Opinions

Recent government decision to extend territory in Arctic deserves support

Illustration by Tina Wallace

Climate change and the search for new resources have many nations eyeing the Arctic, which has huge potential for shipping routes and is thought to contain 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 per cent of its oil.

The question of who owns the region has thus become far more important, and Canada, which is undeniably an Arctic nation, has every right to a piece of the pie. It’s a message our government is sending to the international community and one that should be receiving the support of Canadians.

Last month, the Canadian government submitted an application to the United Nations (UN) to extend its territorial claims in the Arctic all the way to the North Pole, even though it has yet to fully map the area and produce the scientific data required to support the claim. It’s a decision that has been criticized by some commentators as pointless and overly ambitious.

It’s unlikely that Canada is entitled to the full region it is claiming, and it seems the government already knows this, judging by its last-minute decision to include the North Pole in its application.

Moreover, Michael Byers, an expert in global politics and international law, believes that Canada’s stance may cause diplomatic tensions with other nations before a UN decision can be made. He believes that an application that is viewed as overly ambitious may cause problems with nations like Russia, which has already started beefing up its military presence in the region.

Despite these well-founded arguments, Canada is right in taking an aggressive stance on Northern sovereignty.

Waiting could mean losing out on something that is rightfully ours as an Artic nation. And showing a bit of muscle in the process is not necessarily a bad thing, considering the countries we are up against. Some of them don’t even have an Arctic border.

China, for example, has recently gained observer status on the Arctic Council, which gives it some sway on Arctic matters. It has also made allies among northern countries, as its companies are out probing the area for oil and other resources.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Qu Tanzhou, director of the Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, said Arctic resources should “be allocated according to the needs of the world, not only owned by certain countries” and that “we cannot simply say that this is yours and this is mine.”

Wait—can’t we? Isn’t the “this is yours and this is mine” mentality crucial to international cooperation and peace? A refusal to see that is dangerous and could send us down a dangerous path where sovereignty means very little.

Although Canada can do little militarily to protect its northern borders from superpowers such as Russia and China, asserting itself through territorial land claims sends the international community an important message: the Arctic is part of what defines us as a nation, and we are willing to defend that heritage.