As long as it was frozen, forbidding, and relatively valueless, disputes over the Arctic were akin to bickering over who owned the frost in the freezer.
Not so anymore. With the melting of the polar ice caps has come the discovery of oil, gas, and mineral deposits. This has prompted the eight countries that can lay claim to territorial jurisdictions over parts of the Arctic to take a closer look at just where those boundaries lie.
Denmark last week sent out a research vessel to try to expand its claims in the region, according to an article in the Copenhagen Post. Their mission is to determine if their territory expands beyond the 200-mile limit off the shores of Greenland, a semi-autonomous part of Denmark. If they can establish that the continental shelf extends beyond that limit, it can extend its jurisdiction up to 350 nautical miles, under the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea.
“We have holes in our data that we need to fill before we can submit our claim in the region,” said Christian Marcussen, leader of the expedition and head of GEUS, the Danish national geological institute. “We feel pretty sure that our argument is correct and that Denmark can make the claim outside the 200 mile nautical limit.”
The expedition is just the latest effort by several countries to more clearly define the boundaries.
In Greenland, licenses for oil and gas drilling have already been issued, and the Inuit Premier Kuupik Kleist wants to expand those. In an interview in the Globe and Mail last year, Kuupik defended the action.
“Companies from the outside have been exploiting natural resources in the Arctic area for centuries now. The Inuit didn’t. Now it’s our turn,” Kleist said.
And as the territorial disputes escalate, so has the saber-rattling. In 2009, Russia claimed large parts of the region, including the North Pole itself, and declared it would take military action to defend its claim, and announced plans for construction of a $33 billion port in the north. Canada responded by holding its largest military exercises ever in the Arctic, according to Canada Politics blog posting.
And it’s not just the Arctic countries. China, India, and Japan are all anxious to get into the game. They have asked to be “permanent observers” to the Arctic Council, a body of representative from the countries of the Arctic, according to an article in the Asian Times.
Suddenly, the long-overlooked island of Greenland is drawing a lot of high-powered interest. According to an article on the website Euroactiv.com., within the past few months, Premier Kleist has hosted visits from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, European Commission President Manuel Barroso, and Xu Shaoshi, China’s minister of land and resources.