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Denmark’s Arctic dreams

Denmark’s Arctic dreams

By Vaibhav Parekh

Denmark, along with its autonomous dependent territory, Greenland, has laid a claim to regions in the Arctic Circle and has submitted it to the UN Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf (CLCS). The region claimed by Denmark includes the North Pole, and with an area of around 8, 95,500 sq. km, is 20 times larger than Denmark itself.

According to the UN Convention on the Law of Sea, a country is entitled to continental shelf up to 200 nautical miles from its coast. To claim areas beyond this limit, they must provide technical and scientific data to a UN panel to ascertain their ownership. The claim made by Denmark overlaps the previous claims made on the Arctic area by Russia and Canada. The main issue of dispute here is the Losmonov Ridge, an 1800 km long underwater mountain range that runs through the Arctic seabed and geographically includes the North Pole. Data collected by Denmark over 12 years suggests that the Losmonov Ridge is geographically connected to Greenland and so is confident that the UN panel’s decision will tilt in its favour.

Interestingly, Russia has made claims that the ridge is a part of the Siberian continental platform and a part of the Russian plateau.
In the previous two decades, all Arctic countries- US, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia have made claims to regions in the circle beyond their territorial waters. A country has a period of 10 years after making the claim to support it with relevant data and proof.  This enthusiasm of all countries is not surprising, considering the results of a US Geological Survey which indicated that Arctic could hold 13 % of oil and 30 % of natural gas still undiscovered on the planet.  In 2008, the five pledged that control of the North Pole region would be decided in an orderly settlement in the framework of the United Nations, and possible overlapping claims would be dealt with bilaterally. The possibility of opening up of new shipping lanes due to global warming and subsequent melting of polar caps is another benefit the Arctic nations and even the Chinese have considered.

While Denmark has made claims to assert its geographical ownership and has not publicly addressed any other objective, Russia has already ramped up its military operations along the Arctic. It has proposed to develop 13 airfields and 10 air defence radar stations in the region by 2025. So when a piece of land is under contention by Russia, Canada and Denmark, Denmark may own that region on paper but does not have the military might as compared to the other two to enforce its claim. But Denmark still maintains that relations between the Arctic neighbours are amicable. And it may be right in that regard; decisions by the UN panel typically take many years to come through. Similar claims made by Russia in 2001 have still not seen light of the day and Denmark believes that this recent claim may take decades to get verified. Still, temperatures in the Arctic are rising, naturally or even otherwise.

In contrast, the other pole of the planet has not come out to be a territory as hotly contested as the North. While many nations have laid claims and it is believed to hold some mineral reserves, they are not in quantities worth exploitation. Moreover, there is an indefinite ban on mining in Antarctica, to be reviewed in 2048. Antarctica is a hit with teams and organizations of research scientists and explorers. And probably it’s better that way.

Vaibhav Parekh is pursuing a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from IIT (BHU), Varanasi and is in his penultimate year. His hometown is Ahmedabad and is a thorough gujju at heart! He has a new-found interest in economics and likes to explore the impact of economic theories in normal, day to day lives. When he is not in the real world, he is most probably dreaming of a tour with friends to explore Europe. He can be reached at- [email protected].

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