Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Greater White North 

From the "This Horse I'm Beating is NOT Dead, It's Just Frozen" Department:

During my absence from blogging, the New York Times featured an article on Canada's "Operation Narwhal," previously blogged upon here and here.
Not all of Canada's vast claims to the Arctic are recognized internationally. The United States, the European Union and Denmark either contend that the region's waterways are open to all or have placed their own claims on parts where climate change is expected to increase access to the region's bountiful resources in coming years.

Diamond finds already have inspired a new mining rush, making Canada the world's third-largest producer. Canada someday wants to tap natural gas in the Beaufort Sea in a frigid zone, bordering Alaska and Yukon Territory, which the United States tried to auction off to oil companies last year. The companies balked, preferring not to get mixed up in an international squabble.

Despite unusual challenges from Denmark, a NATO ally, Canada also is laying claim to an Arctic island with potential oil riches off its rocky shore.

Most important, climate change has begun to make more real the dream of opening a northwest passage that would shorten ship travel between Europe and Asia by thousands of miles, over the decades to come. Canadian policy-makers want to reserve the right to regulate and tax such a passage.
Danish readers of this blog repeatedly tell me that their press is not covering the story, which is mildly surprising, as even if the likelihood of all-out war is practically nil, military operations surrounding an intra-NATO dispute are awfully unusual. A Danish reader has also left a comment describing a 1983 Denmark-Sweden dispute over another desolate island which bears further investigation.

From a less news-driven perspective, the interesting part of this story is that even in our current Westphalian state system, sovereignty over territory isn't just about lines on the map, but about control (even outside Iraq and Afghanistan):
``We used to forget that the Arctic was our border,'' Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew said. ``There has been a change of perception of our reality, of where we belong.''

But while Canada claims the region, it does not regularly patrol it. That is what Operation Narwhal was intended to remedy by making the military more comfortable operating in what can be an extreme environment and by allowing a sometimes mistrustful native population to get used to seeing Canadian troops and navy ships.

For now, however, if nothing else, the exercise demonstrated that the military has a long way to go to operate effectively here.

Bad weather grounded air force planes and helicopters for days at a time, slowing troop transport even while commercial airlines kept flying.

A small fire on a 40-year-old Sea King helicopter aboard the frigate Montreal hampered one exercise. Two soldiers got lost in the barren tundra and spent a night in a cave without survival gear.

But there were small victories, too, particularly in meshing the skills of the military and their Eskimo Ranger guides and improving relations with local residents.
Finally, the Canadian Foreign Minister is named Pierre Pettigrew. I wonder if Harry Potter fans in Canada have noted the sinister connotations...

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