Cold War in the Arctic: Who Owns the North Pole?

May 4, 2019

 

The climate changes affecting the North Pole have had major consequences. This makes it profitable to drill for oil and gas in the area and look for other raw materials, one of the reasons why countries that are situated at the North Pole have differences of opinion across borders. The melting ice is also creating a new shipping route, the northeastern passage, which will make goods transport by ship cheaper. A lot of conversation has been circulating recently in the media and most people still have to ask; what is the North Pole?

 

The North Pole is the northernmost region of the world. We also call this region the Arctic. This area consists of the Arctic Ocean, which is almost completely frozen and contains numerous islands. The north pole is almost in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. In the winter the sun does not rise for a few days. As a result, the ice plain grows strongly and reaches almost the northern parts of the three nearby continents. In the summer the sun does not set, which means that the ice can melt in some places. The inhabitants of the northern regions, where the climate is harsh, have adapted to the cold. Various animals live on the ice in the Arctic, causing polar bears, seals and walruses. Animals that live in the tundra, such as caribou, musk ox and arctic fox. Polar bears live on the north pole and penguins on the south pole.

 

Recently, the countries bordering the North Pole have started moving their armies to the cold region. After a claim to the North Pole by Canada, tensions have risen about who actually has a legitimate claim to the region. Canada has made a claim and so has Denmark and Russia.

 

Russia, which planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole in 2007, has shown her annoyance at the claim made by other countries. President Putin ordered the Russian army to strengthen its presence in the Arctic and to make sure that no one comes into their territory. 

The question still remains: why the fuss about a cold and inhospitable place?

 

 

The Arctic Ocean is 3.6 kilometers deep and covered with sea ice, the nearest port is thousands of miles away. Nobody is going to do anything about it soon.

 

The Promise of Wealth from Natural Resources

The North Pole is one of the most inhospitable areas in the world. Nevertheless, all countries around the polar region would be more than happy to claim it and exploit all the natural resources that can be found on it. Denmark has already submitted an official claim to a huge stretch of North Pole to the United Nations (UN). With an area of 895,000 square meters, the area is around twenty times the size of Denmark itself. However, the Danes have competition. The Arctic countries (Canada, Russia, the US, Denmark and Norway) have each tried to increase their influence in the polar region, which is becoming more accessible due to global warming. It is much more than an immense collection of icebergs, sea and white wasteland. Possibly there are huge amounts of minerals, oil and gas underground. The American Geological Service (USGS) estimates that to the north of the Arctic Circle there are potentially many billions of barrels of oil to fill. The oil reserves to be discovered would amount to 13 percent of the global total. Shipping can also increase considerably due to the gradual thaw of the sea of ice.

 

So Who Owns the North Pole?

The North Pole is nobody's. No country owns the North Pole under international law. Division of spheres of influence in the Arctic Ocean is going to be done through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS or the Law of the Sea Treaty. According to that treaty, countries can claim parts of the seabed if they can prove that the bottom structures are an extension of their continental shelf. In that zone, a country then has exclusive rights to the raw materials under the seabed. Canada has done ten years of soil investigation in the Arctic Ocean to formulate territorial claims for a report submitted to the UN - a costly process. Scientific conclusion: Canada can lay claim to at least 1.2 million square kilometers of seabed. Whether it's going to happen is something that Canada will have to wait for a decision from the United Nations.

 

 

Who is Going to Win the Literally Cold War in the North Pole?

On 2 August 2007, the Russians planted a flag on the geographic North Pole. Canada and the US were angered by that action. Denmark later responded with the aforementioned claim. It is important to note that in the Danish claims, they named a ridge called the Lomonosov ridge, an undersea ridge of continental crust that extends from Greenland to Eastern Siberia. According to Denmark, this ridge is the indisputable proof that the North Pole is Danish. On the basis of this Lomonosov ridge, the Russians claim the exact opposite: the pole is definitely Russian. The so-called Continental Shelf Commission (CLCS) will consider the division of the Arctic in the coming years. It my take more than ten years before the Commission makes a decision. And even then, the cold war could still not be over. The decision from the CLCS is not binding. The five Arctic countries will still have to reach an agreement themselves.

 

What is there to Gain in the North Pole?

Firstly, strategic interests. Since the recently erupted tensions between East and West, military strategists have once again started commenting on the military importance of the North Pole. A number of old Soviet bases are back into use and military exercises are being held there. In addition, there are also economic interests. Shell is active with drilling off the coast of Alaska and the Russians are already trying to extract resources. The expectation is that the melting of the sea ice will make it easier and faster to remove the resources from the ground. That also raises cause for concern with environmental organisations such as Greenpeace. And due to the melting of the sea ice every summer, new shipping routes are becoming available. Ships that sail from Rotterdam via the North Pole to Japan, for example, finally have a shortcut: about 4000 kilometers compared to the route through the Suez Canal. That is also why everyone wants a piece of the North Pole Pie.

 

Where Does the Netherlands Stand in all this?

The Dutch involvement in the Arctic has a long history. Spitsbergen was discovered by Willem Barentsz in 1594 on his trip to the North. For a long time, the interest of the Netherlands was motivated by commerce: first whaling and later coal mining. Based on this historical involvement, in 1920 the Netherlands was one of the nine countries that cosigned the Spitsbergen Treaty. Nowadays the Netherlands is just an active observer in the Arctic Council. They also have a permanent scientific station in Ny Alesund on Spitsbergen. The intention is to be abreast of all future developments in the region. It is still too early to know what part the Netherlands is going to play in the North Pole but time they say will tell.

 

 

What do you think about the cold war in the North Pole? Let us know what your opinions are in the comment section.

 

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