Thursday, November 20, 2008

Moving beyond Arctic sovereignty

Donald McRae 
in the Globe and Mail
What is the loss we fear? We cannot lose land. No one is challenging Canada's sovereignty over its Arctic land territories... We cannot lose our rights over the waters and the seabed in our 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone. Again, no one is challenging that right and our boundary in the Beaufort Sea with the United States could be readily resolved through arbitration. We cannot lose our right to an extended continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles under the Arctic Ocean. We have to define the limits of that shelf, which is what we are doing.

Furthermore, there is no gigantic 'grab for resources' in the Arctic, although the Russian flag-dropping stunt two years ago fuelled such speculation. But the event was a publicity side play in the course of scientific investigations to determine the outer limits of the Russian continental shelf. Indeed, scientific research of this nature is what all of the Arctic-basin states are currently doing, Canada included. And this is not a free-for-all with each state trying to out-manoeuvre the other. There is a framework of legal rules and mechanisms for determining the extent of the shelf and for dealing with overlapping shelves between states, and all of the Arctic states are operating within them...

Of course, there is the question of whether the waters of the Northwest Passage are the internal waters of Canada and governed solely by the laws of Canada or an international strait governed by international rules. There is a legal framework, too, for dealing with that question and the issues are clear. The United States could at any time challenge Canada's position in court, but it has never shown any interest in doing so...

It is time, therefore, to stop talking about 'Arctic sovereignty' and look at the real challenges... for the five Arctic-basin states -- Canada, the United States, Russia, Denmark/Greenland, and Norway... co-operation by these five states is the best way to secure Arctic security... It is time for Canada to stop worrying about losing Arctic sovereignty and act instead as an Arctic leader, giving voice to the indigenous peoples of the North and engaging the United States in forging a new regional partnership to act as responsible stewards for this unique and fragile environment, for the benefit of all Arctic peoples.
Image source here.