Byers: Time to resolve Arctic disputes

Fewer soldiers and more diplomats might do the trick

Diplomacy is more likely than armed force to protect Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic

Earlier this week, Russia and Norway resolved a 40-year dispute over their boundary in the Barents Sea. Canada should follow this positive Russian-Norwegian precedent, says UBC professor Michael Byers, stop its military posturing, and work to resolve the remaining disputes over Canada’s Arctic boundaries (Michael Byers, “It’s time to resolve our Arctic differences,” Globe and Mail, 30 April 2010):

After Monday’s historic agreement, there is very little left in the Arctic to contest. Only one dispute over land territory exists, between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island – all 1.3 square kilometres of it.

The last maritime boundary dispute of any significance is in the Beaufort Sea, where Canada and the United States both assert ownership of 21,436 square kilometres of seabed. But with both countries each other’s largest trading partner, joined in a common energy market under the North American free trade agreement, the dispute is ripe for being resolved.

The same is true of the dispute between Ottawa and Washington over the Northwest Passage. Since 1988, the two countries have simply agreed to disagree. Rather than worrying about whether the waterway is internal or international, they co-operate on all practical matters, from search and rescue to maritime surveillance.

At some point, melting sea ice and increased shipping will necessitate a new agreement, which common security and environmental protection concerns should make it possible to achieve. If Norway can negotiate a win-win agreement with Russia after decades of disagreement, there’s no reason for any other Arctic dispute to go unresolved.

Photo by Cpl Shilo Adamson

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