Small steps toward Arctic cooperation

General Walt Natynczyk, Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff (left), and General Knud Bartels, Chief of Defence of Denmark, sign a Memorandum of Understanding on military cooperation in the Arctic.

General Walt Natynczyk, Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff (left), and General Knud Bartels, Chief of Defence of Denmark, sign a Memorandum of Understanding on military cooperation in the Arctic.

The Canadian government took a couple of small but potentially helpful steps towards greater cooperation in the Arctic last week.

On Wednesday, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon called on the United States to work with Canada to resolve the two countries’ border dispute in the Beaufort Sea. And on Friday, Canada and Denmark signed an agreement on military cooperation in the Arctic.

Foreign Minister Cannon took advantage of a speech in Washington to call for resolution of the Canada-U.S. border dispute in the Beaufort Sea:

“I was struck, recently, by the fact that Russia and Norway resolved a long-standing dispute in the Arctic,” Cannon told an audience of U.S. lawmakers and others during a keynote address Wednesday at the 40th annual Washington Conference on the Americas.

“I believe there is no reason then why Canada and the United States cannot resolve ongoing disputes, as economic partners and best friends, sharing the longest border in the world.”

Referring specifically to the Beaufort Sea disagreement, Cannon stated: “While the extent to which there may be overlaps with U.S. extended continental shelf in Beaufort is not yet known, I believe that should not keep our two nations from resolving that dispute and moving forward with current issues.”…

The Conservative government indicated in its throne speech earlier this year that resolving territorial disputes with “other northern countries” was a priority, partly because of the Arctic’s economic potential. But the more pointed and personal invitation from Cannon on Wednesday suggests Canada is ready to begin detailed talks immediately with the U.S.

University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers, author of Who Owns the Arctic?, says Cannon’s public overture in the Washington highlights Canada’s growing determination to resolve the Beaufort Sea issue, significantly increasing the chances of the two countries striking a deal soon.

“The speech is important because the commitment set out in the throne speech to resolve our Arctic boundary disputes did not refer to any dispute by name. Nor was it explicitly directed at any particular foreign government,” Byers told Canwest News Service.

The speech signals a distinct change in Canada’s position on Arctic disputes, he says. (Randy Boswell, “Canada ready to settle Beaufort Sea dispute with U.S.,” CanWest News Service, 14 May 2010)

Meanwhile, the Memorandum of Understanding on Arctic Defence, Security, and Operational Cooperation signed with Denmark on 14 May will, according to DND, “enable Canada and Denmark to deepen cooperation in our respective Arctic regions, through enhanced consultation, information exchange, visits, and exercises” (“Canada and Denmark Sign Arctic Cooperation Agreement,” DND News Release NR-10.042, 14 May 2010).

The signing of the agreement strengthens existing Canada-Denmark cooperation arrangements, and thus may help to improve the climate for resolving another border issue in the Arctic region, the dispute with Denmark over ownership of Hans Island.

DND photo

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