Canada and Denmark end their territorial dispute in the Arctic

Canada and Denmark finally put an end to their decades-long “war” on Tuesday, fought with flags, whiskey and schnapps on a desert and uninhabited island in the Arctic. The two countries formally signed an agreement to share Hans Island, off northwest Greenland, at a ceremony in Ottawa attended by Canada’s foreign minister and her Danish counterpart.

In a benign stalemate for 49 years, the conflict will therefore see the kidney-shaped island divided in two and the agreement between Ottawa and Copenhagen held up as a model for resolving territorial disputes around the world. “The Arctic serves as a beacon of international cooperation, where the rule of law prevails,” Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly told AFP.

“As global security is threatened, it has never been more important for democracies like Canada and Denmark to work together, alongside Indigenous peoples, to resolve our differences in accordance with international law.” she added.

“Whiskey Wars”

In a press conference with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod, she stressed that the conflict – “which many have dubbed the ‘whisky war'” – was “the friendliest of all wars”. Jeppe Kofod declared for his part that the resolution of the conflict intervened at a time when “the international order based on law is under pressure”, and that democratic values ​​are “attacked”, in reference to the war in Ukraine.

“In contrast, we have demonstrated how long-standing disputes can be resolved peacefully by following the rules,” he said, adding that he hoped “to inspire other countries to follow the same path.” Hans Island, with an area of ​​1.3 km2, is located between Ellesmere Island in northern Canada and Greenland, Danish territory. The dispute dates back to 1973 when a maritime boundary was drawn between the two countries.

An uninhabitable island

Danes and Canadians have taken turns helicoptering to the island to claim the territory, leading to diplomatic protests, online campaigns, and even calls for Canada to boycott Danish pastries. During these visits, each side planted a flag and left behind a bottle of whiskey or schnapps for the other side. As they swapped bottles on Tuesday, Mélanie Joly and Jeppe Kofod laughed at the idea that Canada could join the European Union now that the two entities shared a land border – well almost,

Covered in snow, Hans Island is uninhabitable, but the effects of climate change are bringing ever more maritime traffic to the Arctic and opening it up to more exploitation of its resources, particularly fisheries. According to Arctic expert Michael Byers, however, the island is “so extraordinarily remote that it is not profitable to consider any serious activity there”.

A “risk-free” conflict

Postponing indefinitely any resolution to this unusual conflict has long represented a good opportunity for political backlash for each of the parties, especially ahead of elections. “It was a completely risk-free sovereignty dispute between two NATO allies over a tiny, unimportant island,” Byers told AFP.

Denmark also feared that losing this battle over Hans Island would undermine its relations with Greenland while Canada worried that a defeat would weaken its negotiating positions with the United States in a dispute this time well. more substantial, in the Beaufort Sea (northwestern Canada), reputed to be rich in hydrocarbons.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “hasn’t made Arctic sovereignty a component of his political identity”, according to Michael Byers, which has helped to “reduce the temperature”, at least on the Canadian side. “But more importantly, Russia invaded Ukraine, and that created the opportune moment to tell the world that the countries responsible were agreeing on their territorial disputes peacefully,” he added.

Leave a Comment