The Law and Politics of Canadian Jurisdiction on Arctic Ocean Seabed (2011)


The Arctic is often portrayed in the media as a region of conflict or potential conflict over sovereignty, jurisdiction, and the hydrocarbon resources located in the seabed. To a significant degree, this portrayal is incorrect. Almost all of the land (with the exception of Hans Island) and most of the seabed fall clearly and without dispute within the exclusive jurisdiction of one or another of the Arctic Ocean’s five coastal states. As part of this project, we were able to draw the new reality of a win-win negotiating situation in the Beaufort Sea to the attention of the Canadian government, which opened discussions on the matter with the United States in 2010. Providing creative solutions and feeding them into the negotiation process has been a major focus of this project - culminating in a lengthy paper published in Ocean Development and International Law , perhaps the top international journal in this field. One solution we identify involves drawing a boundary that maximizes the combined area of extended continental shelf susceptible to the assertion of sovereign rights by the two countries.


On the other side of the Canadian Arctic, Canada and Denmark have long disputed 100 square nautical miles of water column and seabed located entirely within the Exclusive Economic Zone (i.e. within 200 nautical miles from shore). Here, some opportunities for a win-win conclusion have long been apparent, with a simple division of the disputed areas being the most obvious course. However, there are other options which might create even more benefits for the two countries. For example, if Canada and Denmark were simply to recognize each other’s Arctic “straight-baselines” around the Canadian archipelago and Greenland, Denmark would prevail in the Lincoln Sea dispute but Canada would gain an important element of support for its legal position in the Northwest Passage. Whether this kind of linkage between different disputes is possible and desirable deserves - and will receive – considerable attention as this project proceeds….

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