Canada extends its Arctic Ocean seabed claim all the way to Russian waters

januar 25, 2023 • Af

A map from Canada’s addendum to its Arctic Ocean seabed claim shows the updated boundaries.
Canada’s claim now extends all the way to Russia’s territorial waters

In an addendum filed in late December 2022, Canada substantially expanded its claim to the Arctic Ocean seabed. Canada’s claim now reaches in several places all the way to Russia’s exclusive economic zone.

The changes to the claim were delivered as a 54-page note, or addendum, to the UN’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The extension is now added to Canada’s original claim from May 2019.

Three accompanying maps show how Canada’s full claim now stretches along the length of the Lomonosov Ridge, a steep sub-sea mountain range to the west of the North Pole, to the limits of Russia’s exclusive economic zone 200 nautical miles from Russia’s coastline. A conservative estimate based on the three maps included indicates that Canada has extended its claim by some 600,000 to 700,000 square kilometers.

The Canadian claim is filed at a time when relations with Russia in the Arctic are severely strained because of Russia’s war on Ukraine. All collaboration with Russia within the Arctic Council, the main inter-governmental body in the Arctic region, is currently paused with no prospect of resuming soon.

Consultations with Russia

The original Canadian claim or submission from 2019 already overlapped with Russia’s claim to the seabed and also with a joint Greenlandic-Danish claim. The Canadian addendum filed with the CLCS on December 19 does not specify how large the overlaps are now, but the accompanying maps indicate that they have grown substantially.

The Canadian extension follows a claim by Denmark-Greenland from 2014 that stretches from Greenlandic waters to Russia’s exclusive economic zone and several extensions of Russia’s original claim from 2001. Russia has claimed in total some 75 percent of the seabed in the central parts of the Arctic Ocean — all according to regulations stipulated by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, which regulates the delineation of the seabed in international waters.

Claims to the CLCS may provide the claimant government with exclusive rights to exploit any resources on or under the seabed, but not any substantial privileges in the water column or above it.

Regular meetings between Canada, Russia and Denmark/Greenland at scientific as well as diplomatic level have been held to prevent any conflict, and Canada in its note of December 19 explains that “regular consultations” have been held with Russia during its preparation.

Some western analysts have worried that Russia, which planted in 2007 a much publicized flag on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, might abandon its adherence to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, but no significant moves by Russia to do so have been publicly recorded.

The claims of the three nations will be evaluated by the CLCS’s international panel of experts. The CLCS will evaluate to what extent scientific data submitted by the three nations are sufficient to prove that their continental shelves extend into the Arctic Ocean to the degree their governments claim. The CLCS, however, is not mandated to decide on the final delineation of the seabed. According to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, the final delineation of the seabed — including that around the North Pole — should eventually be decided through negotiations among the nations involved.

The CLCS’s evaluation of the claims of all the three nations involved is expected to be finished only in a decade or more. An evaluation by the CLCS of Russia’s claims is expected in 2024, but due to a long queue of other claims from other parts of the world, an evaluation of the Danish-Greenlandic claim is expected only in eight to 10 years from now and an evaluation of Canada’s claim even later.

First published on 21. December 2022. 


Greenland drops cooperation with Russia on fish while the Faroe Island continue controversial quota swaps

december 14, 2022 • Af
Fishing vessels are seen in the port of Nuuk in a 2019 file photo. (Krestia DeGeorge)

Tuesday last week, as discreetly as possible, Greenland delivered a highly unusual message to Moscow.

Greenland will not use its fisheries agreement with Russia to fish for cod and other fish in the Barents Sea  in 2023 and no Russian fishing vessels will have access to the usual quotas of halibut and other fish in Greenland’s waters.

It’s the first time since 1992 — when Greenland and Russia signed a formal deal to swap fishing quotas — that this deal will not lead to talks and a new agreement on quota-swapping for the coming year.

The message to Moscow does not contain, as far as information from the authorities in Nuuk goes, any wording on or protest against Russia’s war in Ukraine. Asked for details, the Department of Fisheries and Hunting of Greenland’s government in Nuuk offers as an explanation only that the fish stocks in Greenland’s water are presently not sufficient to allow for the usual quota swapping with Russia.

There are, however, indications that a silent protest against Russia’s war in Ukraine may be involved.

Greenland’s distinct denouncement of Russia’s war has been communicated on several other occasions.

