Saturday, June 11, 2022

Canada and Denmark agree to share Hans Island

Hans Island is described by Wikipedia as a "barren uninhabited island with an area of 1.3 km2 (0.5 sq mi)". It is located slap-bang in the middle of the Kennedy Strait, which separates Canada's Ellesmere Island and Demnark's (semi-autonomous) Greenland, at a latitude of just 10° from the North Pole. Sounds nice, eh?

Well, while it probably won't be attracting too many tourists any time soon, it has been a bone of contention between Canada and Denmark for decades, largely because - who knows? - it might just possess some valuable mineral resources (it probably doesn't), and just, well, just because.  Both countries claim ownership of the rock, which is literally right on the theoretical line down the the middle of the strait between the two countries.

In the main, it has been a relatively genteel and polite dispute, although it has had its moments. Back in the 1980s in particular, tempers flared a little when Canada issued a land-use permit to allow a Canadian company to study how sea ice might affect oil drilling rigs. The then Danish Minister for Greenland responded by helicoptering in and planting a Danish flag on the rock. 

Many successive flag-plantings by Canadian and Danish representatives followed over the ensuing decades, and the two countries' military visitors took to leaving bottles of Canadian whiskey and Danish schnapps for their counterparts. At one point, a Danish minister claimed that Greenlandic Inuit hunters traditionally used the island for assessing the lay of the ice, whereas Canadian Inuit didn't, even though the Inuit of Canada and Greenland are essentially the same people with the same traditions, and certainly didn't respect any European ot North American borders or boundaries.

Anyway, all that is now in the past (which is kind of a shame, in a way). Canada and Denmark have signed an official negotiated settlement over Hans Island, dividing it in two equal halves. I imagine they might even draw a real line on the rock given time, although there are unlikely to be any border officials camped out there. 

In these times of territorial strife in Ukraine and elsewhere, it's comforting to see this kind of geopolitical controversy can be settled diplomatically and peaceably. Hell, if two countries like Canada and Denmark can't figure it out, then what chance does the rest of the world stand. Granted, the stakes are nothing like as high as in Ukraine - in fact, the stakes are basically non-existent -  but still. 

Up on Hans island, deep in the Arctic, I don't think anything much is going to change. Life, such as it is, will continue there much as it always has. An agreement on fishing rights was struck back in the 1970s (the island is well within the legal territorial waters of both countries), so not even that will be affected. I just hope that neither country decides to develop their half of the barren rock in some way, just because they can.

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