US lays claim to huge chunk of Arctic seafloor
Rather than the hand of Franklin, now Uncle Sam is “reaching for the Beaufort Sea.” The US government filed a continental shelf claim with the UN last month for a whopping million square miles of the famed Northwest Passage seabed, which is of strategic importance as a potential source of critical minerals and oil.
Competing claims to the seabed are common among the eight Arctic countries, including the US, Canada, Russia, and a handful of Northern European states. In 2022, for example, Canada and Denmark settled a five-decade squabble – the so-called “Whisky War” – over Hans Island, situated between Greenland and Ellesmere Island. The island, which is 1.2 square kilometers, was split in half and measures were put in place to allow Inuit, for whom the island has been a hunting location for centuries, open access.
As for this latest claim, Ottawa says it will work with Washington on what is effectively a border dispute. In time, there will almost surely be negotiations between the two countries following the UN’s assessment. The US, which has not signed the Convention on the Law of the Sea, has nonetheless said it will work within its parameters.
We’ll be watching to see how it pans out for both sides. After all, as the strategic importance of the Arctic grows – due to climate change opening shipping lanes and growing global instability – major claims such as this will play a role in shaping geopolitical strategies and testing alliances.