On February 25, just a day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Greenland Premier Muté B. Egede issued a blunt press statement: “I forcefully condemn Russia’s acts against the Ukrainian people. They are senseless and for that reason we want to demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Ukraine with our adherence to the international sanctions on Russia,” he said (my translation).

Greenland Prime Minister Muté B. Egede speaks at an event at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. on June 15, 2022. (Melody Schreiber)

In the same move, Greenland’s large publicly owned fishing-enterprise Royal Greenland was ordered to deactivate its activities in Russia, and its CEO Mikael Thinghuus promptly followed up: “Individual needs have to bow to the greater good, and commercial pain is nothing compared to the pain the Ukrainian population is suffering,” he told, Greenland’s leading news site.

Royal Greenland has since put up for sale its share of Agama Royal Greenland, a packing business in Russia, which for 25 years has packed and sold Greenland fish and shrimp in Russia. Polar Seafood, Greenland’s largest private fishing company, has also sold off its interests in Russia. Prior to the war in Ukraine, exports to Russia accounted for some 13 percent of Greenland’s total exports.

In October, Egede made clear his continued opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in front of some 2,000 international attendees at the annual Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavik: “The government of Greenland condemns the brutal war on Ukraine and Russia’s disregard for international law and order. We clearly stand with the western alliance in this question. Greenland will impose the EU sanctions towards Russia and Russian entities. This is the first time in history that Greenland takes a step like this,” he said.

The message to Moscow leaves open Greenland’s options for a resumption of the quota-swapping in 2024, but for now Greenland cannot easily be blamed for cooperating with Russia on fish.


The decision to abstain from quota swapping in 2023 was taken after a closed meeting of Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s government. No public announcement or statements were made at the time and no later quotable comments from members of the government have so far been available.

Discretion has seemingly been of the highest priority. Last week, when I contacted key members of Inatsisartut, Greenland’s parliament, for comments, they were unaware of their government’s decision to abstain from the quote swapping in 2023.

There might be several reasons behind this decisive silence.

Greenland will have, for one, an interest in preserving a workable relationship with Russia within the ongoing multilateral and difficult negotiations on fishing quotas in the greater North Atlantic. In these negotiations, representatives from Greenland, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and others are face-to-face with Russian counterparts in negotiations over fish that are of serious economic importance to all involved.

Also, Greenland will have no desire to completely give up its bilateral quota swapping deal with Russia from 1992, hoping as many others that cooperation with Russia will in time be possible again. By sticking in its message to Moscow from last week to words and arguments only related to the sustainability of its fish stocks Greenland commits no breach of the original deal from 1992. This will leave Greenland free to resume swapping from 2024, if Nuuk should wish to.

Although Greenland’s fishing fleet includes a number of large, ocean-going trawlers, such as “Polar Amaroq”, seen here, most fishing is done by smaller boats, and the country sells the rights to the fish it cannot catch to other countries and the EU. (Polar Seafood)

Finally, Greenland, which has reportedly been communicating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen before sending its message to Moscow, may be trying to avoid also breaching the complicated rules of engagement within the Kingdom of Denmark.

As part of the Danish realm, Greenland and the Faroe Island are not mandated to take steps with military or security implications against any foreign nation. Under normal circumstances a refusal to swap fishing quotas with Russia for a single year would probably be seen as well within Greenland’s powers to manage its own fishing affairs, but after Russia’s war on Ukraine — and if the message to Moscow had been delivered as a blunt and publicly advertised denunciation of Russia — critics in Denmark might have questioned whether Greenland was suddenly conducting security politics outside its formal powers.

Avoiding critics

Greenland is now likely to escape the kind of international condemnation that is presently raining down on Norway and the Faroe Islands. Both nations have been open in their criticism of Russia’s war in Ukraine, but they also continue their fisheries cooperation with Moscow. This has put the two under heavy flak from the EU in Brussels, where critics say that their continued cooperation on fish are undermining the common European front against Putin’s Russia.

In economic terms, Greenland’s decision to skip quota swapping with Russia in 2023 will most likely have only scant local economic impact. The government in Nuuk will probably have little or perhaps no need to compensate the fishing industry for its loss of quotas in the Barents Sea.

