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Arctic Region Controversy

1.Territorial Disagreement Among the Five Arctic Countries:
 Under the 1982 International Convention on the Law of the Sea, the five Arctic Countries - Russia, the US,Canada, Denmark and Norway - control an economic zone within 200 nautical miles of theircoastline. However, frontiers among the five Arctic countries are disputed but the countries didnot attempt to resolve the disagreements due to the frozen Arctic sea. Global warming is shrinking the ice to record low levels bringing previously unattainable oil and gas fields withinreach leading to territorial claims by different countries of the region.

2. Significance of the Arctic Region:
Arctic's Rich Energy Resources: The Arctic region is believed to hold about 25 per cent of the world's undiscovered reserves of oil and gas which would be of immense value once the oil reserves of the Middle East and other places are exhausted.
Arctic's Mineral Resources and Fish Stocks: The Arctic region is also known to be rich in deposits of diamonds, silver, copper, zinc and uranium. It also has rich fish stocks.
Arctic Region Plays a Significant Role in Slowing the Pace of Global Warming: The Arctic region plays an important role in reflecting the sun rays and slowing the pace of global warming.

3. Main Contentious Issues:
Lomonosov Ridge:
An undersea mountain chain that stretches 1800 km from Greenland near Norway to the Siberian coast.

Commercial Shipping - North-West Passage:
Another area of dispute is the North-WestPassage which could shorten the maritime trade route from Europe to Asia by 2,150nautical miles from the current navigation through Panama Canal. Canada has claimed theNorth-West Passage as its own by virtue of its sovereignty over the archipelago.

4. Territorial Claims by the Arctic Countries:

A. Extension of the Continental Shelf to the Disputed Spots is the Key Issue:
The key issue in the territorial claims by the Arctic countries is whether the continental shelf of the countries claiming the Arctic seabed extends up to the disputed spots. The determination ofthe extension of the continental shelf of the countries involved is difficult as mapping of theseabed beneath the icecap is challenging.

B. Russia:

a. Russia Claims 1.2 Million Sq Km of the Arctic Seabed:
Russia claims 1.2 sq km of the Arctic seabed. In 2001, Russia laid claim to the Arctic seabed, but the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf ruled that the claim was not backed by sufficient scientific evidence. Under the International Convention on the Law of the Sea, a coastal country is entitled to a200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in which a country has sovereign drillingrights for hydrocarbons and other resources. The EEZ can be extended if it is proved thatthe sea floor beyond it is geologically linked to the country's continental shelf.SAKSHI UAI’s STUDY MATERIAL 2008 238.

b. Russia Sends Two Scientific Expeditions to the North Pole to Gather Data to Support Its Claim:
In 2007, Russia send two scientific expeditions to the North Pole to gather data to supportits claim that Russia's northern Arctic region is directly linked to the North Pole viathe underwater Lomonosov Ridge. The scientific expedition has reportedly found evidence that the Arctic Ocean's floor to thenorth of Russia's shores is a continuation of the Siberian continental shelf. This would enable Russia to legally claim the Arctic shelf as its economic zone, according to Russian scientists. In August 2007, the Russian scientific expedition planted a rust-proof titanium Russian flag on the seafloor about 5 km beneath the North Pole.

c. Russia Holds War Games in the Arctic:
In August 2007, Russia held war games in theArctic region, including cruise missile tests and a flight over the North Pole by strategicbombers. The military exercises followed the scientific expeditions to the Arctic region.
d. Russia Wants the UN to Decide the Arctic Claim:
Russian scientists have opined that aUN Commission must decide on Russia's claim to the Arctic seabed.
e. Russia's Claim Disputed by Other Arctic Countries:
Russia's claim to the Arctic seabedis disputed by the other Arctic nations including the US, Canada, Norway and Denmark. Most of the Arctic countries have their own territorial claims to the Arctic seabed.

C. Canada:

a. Canada Claims Sovereignty Over the Arctic:
Analysts point out that Canada has beenclaiming sovereignty over the Arctic lands and waterways since the last 50 years. In August 2007, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper restaked his country's claim over the Arcticregion by going on an "Arctic sovereignty tour".

b. Canada to Build New Patrol Ships:
In July 2007, the Canadian Government announced that it would build up to eight patrol ships designed to operate in the frozen region.

c. Announced the Construction of the First Arctic Port to Underpin Its Sovereignty:
TheCanadian Prime Minister announced the construction of the first Arctic port on the north side ofBaffin Island to underpin his country's sovereignty in the North Pole.
d. Canada Holds Military Exercises in the Arctic:
Canada held military exercises in theArctic territory near the Baffin Island in August 2007.

e. Canada Claims the North-West Passage:
Canada has been claiming the North-WestPassage - which runs below the North Pole from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago - as its own by virtue of its sovereignty over the archipelago.

D. The US Pushing for Internationalisation of the Arctic Ocean:
The United States has been blocking Russia's claim to the Arctic seabed. The US has been pushing for the internationalisation of the Arctic Ocean - that is, secure free access to its seabed resources and trade routes. The US has so far not ratified the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Seas.

E. Denmark Sends Scientific Expedition to the Arctic to Stake Its Claim:
In August 2007, Denmark sent a scientific expedition to the Arctic to seek evidence that the Lomonsov Ridge is SAKSHI UAI’s STUDY MATERIAL 2008 239
attached to the Danish territory of Greenland, making it a geological extension of the Arcticisland.

5. Conclusion:

A. Scramble for Arctic Resources Could Lead to an Environment Disaster:
Scientists feel that opening of the North-West Passage would ignite an "ecological time bomb" as there is no way to clear the oil spills in icy waters. Scientists also warn that a scramble for Arctic resources would threaten its unique wildlife and the Inuit communities that depend on it. This could lead to an environmental disaster.

B. A Treaty Similar to the Antarctic Treaty System Can Protect the Arctic Region from Environmental Disaster:
Analysts opine that there is an urgent need to build an international consensus on adopting a Treaty similar to the Antarctic Treaty system to protect the Arctic region from environmental disaster.
The Antarctic Treaty System recognises the region on the South Pole as an area solely intended for scientific cooperation, keeps territorial claims in abeyance, and does not allow any military activity in the larger interest of humanity.

6. First-Ever Indian Scientific Expedition to the Arctic:
Expedition to be an Annual Event: In 2007, Indian Scientists launched the first-ever Indian scientific expedition to the Arctic region. The expedition would be an annual event one in summer and the other in winter, according to the Union Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal. India has sent 26 missions to Antarctica.

Conduct Studies on Climate Change: The Arctic region and the surrounding areas were one of the most important regions which governed the earth's climate. Studies have shown that a tele-connection between the northern polar region and the intensity of Indian monsoon. The Indian scientific expedition would conduct studies on the mechanism of the tele-connection and other climate changes. Under the new Indian Arctic research programme, scientists would conduct studies on use of arctic microbes in biotechnology, glaciology, geology and palaeoclimatology studies.

Experiments to be Conducted at Ny-Alesund in Svalbard Archipelago of Norway:
The Indian scientific expedition would conduct experiments at the Ny-Alesund, located in the Svalbard archipelago of Norway. This is the place where international arctic research facilities are located. Norway, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, South Korea and China have their own research stations in Ny-Alesund.

India to Consider Having a Permanent Research Station in the Arctic:
 The Union Minister for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal said that India may consider having a permanent research station in the Arctic. India is a signatory to the Svalbard Treaty signed in 1920 which allows signatories to set up base as long as it meets the Norwegian rules.


Published date : 01 Oct 2009 04:32PM

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