St. Nick, the missus, their elves and eight tiny reindeer are about to be joined by major nations’ military forces, in what could lead to conflict over possession of the North Pole’s oil, gas, and fresh-water reserves.
Scientists consider the Arctic-one of the last vast wilderness areas-vital to biodiversity and extremely sensitive to global warming. The northern global sector, a wide ice-covered ocean surrounded by treeless permafrost, has seen recent years of warmer temperatures and melting sea ice.
But the jolly old elf’s homeland is also deep in natural resources, including oil, gas, and fresh water, along with fish and, in the subarctic, forestlands-all considered economic boons to the major nations. A number of those countries claim property rights to sections of the area. Those sovereignties include Canada, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. They are limited to a 200-nautical-mile economic zone around their border coasts which lie within the Arctic region.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country has ten years to claim an extended continental shelf beyond those 200 nautical miles. Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark all have started projects to claim extended territories. All are signees to the U.N. convention on sea law.
Canada has made the most recent and controversial move, last week marking a claim, and it appears to be extensive. According to the article “Did Canada Just Claim the North Pole?” in The Diplomat, a Tokyo-based, online magazine covering politics, society and culture in the Asia-Pacific region:
Canada may have positioned itself to eventually claim sovereignty over the North Pole. Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird made a statement last week that revealed that a scientific and geographical survey regarding its claim to Arctic territories will be submitted to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and may contain data robust enough to lay claim to the North Pole. The submission is necessitated by Canada’s participation in the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS). The move represents a bold political push by Stephen Harper’s conservative government to extend Canada’s rights in the Arctic.
The Canadian decision to assertively pursue a claim to the North Pole has a clear foundation in its national interest: the Arctic seabed is expected to contain over one-quarter of the world’s undiscovered energy resources, according to The Globe and Mail. The U.S. Geological Survey provides more specific numbers: the Arctic may contain 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves, 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits, and 20 percent of the undiscovered natural gas liquids.
According to UK’s The Guardian newspaper, the Canadian move has led Russia to increase its military presence in the Arctic. Territorial claims before the U.N. could drag on for years, with other countries’ approval required. But that’s not stopping active military buildup, according to the paper:
In the meantime Canada and Russia have been stepping up their military footprint in the oil- and gas-rich region. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has said Russia will restore Arctic bases that fell into disrepair after the collapse of the Soviet Union, including one on the New Siberian Islands. On Tuesday he said this base and others were crucial to protecting Russia’s “security and national interests”.
How the U.S. will respond to Canada’s and Russia’s actions isn’t clear yet. But two things are clear:
First, the U.S. has not even signed the U.N. convention on sea law, even though it helped form it. Republican senators have opposed the convention and held back the Senate’s ability to attain a two-thirds majority vote favoring the treaty.
Second, America’s vast military seems to need conflict to survive, having a record of constant invasion of foreign lands ranging from the Middle East to Africa, either through direct fighting or as “advisers” or supporters of reigning governments. Congress doesn’t ever seem to declare war or call them wars anymore. It just keeps funding presidents’ decisions to militarily enter other nations’ borders for “regional conflicts,” with U.N. approval or no.
And the U.S. is preparing militarily for a move in the Arctic, according to a Reuters Nov. 22 article:
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Friday the Pentagon’s first Arctic strategy to guide changes in military planning as rapidly thawing ice reshapes global commerce and energy exploration, possibly raising tensions along the way.
So stay tuned. And if your kids want to write Santa a thank-you letter after hauling in their loot this Christmas, suggest to them they warn St. Nick to stay alert for invading foreigners. Meanwhile, you may want to contact your senators and find out if they’re going to approve the U.N. sea-law convention, and if they want to send Americans to fight in the Arctic.