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On Monday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Canada’s claim to sovereignty of the Northwest Passage is “illegitimate.”
Canada has a long tradition of trying to bolster its stake in the arctic, even as many other countries insist they own a piece of the frozen wasteland of the far north, too.
At a meeting with the Arctic Council in Finland, Pompeo also warned about China’s growing Arctic presence and the danger it poses to North American security.
Interest in the Arctic has piqued since the tundra began gradually thawing from global warming. Whether Canada can claim her border reaches as far as the North Pole is up in the air, but here’s a hard look at Arctic sovereignty.
CANADA’S CLAIM TO ARCTIC
Former prime minister Stephen Harper put Arctic sovereignty at the top of his foreign policy priorities list. His government disagreed with the American’s on mapping out the Beaufort Sea border lines and Denmark’s claim it owns the Hans Island off Greenland’s coast.
From Canadian military exercises, scientific experiments, search and discovery of the shipwrecks Eerebus and Terror and visits to the far-north settlements by the former PM himself, Harper
Consecutive Canadian governments have deployed a range of tactics to present to the world the official deed to the north. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has carried on this tradition, if not as emphatically as Harper. The Trudeau government has instead made getting a seat at the UN Security Council table its top foreign affairs priority.
“Canada is very clear about the Northwest Passage being Canadian. There is both a very strong historic and geographic connection with Canada,” was Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s push-back response to Pompeo this week.
Pompeo’s comments challenge the 1988 Arctic Co-operation Agreement, which allowed Canada to claim the Northwest Passage as Canadian territory while also allowing the U.S. to claim it as an international waterway. The passage is getting closer to becoming a commercial shipping route because it’s closer to being passable year-round.
WHO’S GOT THEIR EYES ON THE ARCTIC?
Russia, China, the U.S. and several European countries all have a dog-sled alongside Canada in the race to stake an Arctic claim.
Russia has been aggressively flexing its muscle in the area for some time. A new Russian icebreaker fleet has been sent to the region, as well as troops, weapons systems and radar. In 2007, two Russian mini-submarines navigated to the North Pole and planted a Russian flag on the seabed. A fifth of Russia’s GDP comes from mining resources in the Arctic.
China has also arrived at the scene. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government released its first Arctic policy white paper last June. In the document, the Chinese discuss creating a “Polar Silk Road” or shipping lanes once global warming thaws the passage thoroughly enough. The U.S. military’s report to Congress warns of Chinese military presence in the area and deploying submarines to defend the area as China modernizes its own fleet.
Norway, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Sweden and Finland all have jurisdictional claims to pieces of the Arctic as well.
WHY’S ARCTIC TERRITORY SO COVETED?
Beyond national security, the Arctic has many bountiful resources below its icy surface waiting to be plundered.
It’s estimated nearly a quarter of all the globe’s oil and gas are located beneath the Arctic surface. Large reserves of valuable minerals like iron, ore, copper, phosphate and nickel are also waiting to be mined.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019