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Montevideo, September 24th 2023 - 07:28 UTC



Canada, Denmark agree on territorial dispute over Arctic island

Wednesday, June 15th 2022 - 22:36 UTC
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The deal has been cited as a model for peacefully settling territorial disputes The deal has been cited as a model for peacefully settling territorial disputes

Canada and Denmark have agreed on a mechanism to settle a sovereignty dispute over Hans' Island, an uninhabitable 1.2-square-kilometer territory in the Arctic Ocean which will be split into two roughly equal parts using a natural cleft in the rocky terrain as a reference.

Although some reports mention it will be the first land border between Europe and the Americas, the case of French Guiana in South America challenges that notion: French Guiana is the only territory on the continental mainland of either North or South America under the sovereignty of a European state. It borders Brazil to the east and south and Suriname to the west. With a surface of 83,534 km2 French Guiana

It is the second-largest region of France (more than one-seventh the size of Metropolitan France, with which it is fully integrated since 1946) and the largest outermost region within the European Union. FG's official currency is the euro.

On the opposite end of the map, Greenland is an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, and Copenhagen is responsible for managing certain political issues, including foreign and security policy. Hans' Island is a part of Greenland.

“The Arctic is a beacon for international cooperation, where the rule of law prevails,” Canada's Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said. “As global security is threatened, it is more important than ever that democracies like Canada and Denmark work together, with indigenous peoples, to resolve our differences in accordance with international law,” she added.

The agreement has also been perceived as a sign from NATO's Arctic states to iron out any differences among themselves in order to stay united in case things with Russia escalate.

The island is named after Greenlandic explorer Hans Hendrik, who took part in the first expedition in 1853. It is called Tartupaluk in Greenlandic, which translates as “kidney-shaped.”

Neither country knew of the other's claim to the island until a bilateral meeting in 1971 to discuss territorial boundaries. Since the 1980s, officials, scientists, and soldiers from Denmark and Canada have visited the island, taking turns removing the other country's flag and raising their own. It even became a tradition for visitors to leave a bottle of Canadian whiskey or Danish schnapps for their rivals to find on their next visit, launching what became known as “The Whiskey War,” which has even included a Canadian call for a boycott of Danish sweets.

“The island is so incredibly remote that it is economically unfeasible to contemplate any serious activity there,” Arctic affairs expert Michael Byers was quoted as saying. “It was a totally risk-free sovereignty dispute between two NATO allies over a tiny, insignificant island,” Byers added.

However, Denmark feared that losing the battle over the island would undermine relations with Greenland, while Canada wanted to avoid a loss of the territory weakening its position in a larger dispute with the United States over the Beaufort Sea in Canada's far northwest, which is believed to be rich in hydrocarbons.

In 2018, Canada and Denmark formed a joint working group to resolve the dispute. The agreement announced Thursday is now up to Parliamentarian approval in both countries. The accord would establish the world's longest maritime border of 3882 kilometers, stretching from the Lincoln Sea in the north to the Labrador Sea in the south.

At a signing ceremony in Ottawa with Canadian and Danish foreign ministers Tuesday, the first physical border between Canada and Europe was created. The division of the kidney-shaped island and the resolution of the 49-year benign deadlock were cited as models for peacefully settling territorial disputes.

In the 1970s, Canada and Denmark began squabbling over their Arctic boundaries and came to the negotiating table to resolve where exactly the maritime borders of both countries lie. Though Canada claimed it owned Hans Island, Denmark disagreed. And though the nations agreed on an official dividing line in a 1973 treaty, they were unable to come to a compromise on Hans.

As a result, the countries “simply decided to stop the border at the low water mark on one side of the island and restart it again at the low water mark on the opposite side,” writes attorney Christopher Stevenson in the Boston College International and Comparative Law Review.

Categories: Politics, International.
Tags: Canada, Denmark.

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