Wednesday Night #1324 – Postscript: Arctic claims

Written by  //  July 18, 2007  //  Russia, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1324 – Postscript: Arctic claims


More on Canada, Russia and the Arctic

Whose Pole?
National Post Editorial


July 28, 2007
Moscow cannot unilaterally declare Santa Claus a Russian citizen. Yet that is what the government of President Vladimir Putin appears to be attempting with its launching this week of an expedition that will plant a flag on the seabed 4,200 metres beneath the North Pole. The act is intended to support the Kremlin’s claim that the pole (along with all the oil, natural gas and metals under it) is sovereign Russian territory.
Ultimately, the United Nations will decide which country, if any, owns the pole. (And it is likely the UN will uphold the traditional view of the pole as international territory.) Yet as purely symbolic as the current Russian stunt may be, it points out once again the need for Canada to increase its Arctic presence dramatically to support our own claims in the polar region. If we cannot defend what we claim — such as the Northwest Passage for shipping — then our claims, even if accepted, will be meaningless.
We welcomed the announcement, two weeks ago, by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that his government would be buying six to eight armed patrol boats capable of operating in medium ice to patrol the Arctic three seasons a year. Even in winter, the new ships will be able to patrol both entrances to the Northwest Passage — east and west — and ensure no ship enters the waterway without our knowledge and consent.
But the new ships won’t be operational for several years. In the meantime, three of the other four Arctic nations (Russia, Norway and the United States) have each filed claims with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to extend their Arctic territorial waters well beyond the traditional 200-mile limit. Denmark, the fourth one, has also served notice that it intends to make a claim shortly. While Canada waits for its new ships, it must take several “sovereignty projection” acts now.
We need a permanent army and air force base in the North from which to launch sovereignty patrols 12 months of the year. At present, for six to eight months each winter, our only visible presence is part-time Rangers, mostly Inuit, who patrol vast territories as best they can with snowmobiles and rifles. As dedicated as they are, they would have trouble issuing a traffic citation to a foreign patrol, much less preventing them from crossing Canadian soil.
Canada also needs underwater listening devices and a northern command post at which to hear them and interpret what is going on under our water. (What we really need is a nuclear submarine capable of operating under the ice for weeks at a time, year round. But that seems unlikely.)
We also need to improve our squadron of long-range patrol aircraft, since most of the ones we use now are 50 or more years old.
The Russians insist newfound data about the undersea Lomonosov Ridge proves it is part of their continental shelf, rather than a chain in international waters. Since the ridge runs past the North Pole and into Canadian and Danish Arctic waters, their claim could affect the map of Canada, if the UN were to accept it.
That seems unlikely, since the continental shelf commission expressed dubiousness six years ago when Russia made a similar claim to the pole. However, the North is too vital to Canada to leave its sovereignty to chance.

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