On the last day of the applications to the UN Commission on the Law of the Sea, Canada has decided to follow the example of Russia and Denmark and justify its right to a part of the Arctic shelf up to the North Pole. The disputed overlap of the territories with Russia is approximately 29,000 square nautical miles. The Globe and Mail has published an article on this topic titled "Turf war with Russia looms over Ottawa's claim to Arctic seabed."
The decision was announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He said that he has ordered to include the North Pole in a bid to expand the borders of the Arctic shelf of the country. This will be a provisional application in order to stake out the right for further research that has already been ongoing for nine years with $200 million in spending. The Canadians are claiming additional 656,000 square miles of the Arctic shelf.
In accordance with the Convention on the Law of the Sea of the United Nations, countries are entitled to further the areas of the seabed in addition to the 13.6 mile zone of their territorial waters and 200 mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) if they can prove that it is an extension of their continental shelf.
Russia is claiming additional 1.2 million square kilometers of the continental shelf and has filed a respective substantiated claim in 2002. Denmark is claiming 62,000 square kilometers, and has filed a lawsuit in late November, and now Canada is jumping the departing train at the last minute. As for the other countries bordering the Arctic Ocean, Norway has satisfied its claims, and received the right to use an additional 235 thousand square kilometers of the continental shelf in 2009. Iceland has not yet filed such claims. The USA cannot claim an additional shelf because the Senate of the Congress has not ratified this Convention.
John Geiger, CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society believes that "ordinary Canadians" would approve Harper's initiative. He said that they expected the most decisive effort by the federal government to protect Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic, and diplomatic niceties must not be a matter of priority.
The Arctic contains one quarter of the world's undiscovered energy resources. Competition for these resources and the fact that Russia has long believed its bid was the winning one, according to The Globe and Mail, means that Canada and Russia have mutual claims that cover the oil-rich Lomonosov Ridge, which will lead to diplomatic tensions between Ottawa and Moscow.
According to Deputy Director of the Center for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary Rob Hubert, Canada should not prematurely surrender on the issue of the North Pole ownership. He believes that the competition in the North is a reality that will manifest itself in the near future, because by 2030 the Arctic will be completely ice-free in the summer. According to Hubert, if there is any controversy about the North Pole ownership, the decision will be taken only in 20 years. The data presented by the countries have to be verified, and verification of the Canadian application alone may take five years.
"Now everyone who has access to the Arctic is rushing there, including Canada," told Pravda.Ru Petr Boyarsky, chief supervisor of the Marine Arctic Complex Expedition, Russia's representative to the International Committee on Polar Heritage ICOMOS. "I think it is a planned provocation not only by Canada, but other Western countries standing behind it, and this is a test for Russia to see how it reacts and what arguments it will bring to the table. I think that the Americans are behind Canada," said the expert.
He said that Russia was conducting an appropriate policy returning border guards and troops to the Arctic. "The Arctic Ocean is not only a shelf, but it is an approaching to each other's coasts in the event of military threats. The Arctic Ocean is the route for nuclear submarines; there are not only economic, but also military and strategic issues," said Boyarsky.
Hubert believes that Russia has largely regained its Arctic potential, including the military one. It has increased air patrols and expanded the activity of the submarine fleet. The Government has approved the state program "Socio-economic development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation for the period up to 2020" that refers to the growth of "conflict potential." There is a conclusion that Russia needs to improve the structure, composition, and military, economic and logistical support of its Armed Forces in the region, as well as create a system of operational equipment in the interests of deployment of troops in the Arctic zone. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed in November that the Defense Ministry planned to create Arctic naval units that would include ice-class patrol boats. Recovery of airfields and ports on the New Siberian Islands and the Franz Josef was also planned. The construction program of the Russian icebreaker fleet for 2012-2014 provides for the construction of a universal nuclear icebreaker and four diesel 16-25 MW icebreakers.
Canada, Denmark and Norway have also started increasing their military presence in the region in recent years. Canada has an impressive fleet under the supervision of the Coast Guard. In addition to icebreakers, it has a significant number of large and medium-sized multi-purpose ice-class vessels that can serve as icebreakers. The fleet reform program was approved by the Navy on October 19, 2011. It provides for commissioning of twenty eight ships over the next thirty years, with a total budget of $33 billion.
The U.S. so far does not seem to be interested in the Arctic, but at a forum organized by the Pentagon in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in late November, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters that the U.S. intended to take a "very active" role in patrolling the Arctic by 2025. He said that his department started thinking about adapting to the changing requirements and shifts in the region. We can assume that in the near future the U.S. will make a decision about construction of one or two heavy icebreakers in order to be able to perform year-round navigation.
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