The Arctic: a new frontier

The Arctic is viewed by many as a pristine, untouched world of ice, snow and polar bears; however, in recent years, this image has become farther and farther from the truth as more countries vie for a shot at the multitudes of untapped resources lying beneath the Arctic ice.

Geological surveys suggest that the Arctic holds almost 22% of the world’s undiscovered resources. Aside from Russia, China, and the US’s bets to claim larger areas of land, countries like Canada, Denmark, and even Brazil have all been finding whatever viable claim they can to the land and resources in the true final frontier. There is now a somewhat official name for the competition to take over this once untouchable land: the “Arctic Resource Race.” As the name implies, the interest in the Arctic has spiked so much so that it has become a true race to claim territory here – although, in terms of territory and development, it would seem that this is not so much a “race” anymore as much as a fight for partial control for the US behind Canada and Russia.

What we call “the Arctic” most commonly refers to the ocean that the North Pole sits in along with the surrounding land that lies within the invisible circle on maps at 66˚ 34’ North Latitude. This includes a very large portion of Russia, a similarly large portion of Canada, almost all of Greenland, the tips of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and about half of Alaska. The ‘Arctic Ocean coastal states’ are the five states that actually have coastline surrounding the Arctic Ocean: Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States. According to the European Parliamentary Research Service, these countries have obvious claims to Arctic maritime territory and currently hold the most land within the Arctic area. However, these countries and others never stop trying to find loopholes around international laws to stake their claim at more territory.

In 2007, the race for the Arctic truly began when Russian mini-submarines planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed underneath the North Pole as a symbolic claim to territories reaching from Russia all the way to the pole itself. This sparked a scramble for the undiscovered Arctic resources that the nations knew Russia was really after, but legalities have made it so that any nation wishing to stake a claim on any territories must have geological evidence linking their physical nation to any underwater geological formations. Russia has been consistently putting out new claims to attempt to claim maritime territory of almost half the Arctic Ocean, but Norway and Canada have been submitting rebuttals alongside their own claims, substantiated by continental shelves and underwater ridges, to get claims Russia tried to take.

Russia and Denmark are currently attempting to come to an agreement on claims they submitted that overlap. The United States and Canada are still discussing debates over boundaries of different arctic waterways around Alaska and the Canadian coast. Even Brazil, a country not even close to the Arctic Ocean, submitted their own claim, saying that Brazilian fish migrate up to the Arctic and back so they should have a legitimate claim to Arctic territory. Once the word was out on those resources, it seemed the whole world wanted a piece.

Looking at all the existing claims, it is clear that Russia is prioritizing the arctic the most, holding the most territorial claims and having the most developed arctic region in terms of oil rigs, mines and other ways of actually getting to the resources they prize. Canada seems to have the second most in terms of actual land, and the United States comes in third. It is not yet set in stone who owns what parts of the ice and the ocean itself other than a few boundaries, shelves, bays and other related territories. Many claims submitted by multiple nations have not been fully substantiated or approved by the United Nations board, who are the main supervisors of these negotiations, leaving much of the territory up for debate.

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