CASR – Canadian American Strategic Review – Arctic Sovereignty

Published September 17, 2014 by charlenecleoeiben54123

CASR  –  Canadian American Strategic Review  –  Arctic Sovereignty

CASR | Arctic Sovereignty | Strategic Overviews | CASR Editorials | Background |


Arctic Sovereignty  – Joint Jurisdiction  – Trilateral Treaty  – January 2009

Steerage and Stewardship: The US, Canada, & Denmark/Greenland should join forces to guard the North American side of the Arctic

Dianne DeMille explores the feasibility of a trilateral treaty to protect our Arctic  [1]


Update: On 09 January 2009, outgoing president, George W. Bush, issued a National Security Presidential Directive  (NSPD 66) [2]  laying out the future Arctic Policy for the United States.

It is important for Canadian citizens to understand that this ‘Directive’ will stand until it is replaced by a new directive from the current president. Details in the Bush directive make it imperative for the Canadian Government to implement a more innovative means to protect our northern environment and, at the same time, to ensure the unimpeded access to our strategic resources in the region.

A Trilateral Treaty – negotiated with two of our closest allies, Denmark / Greenland and the United States – makes far more sense than leaving the control of the region to unilateral initiatives, such as this ill-considered Bush Presidential Directive, or worse, to the whims of over a hundred distant nations, which have little or no incentive to take responsibility for the long-term stewardship of this fragile ecosystem.



UN Commission on the Limits of  the Continental Shelf  –  Now all we need is the dotted line

The Arctic Ocean is bracketed by two continents: Eurasia and North America. The Arctic coastline of  Eurasia is dominated by Russia. On the North American side there are three nation-states busily mapping the ocean floor to put their claims to the UN Commission which will adjudicate the ‘Limits of the Continental Shelf ‘. But the three countries on this side of the Arctic are intimate allies. Take one example: our soldiers are fighting shoulder to shoulder in Southern Afghanistan. Our bilateral boundary disputes within our Arctic are minor as compared with the expansionist claims of Russia.

Would it not make more sense for the US, Canada, and Denmark/Greenland to join together, as soon as possible, to control shipping through the North American side of the Arctic and sort out the national control over the seabed in our own time. All we need from the UN Law of  the Sea Commission is the dotted line that will tell Russia:  ‘This far and no further’.




The Northwest Passage – International waterway or a series of controlled shipping lanes ?

In the past, the United States has said that it wants to make the Northwest Passage – which Canada claims as an internal waterway – into a series of  ‘international straits’. Fortunately, the White House and the State Department are currently giving their ‘Arctic Policy’ a thorough rethink. The new policy will be unveiled in the coming weeks. Perhaps some astute State Department official has realized that opening up the Northwest Passage to ‘unfettered’ international traffic is not the best way to achieve the United States’ twin goals: US security in the Arctic, and the free movement of US ships – commercial and military.

There is a better solution: Joint jurisdiction over all shipping through the Arctic of the North American continent. This joint jurisdiction could be put into effect by a trilateral treaty among the US, Canada, and Denmark/Greenland. (Greenland is a semi-autonomous province [3] of Denmark, exercising ‘Home Rule’.) There is already an agreement in place which could serve as a nucleus for a more far-reaching regime: the 1983 Canada-Denmark ‘Agreement for Cooperation relating to the Marine Environment’.

Control over shipping in this section of the Arctic would fit the interests of all three nations

An accord among the US, Canada, and Denmark/Greenland would allow the three nations to exercise rigorous control over shipping through North America’s Arctic waters. But it would do more. It would address the security concerns of the United States and allow the free passage of US vessels through the Arctic Archipelago.

At the same time, the treaty would maintain Canada’s claim to nominal sovereignty over the ‘Northwest Passage’. It is true that sharing the jurisdiction over shipping through these straits would somewhat ‘soften’ the edges of our claim to absolute sovereignty. However, granting free passage to two of  Canada’s closest allies – should they be willing to share responsibility for policing the channels of the Arctic Archipelago – is far preferable to opening these straits to ‘unfettered’ traffic from all over the world.

International waterways usually end up as unsalvagable sewers. The spectre of rusty-hulled ships, flying flags-of-convenience, steaming through a fragile Arctic environment unnerves the people who live in Canada’s North. A body of water that belongs to everyone, belongs to no one. No one nation will take on the responsibility of policing and clean-up, because there is no incentive to do so. And no one nation has adequate resources for massive clean-ups.

Transit fees will provide revenue for policing, search-and-rescue, and inevitable clean-ups

Which brings us to the money: transit fees. The US (Alaska) and Denmark (Greenland) control shipping via the western and eastern approaches to the channels of the Arctic Archipelago. With sufficient revenues from pooled transit fees, the three nations would be able to monitor all ships using the narrow channels of the Arctic Archipelago. Together, the three countries could maintain a contingency fund to carry out any clean up campaign.

In 1970, Canada passed the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act (AWPPA). It became Article 234 of  the United Nations Convention of  the Law of the Sea. This Article is referred to as the ‘Arctic Exception’. The nickname is apt. The Arctic Ocean is the exception. And, because it is an exception, the stringent control over the channels of the Archipelago need not be taken as a precedent for any other international straits around the globe.

The Arctic Ocean is not equivalent to the Pacific or the Atlantic. It is exceptional, and we must make all efforts required to protect it. Any voyage through an aquatic environment carries inherent risks. Whenever a ship, boat, or submarine pushes through a pristine waterway, there is no such thing as ‘innocent passage’.



[1]  For Arctic natural resources, see the Interactive Map  first published by Spiegel Online.

[2] The full title is: National Security Presidential Directive 66/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 25 or NSPD-66/HSPD-25.  Now in its second term, the Obama administration shows no sign of updating NSPD-66/HSPD-25 or otherwise amending the Arctic policies of  the US.

[3] NB: Greenland has since attained greater autonomy, with self-determination in June 2009.

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