Early 20th century explorer Vilhalmur Stefannson was correct in his assertion that the Arctic was essentially a treasure chest of natural resources, and in his corresponding prediction that the far North would become a vital national interest for Canada and the British Empire. Stefannson urged Britain, Canada and the U.S. To acquire Wrangel Island and to set up naval and air bases there as early as 1919, claiming that the island could be a strategic vantage point in future wars, in addition to a plentiful source of natural resources.[footnoteRef:1] His views were not appreciated in Ottawa, where government officials regarded his as an adventurer and self-promoter, and he found that "the wheels of government were to turn very slowly" whenever he offered his advice.[footnoteRef:2] He later established a private company for the purpose of exploiting Wrangel Island despite opposition from the Soviet government, who asserted that the territory had always been Russian.[footnoteRef:3] Canadian commercial, military and government bodies, on the other hand, remained unconvinced of the region's value.[footnoteRef:4] Wrangel Island and most the Arctic seemed a desolate wasteland with little food, grasses and games to offer them. When several of Stefannson's men died on the ice or from hunger and scurvy, Canadian authorities withdrew all support for further exploration.[footnoteRef:5] [1: Diubaldo, p. 165.] [2: Ibid. P. 166.] [3: Ibid, p. 174.] [4: Ibid, p. 175.] [5: Ibid, p. 182-83.]
As it turns out, however, Stefannson was right. What Canada once regarded as a desolate wasteland is now the source of a major conflict between Canada and Russia, as both countries scramble to claim territory, sovereign rights and control of the far North and its resources. This conflict is likely to intensify as the climate continues to warm and other regions' supplies of oil and natural gas continue to dwindle.
As the right to these resources arguably belong to no single country but to several countries in a position to put them to good use, the competition for resources is necessarily contained in a liberal-pluralist framework, which -- among other things -- recognizes the right of all parties involved to be free of such "great evils of human existence" as death by starvation or climatic exposure due to insufficient allocation of vital resources.6 Liberal pluralism in a political context also recognizes multiple authorities, to include -- in this case -- the five separate sovereign states of Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway and the United States. With the exception of Russia, all states are members of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In addition, Canada and the U.S. are strategic partners in the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the U.S. NORTHCOM (Northern Command). In other words, all four of the Allied powers have ceded a certain degree of sovereignty to multinational security alliances aimed at containing the Russians, meaning that they share sovereign authority between them. As a result, the Artic states' behaviors are governed, to a degree, by the liberal-pluralist framework, insofar as it recognizes the right all five states to the natural resources of the North, and correspondingly seeks fair allocation of these resources.
International law is another governing body in this area, to include the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), though neither the U.S. Nor Canada have actually ratified it. Even so, all powers involved in the Arctic have mutually agreed to further limitations on their sovereignty in the name of international law and cooperation, such as the provisions that allow normal peacetime trade and commerce to move freely through international waters. For example, "Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles," according to UNCLOS, and open passage of the territorial sea is allowed for all states.7 The purpose of these laws is to promote fair and equal use of the Artic territories, and to maintain peace between all states.