Because of the halt to the quota swapping for 2023, Greenland stands to lose access to some 3,000 tons Russian fish — primarily cod. These fish will not be available to Greenland’s fishing industry, but the two fishing companies involved, Royal Greenland and Polar Seafood, are likely to be given instead access to halibut and other fish in Greenland, which Russian consumers would otherwise have eaten. The trawlers involved can apparently be used for both types of fisheries without, as I understand it, major technical alterations.

The Faroese continue

In contrast, in the Faroe Islands, cooperation with Russia remains a heated and very public issue and it has drawn heavy international attention since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

At the time, the Faroese chose not only to continue their quota swapping with Russia but also to boost their exports of fish from aquaculture, salmon in particular, to the Russian market.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the private enterprises that make up the Faroe Islands aquaculture industry have stopped at their own volition basically all exports to Russia, but the quota swapping with Russia has continued to underpin the sea-borne fishing industry.

Critics claim that the Faroese work against the spirit of western attempts to sanction Russia for its war in Ukraine. The Faroese leaders argue that the export of fish to Russia is not covered by the western sanctions and that a break with Russia on fisheries would endanger Russia’s commitment to sustainable fishing in the entire North Atlantic — an argument also used by Norway in defense of its continued cooperation with Russia.

The turnabout

To learn more, I asked last week for a lift with Høgni Hoydal, the Faroe Islands’ former minister of fisheries. He is also the leader of Tjóðveldi, a left-leaning political party aiming for severance of the islands’ constitutional bonds to Denmark.

We drove to Klaksvik, the Faroe Islands’ second largest town, for the final televised debate before the general elections that took place in the Faroe Islands on December 8.

I knew that Hoydal had argued fervently for a total stop to cooperation with Russia. In his car he repeated his stand: “We cannot continue close cooperation with a country that attacks another country’s civilians, independence and self determination. That is our final moral conclusion,” he told me.

Høgni Hoydal, former minister of fisheries of the Faroe Islands and head of islands’ main independence party, Tjóðveldi. Hoydal argues for a total stop for cooperation with Russia but chose to support a swap of fishing quotas now agreed with Russia for 2023. (Martin Breum)

I asked why then — in the middle of the electoral campaign — he had given his support so that on November 25 the Faroe Island’s government could agree with Moscow to renew its quota swapping deal with Russia for 2023.

Hoydal and Javnaðarflokkurin, a social democratic party which had also argued for a stop to cooperation with Russia, were accused of cheap sucking up to voters from the Faroe Islands’ fishing communities, but Hoydal waved off the accusations:

“When elections were called, we were faced with another moral obligation, namely that towards the least fortunate on the Faroe Islands. To break with Russia would have in the short term enormous impact on the many families whose income depends on the cod from the Barents Sea,” he said.

He argued that duly prepared compensations to those who would lose their fishing quotas or their salary must be in place before any rupture to the deal with Russia.

“That was why we had to support the extension of the fisheries arrangement and then form a new government that can discontinue the arrangement in an orderly fashion,” he said.

Still in the car, he explained that the Faroese trawlers that are equipped to catch Russian cod in the Barents Sea cannot easily be adapted to catch the kind of fish sought by Russian vessels in Faroese waters. Unlike in Greenland, he said, difficult and expensive transitions would be needed if such transition was to be made.

In 2023, Faroese fishing vessels will have access to some 18,000 tons of Russian fish, while Russian vessels will catch fish of roughly the same value in Faroese waters. They will also reload and service their ships in Faroese harbors.

As I write, the elections in the Faroe Island are over, but the Faroe Islands still have no new government. Most likely, the leader of the social democrats, Aksel Johansen, will be the next premier of the Faroe Island.

If so, his promise to not enter into any quota swapping with Russia for 2024 unless the war in Ukraine is over will follow him into office.

Meanwhile, I learned that dissatisfaction is growing among ordinary Faroese:

“The Faroe Islands are changing. Still more people feel bad when all that seems to matter is money. Some still say that we are a very small country and that it makes no difference what we do, but most people find today that as Faroese we also have to be decent people,” said Hallbera West, an assistant professor of political science at the University of the Faroe Islands.

This text was first published on 14. December 2022.


