Denmark is officially laying claim to the geographic North Pole as part of a bid for energy-rich seabed in the High Arctic that will overlap with Canada's and Russia's plans to assert ownership of the same underwater area.
The development will test the ability of Arctic nations to resolve a dispute over seabed territory with Vladimir Putin's Russia in a peaceful manner. Moscow's aggression in Ukraine this year has Western leaders regarding Russia as a rival again after decades of co-operation following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Years ago, Denmark, Canada and Russia agreed to submit scientific evidence to a United Nations' panel that will vet the data to ensure the claims are valid. Canada and Russia have not made final submissions yet.
Denmark tabled its evidence on Monday, and Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard told the Associated Press he hopes other nations with claims in the Arctic will keep to "the rules of the game," which call for an orderly resolution to disputes.
If Copenhagen, Ottawa and Moscow all manage to prove their cases, the next step under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Russia, Denmark and Canada have all ratified, should be for the three to negotiate dividing the seabed rights in the High Arctic.
Rob Huebert, an Arctic affairs expert at the University of Calgary, said he sees the friction over Russia's aggression in Ukraine, which includes the annexation of Crimea, starting to permeate relations between Arctic countries. "There are signs this is seeping into the Arctic," Mr. Huebert said. Canada boycotted an Arctic Council meeting in Moscow earlier this year and has dramatically dialled down diplomatic relations with Russia because of its actions in Ukraine.
This Arctic matter will take probably 15 years to come to a head because the UN body examining submissions for seabed rights is moving at a slow pace, and only Denmark has filed the relevant claim so far.
The Arctic is believed to contain as much as one-quarter of the world's undiscovered energy resources, and countries are tabling scientific evidence with a United Nations commission to win rights to polar sea-floor assets. Under the UN convention, a country can secure control of the ocean floor beyond the internationally recognized 200-nautical-mile limit if it can demonstrate the seabed is an extension of its continental shelf.
Michael Byers, professor and Canada Research Chair with the Department of Political Science at the University of British Columbia, said the Danish submission would help the Canadian case because Denmark is trying to prove a connection between the Arctic Ocean ridge and Greenland, which is geographically part of North America and has links to Canada's northern Ellesmere Island. "If you drained all the water out of the ocean and looked at Greenland and Ellesmere Island from the north, you would essentially see two mountain ranges with a shallow valley between them," Mr. Byers said.
The Globe and Mail reported in late 2013 that Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a last-minute intervention in Canada's planned submission to the United Nations commission on seabed rights in regions such as the Arctic.
Mr. Harper ordered Canadian civil servants to go back to the drawing board and craft a more expansive claim for ocean-floor resources in the polar region after the proposed submission they showed him failed to include the geographic North Pole.
Canada is still working on mapping the underwater Lomonosov Ridge, which the government hopes would effectively link this country to the North Pole.
"We believe that science will show that the North Pole is part of Canada's continental shelf. However, we need to acquire the data to conclusively prove this in our submission," said John Babcock, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.