Canada’s foreign minister John Baird made a startling claim this week: that Canada’s extended continental shelf should include the geographical North Pole.
The news came as an end of the year deadline for the country’s submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf loomed large over its policies toward the Arctic and its neighbors.
Canada has good reason to establish its influence in the Arctic, a region that is believed to hold as much as a quarter of the world’s remaining oil and natural gas resources. The country has always maintained a robust stance in the High North which ranks above all other priorities in its foreign policy.
Its claim is not unprecedented. Denmark claimed the Pole in a 2011 regional strategy specifically aimed at the High North while Russia made a more audacious bid by sticking a titanium clad flag at the bottom at the Arctic Ocean four years earlier.
These actions focused the world’s attention on the Arctic which has since been often wrongfully referred to the next frontier in border and resource conflicts. It can be granted that there are significant reserves of oil and gas to be extracted from under the ice and there are certainly countries competing for ownership of said resources. But what many seem to forget is that the Arctic is unlike other regions of the world where power plays and confrontation are all but inevitable. The Arctic Council, which is made up of the eight core Arctic nations plus several observers including China, is one of the most stable intergovernmental organizations in existence today.
Nonetheless, the question of treaty implementation and drilling rights for oil and gas will surely put the Arctic Council to the test. With Canada chairing the body until the United States are due to take over in 2015, and the United Nations commission expected to make a decision by the end of this decade, the region could well see mounting instability yet.