Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen

A new chapter in Arctic relations opened when Danish diplomats submitted five boxes of evidence to the UN’s Commission of the Limits of the Continental Shelve (CLCS) in New York. Denmark’s claim to 895,000 km2 of Arctic seabed that includes the geographical North Pole surprised analysts by going all the way from Greenland’s northern boundary to the border of the Russian EEZ. The claim is likely to overlap with future Canadian and Russian claims. Observers soon warned that this could lead to an unfortunate Russian reaction and spark tensions between Moscow and Copenhagen. This article examines how the Canadian, Danish, and Russian claims may spark tensions between the Arctic states, based on a review of the Arctic studies literature. How does the UNCLOS process fit within the political dynamics of the region and does the Ukraine crisis make a peaceful agreement less likely? The article argues that the claims process is largely disconnected from the geopolitical logic of the region and there is no reason to expect it to cause significant tensions between the High North states. As several authors have pointed out, most resources are located outside of the disputed areas. Instead, the process is driven by domestic concerns. Ownership of the Arctic is symbolically important in all three states, albeit in different ways. Whereas Arctic ownership is crucial for both Canadian and Russian audiences, in Denmark the claims process has more to do with the complex Danish-Greenlandic relationship. However, the Ukraine crisis may disrupt this peaceful state of affairs. The crisis may alter the Putin regime’s power base and thus force Moscow to become more attentive to domestic voices that call for a more bellicose approach to the Arctic.

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