December 5, 2022

Canada and Denmark resolve the Hans Island dispute in the Arctic

Canada and Denmark resolve the Hans Island dispute in the Arctic

Placeholder while loading article actions

Toronto – It is a barren and inhospitable rock that has fallen into a frozen channel in the Arctic. One geologist who visited described it as “not a very interesting island”. A Canadian legal analyst once tried to point it out on a map in a presentation he had prepared for lawmakers, but acknowledged that its size made it “very difficult to see”.

“We don’t have a big fake photo to show you,” he said.

Yet for nearly five decades, Canada and Denmark have quarreled—mostly, but not always, politely—over the not-too-exciting Hans Island, a 0.5-square-mile block in the Kennedy Channel in the Nars Strait that is home to both. Vegetation and no wildlife. The outcrop – Tartupaluk in the Inuit – is located between the Canadian island of Ellesmere and Greenland, an autonomous region of Denmark.

Now, finally, there is a convergence of the conflict called the “War of the Flag” or “The Whiskey War”.

Officials from both countries, as well as Greenland, signed an agreement on Tuesday to resolve the long-running feud – the last remaining dispute over the Arctic land border – with the Sulaymaniyah solution to splitting the island in two. Denmark owns about 60 percent of the island; Canada gets the rest.

“I think it was the friendliest of wars,” Melanie Jolie, Canada’s foreign minister, told reporters in Ottawa. “I am happy to see that we are resolving it with friends, partners and allies. … It is a win-win situation.”

To reach this Canadian island, mail passes through Maine. Now US customers are opening it.

Canada and Denmark have set out the “historic” agreement as an example of how border disputes can be resolved peacefully, without war or bitter legal wrangling, at a time when the rules-based international order is under strain – in part referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“As we stand here today, we are seeing a blatant violation of international rules unfolding in another part of the world,” said Jeppe Kofod, Denmark’s foreign minister. “In return, we have shown how long-standing international conflicts can be resolved peacefully and play by the rules.”

The dispute dates back to 1973, when Canadian and Danish diplomats were drawing a maritime boundary in the Arctic. Cut the line straight across Hans Island. Diplomats left the question of what to do about it unresolved.

In the five decades that followed, Danish forces visited the massif several times, raised their flag and left a note and a bottle of liquor to confirm the state’s claim to the island. Canadians also appeared, replacing Danish wines With Canadian whiskey, erected inochuk – Stone sign – and raise a maple leaf.

On at least one occasion, Canadians have taken down the Danish flag and mailed it to Copenhagen.

(There was a tweet from officials in both countries about the fate of the various bottles of alcohol.)

In the early 2000s, the Danes sent frigates with soldiers to the island twice, in what Robert Hubert, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, described as an example of gunboat diplomacy.

“In any other concept,” he said, “it led to a war.”

Lawmakers in Canada have occasionally cited the Hans Island dispute as an example that the current government has done little to defend its interests in the Arctic.

Residents of this remote Canadian island village are taking government money to liquidate. One pair left.

A Conservative lawmaker said in 2004: “Denmark soldiers land on Canadian Arctic soil, raise their flag, and claim the island is theirs, but Canada does nothing.” [then-Prime Minister Paul Martin] Will he speak up and defend Canada? “

Another escalation occurred in 2005, when Bill Graham was then Canada’s defense minister, he made his way to Hans Island to walk the frozen ground by himself. This sparked an official note of protest from Danish officials.

“We would like to maintain what was the temporary situation,” Paul Eric Dam Christensen, the Danish ambassador to Canada at the time, told the Globe and Mail, “If one party visits the island, the party notifies the other in advance.”

Canadians firmly asserted that they did not need to do such a thing – because it was their island.

In 2009, Danish Admiral Nils Wang told the Canadian Parliament’s Defense Committee that the last he had heard on the issue was “we agree not to agree.”

“At least from the point of view of the navy in Denmark, our foreign ministry told us not to go up there and put up flags on the island anymore,” said Wang, who is now retired.

Alan Kessel, Legal Adviser to Canada’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assured another parliamentary committee in 2012 that the country “will not go to war with Denmark”.

He said, “I can promise you that.” “It is managed. It is a rock, and we will deal with that.”

The Canadian government said that Greenland’s Inuit and the Canadian territory of Nunavut were consulted during negotiations of the agreement and that it would “ensure continued access to and freedom of movement on the entire island” for fishing and other cultural activities.

Huebert said there is a “very remote” possibility that there are natural resources like oil and gas on the island, but noted that there have been no serious research efforts. He added that Canada has many other unresolved Arctic disputes, including with the United States over the Northwest Passage.

After signing the agreement to applause, Jolie and Kofod exchanged alcohol and notes for the last time.

There would be no question of what the Canadians planned to do with their bottle.

Jolie said she was headed “straight” to the Canadian Museum of History.