Finding Order in the North Arctic

The problem of Hans Island is not limited to one of deciding who gets what, but moreover is the conversation of how states should act in an era comprised of civilized institutions which have brought about cooperation through legal and diplomatic means over the last 50 years. We can proudly look to NATO and the United Nations as institutions which have employed successful tactics for preserving ideals of freedom, equality, and attempting to secure peace in a cooperative and binding manner.

An old solution to border problems would have been to simply plant a flag to mark the territory as one’s own. Russia attempted this fifteenth century style tactic in 2007 in placing a flag on the seabed of the North Pole, which was met with global outrage. There is a perception that there must be order in how a state attempts to dictate their authority over a territory. The preponderance of any one state in the arctic must be met by an international society.

In the case of the North Arctic, the United Nations acts as the international society that measures against brutish tactics to claim territory unlawfully. In an attempt to seek interdependence and order to achieve material needs will lead agents to

perceive a common interest in ensuring respect for agreements.”

The states involved in the Arctic bid are more likely to respect the outcome of the results if it is made by the United Nations (a place more akin to a public sphere of states)  than another great power state as it the combined authority of the global community. A perception is held that the United Nation prescribes rules to the global community; priori as the September 2010 meeting between Canadian Lawrence Cannon and Russian Sergey Lavrov who both stated a perception that the evidence they have put towards their UN claim over the Lomonosov Ridge to be in fair and in their favour.

The artic borders between Russia, Canada and Greenland are important as they will dictate which state has the rights to resources found within the scope of the territory. The decision making body for territory claims in the North Arctic is the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf 1994, UNCLOS, which requires all the states that have ratified the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty to submit their claims within a ten year period. Russia’s deadline passed in 2009, but managed to postpone their deadline until 2013 to bring evidence to support their rights to arctic territory over Canada and Denmark, while Denmark’s deadline arrived in 2012 and Canada’s deadline is in 2013. All claims are to be finalized by the end of 2013. The United States did not ratify the treaty, and thus holds no authority to block any other states claim; the same applies to other states who did not ratify the treaty. Interestingly, Mia Bennett, a PhD student at the UCLA Department of Geography, noted that

“it could take up to 21 years to resolve the existing 69 land claims alone”.

Two decades in a rapidly thawing environment such as the arctic is a long time which will draw further global attention; possibly even more great power states would seek to claim a portion of the North Arctic world.  As Hedley Bull noted in 1977, rules “play a part in social life only to the extent that they are effective.” In regards to the creation of norms for land claims in the thawing arctic, one can only put their trust in the institutions that have been developed on the principles that have characterized the Occident over the last century, such as  justice, fairness and equality.


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