Nevertheless, that the earth is getting warmer, meaning that much of the Artic will be free of ice for at least a portion of the year, has increased competition for trade, commerce and natural resources that might not have been accessible when the climate was colder. Specifically, valuable sea routes such as the Northwest Passage are likely to thaw for a portion of the year, and overall global temperatures are expected to rise by as much as 5.8 degrees by 2100, causing sea levels to rise by six meters. As a result, many of the resources that at one time were buried under ice are gradually becoming accessible in the Arctic regions.5
As a NATO member and key partner of the United States in NORAD, Canada still maintains a line of air bases and radar posts in the far North that are descended from the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line. There are also major U.S.-Canadian bases at Thule, Greenland and other locations in the Arctic.[footnoteRef:6] In February 2009 two Canadian jet interceptors from northern Alberta pursued two Russian TU-95 Bear bombers that were approaching within 200 miles of Canadian airspace in the kind of mini-confrontation that was very common during the Cold War.[footnoteRef:7] Canadian Defence Minister Peter Mackay and Prime Minister Stephen Harper denounced the Russians for violating Canadian airspace, although even the NORAD commander was forced to point out that this had not actually occurred.[footnoteRef:8] The Russian Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdykov replied in an op-ed in the National Post accusing the Conservative government of deliberately blowing the entire incident out of proportion to ratchet up tensions and manufacture a provocative incident.[footnoteRef:9] Harper had come to power in 2006 on a platform "that included a renewed effort to defend Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic."[footnoteRef:10] Russia claimed much of the Arctic seabed in 2001 and 2007, and even planted a flag at the bottom of the ocean near the North Pole, while the Canadian government vowed to create a new Arctic patrol fleet, and establish a naval and training base at Nanisvik.[footnoteRef:11] [6: 5 Scott, p. 92 Michael Byers, Who Owns the Arctic? Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North. Douglas-McIntyre, 2009, p. 1.] [7: Byers, p. 2.] [8: Ibid, p. 3.] [9: Ibid, p. 4.] [10: Bary Scott, Arctic Doom, Arctic Boom: The Geopolitics of Climate Change in the Arctic. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2009, p. 90.] [11: Ibid, p. 91.]
All five polar states, including Canada and Russia, are now trying to "extend their sovereignty over the emergent undersea resource deposits revealed by the retreating ice."[footnoteRef:12] Indeed, the Russians claimed the entire North Pole in 2007 as an extension of their continental shelf, asserting that "the Arctic has always been Russian," while Canada adamantly rejects this claim.[footnoteRef:13] MacKay countered that "this was not the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries" when states could simply plant a flag and declare sovereignty over a territory, while Harper stated that when it came to the Arctic "we either use it or lose it."[footnoteRef:14] Harper affirmed that a new Canadian Arctic fleet would control the Northwest Passage and that Canada intended to claim the diamonds, gold, silver, oil and copper that supposedly abounded there.[footnoteRef:15] A new surveillance system known as the Canadian Night and Day Imaging Surveillance System (CANDISS) would be put in place, while Canada would claim the sea floor, "possibly extending all the way to Russia."[footnoteRef:16] The U.S. made similar claims based on its holdings in Alaska, and all three states began conducting military exercises in the far North "for the first time since the end of the Cold War."[footnoteRef:17] [12: Scott, p. 92.] [13: Ibid, p. 93.] [14: Ibid, p. 94.] [15: Ibid, p. 95.] [16: Ibid, p. 96.] [17: Ibid, p. 97.]
All five Artic powers met in Greenland in May 2008 and agreed to arbitrate their claims according to the provisions on the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) extending beyond the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EZEs) provided for in that treaty.[footnoteRef:18] At the time, all five were funding research and scientific expeditions that would substantiate their claims to seabed resources; under UNCLOS, they have a limit of ten years to present their findings for formal discussion.[footnoteRef:19] [18: Ibid, p. 97.] [19: Scott, p. 98.]
Ariel Cohen, a conservative strategist at the Heritage Foundation, pointed out that the huge oil and natural gas resources would certainly become a cause of increased competition between Canada, Russia and the United States. He found the Russian claims imprudent and provocative, and called for a "high-north strategy" with the U.S., Canada, Demark and Norway moving to contain Russian ambitions.[footnoteRef:20] This would not necessarily result in a military confrontation but rather in enhanced international cooperation in establishing a "collaborative management regime for Arctic…commerce and resource development."[footnoteRef:21] Canadian political scientists and historians also rejected Cold War-style confrontation, pointing out that the main problems in the Arctic were not military but related to "boundaries and resources" as well as the environment and indigenous communities.[footnoteRef:22] International cooperation has always been common in the far…
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