Putins krig skader klimaforskningen i Arktis

december 1, 2022 • Af
Præsident Putins krig i Ukraine gør skade på det avancerede internationale modelarbejde, der skal forudsige klimaets udvikling. Forskerne bag klimamodellerne må nu undvære centrale data fra Ruslands kolossale arktiske provinser, hvor temperaturen ligesom i andre dele af Arktis stiger fire gange så hurtigt som i resten af verden.
Uden en støt strøm af data og forskning fra denne del af Arktis, vil resten af verden miste vigtig viden om klimakrisens natur og forventlige udvikling.Danmark, USA, EU og resten af den vestlige verden har stoppet stort set alt samarbejde med russiske forskningsinstitutioner, og danske, tyske og andre udenlandske forskere, der tidligere har hentet data om atmosfæren, polarisen og permafrosten i det russiske Arktis, kan ikke længere rejse ind i Rusland.

prof. Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, der forsker i permafrost, forudser langvarige skader på klimaforskningen. Foto: UNIS, Svalbard

En af Danmarks fremmeste forskere i permafrost, professor Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, der til dagligt arbejder på UNIS, Universitetssenteret på Svalbard, fortalte mig om det voksende dilemma i sidste uge på det årlige træf for danske, grønlandske og færøske polarforskere på Hindsgavl Slot udenfor Middelfart:

“Det er halvdelen af Arktis, der ikke leverer data. Vi har ikke adgang til, hvad der egentlig foregår. Vi har brug for hele Arktis, når man for eksempel skal verificere sine modeller. Der er rigtigt mange russiske og andre forskere, der har brugt tid på at opbygge målinger af eksempelvis permafrost i Sibirien, hvor den tykkeste permafrost i verden findes, men de data har vi ikke adgang til længere. Der opstår en større usikkerhed om, hvorvidt man modellerer korrekt. Det bliver en joker i det arbejde, man laver,” siger hun.

Arktis på pause

Problemerne begyndte i marts, da den danske regering sammen med de øvrige seks vestlige regeringer i Arktisk Råd satte alt samarbejde med Rusland i Arktisk Råd på pause – inklusive de mange forskningsprogrammer, der udgør kernen af rådets arbejde. Samtidig har EU stoppet al kontakt med Rusland i EU-finansierede forskningsprogrammer.

Pausen i Arktis Råds samarbejde med Rusland har ingen fast udløbsdato, og politikerne bag beslutningen har ikke angivet faste kriterier for, hvornår den kan ophæves.

I forskningsmiljøerne kalkuleres der derfor med potentielt ganske langvarige, negative effekter.

“Indtil videre tænker vi ikke så meget over det, fordi vi tidligere har haft en hvis adgang til data fra Rusland. Men hvad så med fremtiden? Hvis jeg må være lidt sortsynet, så kan det jo godt tage en generation, før vi har gang i de her ting igen,” siger Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen.

Også i diplomatiet frygter man et langvarigt hul i samarbejdet. Selv garvede diplomater taler nu om udsigt til “sameksistens” i stedet for “samarbejde” med Rusland i Arktis.

Til den årlige Arctic Circle konference, der samlede mere en 2000 deltagere i Reykjavik i oktober, fortalte David Balton, der leder præsident Bidens Arctic Executive Steering Committee, at man efter Ruslands invasion i Ukraine seriøst overvejede at droppe målsætningen om “samarbejde med alle” i USA’s seneste arktiske strategi, der blev offentliggjort fra 7. oktober.

Nordisk formandskab

David Balton advarede også om, at alle kontakter med vestlige forskere kan være farlige for de russiske forskere; en advarsel, der blev gentaget i Middelfart i sidste uge.

Mere optimistiske forskere, diplomater og politikere som Aaja Chemnitz, folketingsmedlem for Inuit Ataqatigiit, øjner dog et vist håb i det faktum, at Norge i maj 2023 afløser Rusland som formand for Arktisk Råd, og at det fra 2025 er Danmarks og dernæst Sveriges tur, i alt seks år med nordisk formandskab og muligheder for samordning.

Aaja Chemnitz, der også er præsident for Arctic Parliamentarians, et samarbejdsorgan for politikere fra de otte arktiske nationer, håber, at en langsom opblødning i forholdet til Rusland i Arktis kan begynde i efteråret 2023: “For langt de fleste aktører i Arktis er krigen i Ukraine afgørende for, om man vil samarbejde med Rusland eller ej. Men jeg tror, at Norge fra maj næste år vil begynde at rykke ved nogle ting. Vi er nødt til at have en diskussion om, hvad vi vil forsøge at opnå i Arktisk Råd, hvis krigen i Ukraine trækker ud i flere år – måske et helt årti,” fortalte hun mig i Middelfart.

