OTTAWA – Canada is expected to apply to the United Nations on Friday to expand its Arctic sea boundary with an eye to claiming the North Pole, setting it on a collision course with Russia and Denmark.
The already large claim, which according to a recent news report may eventually expand to include the pole, is expected to anger Moscow and Copenhagen, which also have their eyes on the region.
Canada has spent much of the last decade surveying the seabed in the far north and gathering evidence in support of its planned submission to the global body.
Asserting sovereignty over an expansive Arctic archipelago and surrounding waters has been a key plank of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Tories.
“Canada is in the process of securing its sovereignty over the north,” said Harper’s spokesman, Carl Vallee.
But both Denmark and Russia are expected to file overlapping claims.
Denmark — which confirmed in a 2011 government report its intention to lay claim to the North Pole — is expected to submit its petition under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea by the end of next year.
Russia filed a claim in 2002, but it was rejected due to a lack of supporting scientific evidence. Russia is widely expected to launch a new bid that includes the pole after seeing what territories are staked out by Canada and Denmark.
The harsh, frigid and pristine Arctic is believed to be rich in hydrocarbons.
Rising temperatures have boosted interest in it as melting ice opens up shipping routes and make hitherto inaccessible mineral resources easier to exploit.
The North Pole seabed itself is not believed to hold large reserves of natural resources, but it has symbolic value for the countries in the region.
In 2007, for example, a Russian minisubmarine reached the bottom of the Arctic Ocean under the North Pole and planted a Russian flag there.
Nations bordering the Arctic currently are entitled to a 200-nautical-mile (370-km) economic zone from their coastlines, but claims for extending their territories will be decided under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The looming clash will be the first test of the U.N. treaty.
Frederic Lasserre, a geopolitics professor at Laval University, said that, for Harper, the North Pole is a means of whipping up Canadian nationalism, adding it has no strategic value.
“It’s an ocean slab 4,500 meters deep” made up of basalt, which is not a sedimentary rock and so can not contain any oil or gas deposits, he said.
“The North Pole is a symbol,” echoed Joel Plouffe, a researcher at Montreal’s Inter-University Centre for Research on International Relations of Canada and Quebec.
“Claiming a continental shelf that extends beyond the pole aims to redraw the imaginary line that separates Eurasia and North America in the north.”
Each nation must submit evidence to the United Nations showing that their respective continental shelf extends beneath the North Pole.
The endeavor is not cheap or easy, involving painstaking surveys of the Arctic seabed using icebreakers and aircraft as well as geological analysis, costing millions of dollars in government funds.
“Canada must prove that its continental shelf extends beyond its 200-nautical-mile economic zone from its coastline” in order to lay claim to the North Pole, Lasserre said.
“Harper’s rhetoric resembles, paradoxically, Russia’s gesture in 2007” when it planted its flag beneath the North Pole, he added.
The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday that Harper had ordered the inclusion of the North Pole in Canada’s Arctic claim after it was initially excluded from a draft U.N. submission.
All of the nations involved have pledged to resolve their overlapping claims under the U.N. treaty, rather than through confrontation.
This point was stressed by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last month.
The Pentagon chief said it was the duty of countries with interests in the region, including the United States, “to work together to build a peaceful and secure region.”
“Throughout human history, mankind has raced to discover the next frontier. And time after time, discovery was swiftly followed by conflict,” he said. “We cannot erase this history. But we can assure that history does not repeat itself in the Arctic.”