No, I’m not talking about climate change. Even though I obviously could have, the North West passage is open again this year. No, I’m talking about the international scramble to grab land (read sea bottom) in the Arctic.
The United Nations Law of the Sea gives all the countries around the Arctic bassin until 2014 to stake their claim or earlier if they ratified before 2004. This means we are in for a rush of claims. Norway has already submitted her claim, Russia, Canada and Denmark (Greenland)are ready to do so. What the US will do is uncertain. The US has not ratified the Law of the Sea treaty, while the other countries have.
There is litle doubt that some of the claims will overlap. Certainly more than one country will claim the pole. Russia surely has made her intent clear by planting a flag on the north pole.
With the ice disappearing and the US Geological services claiming that large reserves of petroleum is to be found, there is reason to believe conflict will be many and tough. Lets just hope they do not escalate. Dose.ca writes:
In the latest sign of the rising international political stakes in the Arctic, the top U.S. Coast Guard official has revealed a planned shift in American foreign policy from scientific research to “sovereignty” and “security presence” in Alaskan waters bordering Canadian and Russian
“The primary mission right now is the maritime boundary line with Russia – keeping foreigners from stealing Alaskan fish,” Rear Admiral. Gene Brooks, head of the U.S. Coast Guard’s operations in Alaska, told the radio network.
…prompted the Conservative government to promise a new year-round icebreaker for Arctic waters and a fleet of up to eight ice-reinforced patrol boats.
But we should be careful not to look at this potential conflict with old cold war glasses. The potential disputes between Canada and the US, Canada and Denmark are equal poignant as the potential conflict between all the Arctic countries and Russia.
However the Telegraph writes that:
As the polar powers have got out their maps in the last couple of years, four of them – Norway, Denmark, Canada, and the USA – have made the unpleasant discovery that the fifth – Russia – is far ahead of the game. As Russian forces consolidate their grip on her messy southern frontier in the aftermath of the war with Georgia, her diplomats, oilmen and military have been pressing their advantage in the north, a border region which is on a far vaster scale but equally confused and disputed.
Cleo Paskal, an Assistant Fellow at Chatham House and an expert on how climate change will affect borders, said: “The Russians have a big head start. Their nuclear submarines have been all over the Arctic for decades, they have 16 icebreaking ships to the Americans’ four, they have a lot of experience and a lot of the right gear.
So as all countries are beefing up their military capabilities in the Arctic, lets just hope the dispute settlement mechanisms in the Law of the Sea treaty will be robust – and enough.