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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Race for the Pole 

As regular readers of this site are well aware, conflict is brewing up north. I've ridiculed Canada-Denmark tensions over uninhabited Hans Island on numerous occasions, but there are two deadly serious stories underlying this saga.

First, as reported today by the BBC, Denmark has announced that it is making a concerted effort to strengthen its claims to the North Pole for the explicit purpose of developing oil and natural gas fields.
Danish scientists hope to prove through hi-tech measurements that Greenland's continental socket is attached to a huge ridge beneath the floating Arctic ice, the Associated Press reports.

The country has allocated 150 million kroner ($25m) for the project on the Lomonosov Ridge and four other potential claim areas around Greenland, reports say.

Science Minister Helge Sander said last week that success would give Denmark access to "new resources such as oil and natural gas".

The Danish bid also rests on a UN convention that allows coastal nations to claim rights to offshore seabed resources.

Countries that ratify it have 10 years to prove they have a fair claim to the offshore territory and its resources.

"First, we have to make the scientific claim. After that, there will be a political process with the other countries," science ministry official Thorkild Meedom said.

But experts have warned that it could take years to sort out the overlapping potential claims in the Arctic.

Canada and Russia are making similar investigations around the North Pole, the Associated Press reports.
I'll have more on the Danish initiative within the next week.

The second story, which I've alluded to a few times before, is Canada's difficulty in making an effective claim to its northern reaches. Today's submarine accident involving a Canadian vessel, which I hope is resolved without loss of life, is another sign of Canada's military weakness. As long as Denmark is relying on treaties to back up its territorial claims, this isn't an issue. But Denmark's maneuvers around Hans Island do appear to be an indicator that it is willing to mobilize other resources to back up its territorial rights.

Canada's sparse population and poor power-projection capability have left it in a very odd position vis-a-vis its northern hinterlands. The inhospitable climate and low-enough energy prices have so far kept oil-seeking marauders away (unless one counts the occasional US icebreaker or great power submarine), but this situation may no longer hold. I'm unaware of recent analagous situations where a wealthy, highly-developed country faces pressure to defend its boundaries against treaty partners. I'm also unaware of studies focusing on one of the relevant pieces of the story: Canada's sparse northern population. The only book I know of making use of poor central control over hinterlands as an explanatory variable is Jeffrey Herbst's superbStates and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control (2000). Do Bonassusites have any ideas for books I should be reading?

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