. His most recent film production is the three-part NFB series Protection Force (1995), an examination of United Nations actions in the former Yugoslavia.
Dyer spent the first three months of 1991 reporting on the Gulf War. He is known around the world for his twice-weekly syndicated column on international affairs, which appears in 150 papers in 30 countries.
Gwynne Dyer was born in St. John's and now lives in Montreal. He has served in the Canadian, U.S. and British naval reserves. He has been a lecturer in military history and a senior lecturer in war studies. He received his Ph.D. in history in 1973 from the University of London, and was associate fellow in Middle East studies at Oxford University from 1973-75.