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Canada-Denmark: The Battle of the North Pole

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Canada and Denmark would share an Arctic rock rather than fight over it.

This arctic island, measuring just 1.3 km², sits right in the middle of Kennedy Passage, almost equidistant between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Denmark's Greenland.

Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark have been fighting over this piece of land for years.

Welcome to this islet, martyred by what is called the whisky war.

Are you more schnapps or whisky? If Canada and Denmark are left to argue over ownership of Hans Islet, the latter risks being covered in bottles of strong alcohol. In 1984, for example, Canadian soldiers hoisted the Canadian flag there and left a bottle of whisky. In the days that followed, the Minister of Greenland in Denmark planted the Danish flag on this islet. He also left a bottle of schnapps, the national alcohol. Since then, the two countries have regularly sent civilian or military delegations to the small island to claim, under a flag and sometimes with bottles, the sovereignty of this piece of land.

An Area Rich in Hydrocarbons

Yet in 1933, the Permanent Court of International Justice, under the aegis of the since-defunct League of Nations, awarded the island to Denmark. But when, in 1973, the two countries set out to establish their border definitively in the Nares Strait, the islet arose as a source of contention. The treaty concluded in December of that year, referencing 127 points at sea between the two countries. By connecting these points with a geodesic line, we draw the border, except between the terminals 122 (80 ° 49'2 latitude, 66 ° 29'0 longitude) and 123 (80 ° 49'8 and 66 ° 26'3 ), where the boundary leaves Hans Island in troubled waters.

If for a long time, the Arctic lands and waters, icy most of the year, were neglected, they are now arousing renewed interest. They are rich in resources. If Canadian claims have emerged, it is in the context of surveys in the area. Thus, before the Danish Minister for Greenland tried to put an end to Canadian claims by abandoning a bottle of schnapps, the company Dome Petroleum launched, from 1981 to 1983, a campaign to search for hydrocarbons in the area. Basically, this battle for a piece of land is, in miniature, only an episode of the disputes which are multiplying between Russia, Canada, the United States, Norway and Denmark to delimit the Ice Ocean in their respective exclusive economic zones. And, for the two Nordic powers, to let Hans go is to mortgage future territorial claims in the Arctic.

A Project to Make the Island a Terra Nullius

Discussions among nations are ongoing, and while it is not known whether they will continue over drinks, two hypotheses are on the table. Split the block into two or turn it into a two-state condominium. Unless a third party disturbs the game. In 2014, a group of citizens launched, around explorer Emmanuel Hussenet, the "Hans Universalis Project". He demanded that Copenhagen and Ottawa give up their territorial claims to make the island terra nullius, owned by no nation. The citizens of the world would be responsible for preserving this natural haven.

Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark have been fighting over ownership for decades. The bilateral agreement signed in 1973 fixes the course of the territorial waters but refrains from specifying the fate of the island, which has no resources but occupies a highly strategic position. It is located exactly in the centre of the channel, allowing access to the North Pole as soon as the ice floes have completely melted under the effect of global warming, that is to say, around 2040. The opening of this new road in maritime would then allow the "owner" country to access the oil and gas resources of the Arctic. Since 2004, the greed thus aroused has generated a war of flags between Canada and Denmark for the sovereignty of the island.

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