Forskningen i Arktis kan måske blive noget af det første, man kan samarbejder med Rusland om igen: “Jeg håber, at vi med udsigt til seks års nordisk formandskab kan få en diskussion om, hvorvidt vi måske på et tidspunkt kan få et samarbejde med enkelte  aktører i Rusland på forskningsområdet,” siger hun. Her er der historisk præcedens.

Under Den Kolde Krig bidrog USA, Kina, Rusland og Canada til opblødning af de hårde politiske fronter netop ved at samarbejde om forskning i permafrost i International Permafrost Association: “Man besøgte og lærte om permafrost hos hinanden, og det var klart noget man gjorde også for at skubbe til en bredere udvikling”, fortæller Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, der var IPA’s præsident fra 2016 til 2020. The International Permafrost Association blev stiftet i 1983 og bidrager stadig til forskningsdiplomatiet.

Ny dansk plan

Universiteterne stillede sammen med DMI og en række andre institutioner inden udskrivelsen af Folketingsvalget via Forum for Arktisk Forskning et forslag til forsknings- og uddannelsesminister Jesper Petersen om en ekstraordinær femårig polarforsknings-indsats til 300 millioner kroner. De håber, at en ny regering vil behandle forslaget i starten af 2023, hvor en forsinket finanslov for 2023 formentlig skal forhandles på plads.

Polarforskerne i Grønland, Færøerne og Danmark lagde i 2020 tilsammen 662 årsværk – heraf 107 i Grønland og 42 på Færøerne. De 300 millioner skal øge polarforskningen efter strategisk udvalgte mål.

Jesper Petersen foreslog inden valget, at en del af pengene måske kunne findes blandt de ekstra milliarder til forsvaret, som et flertal på Christiansborg allerede er enige om.

Forsvaret støtter i forvejen forskningen i Arktis med skibstransport og anden logistik, og Forsvaret er selv i stigende grad afhængig af ny viden om polarisen, storme og andre klimafænomener.

International bekymring

Forskerne skal navigere i et stadig mere spændingsfyldt Arktis, men det bliver uden Rusland; på det punkt er alle forskere i Vesten i samme båd: Professor Donie Bret-Harte, videnskabelig leder af USA’s største arktiske forskningsstation, Toolik Field Station i Alaska, fortalte mig nogle uger forud for mødet i Middelfart, hvordan de russiske forskere også har problemer, fordi de må undvære pengene fra international forskningsprogrammer: “Pausen i samarbejdet har gjort det meget vanskeligere for mange russiske forskere at arbejde, fordi deres adgang til finansiering er svundet ind. Jeg tror, at der vil opstå et stort hul i vores viden,” sagde hun under et møde på Island i INTERACT, et pan-arktisk netværk af arktiske forskningsstationer, der nu må undvære de russiske medlemmer.

Hun advarede ligesom David Balton fra præsident Bidens Arktis-råd om de risici, enhver kontakt med vesten betyder for russiske forskere, og hun forudså en lang skadesperiode: “Jo længere pausen varer, jo sværere vil det blive at få tingene i gang igen bagefter,” sagde hun.

Selv holder hun dog personlige, private relationer ved lige: “Jeg mener, at sanktionerne mod Rusland er helt på sin plads, og jeg efterlever dem gerne. Men jeg føler stærkt, at den indsats, der gøres på individuelt plan for at fastholde samarbejder, ikke bør stoppes. Putins forsøg på at isolere hans folk; det mener jeg ikke, at vi skal hjælpe ham med.”

En af hendes kolleger, den britiske professor Terry Callaghan, der i mere end 50 år har drevet polarforskning ofte i samarbejde med russiske kolleger anser adgang til det russiske Arktis for helt uundværlig, og en hvis grad af kontakt bør opretholdes på privat niveau på trods af krigen i Ukraine: “Det landområder, der er centrale for at forstå at forstå de feedback-mekanismer, som afgør, hvad der sker med klimaet og biodiversiteten på resten af kloden. Vi kan se på satellitbilleder, hvad der sker på jordens overflade, men vi kan ikke forstå, hvorfor forandringerne finder sted. Vi er nødt til at have folk på pletten,” fortalte han.

“Det har taget mere end 30 år at opbygge tillid og samarbejde, siden Sovjetunionen faldt sammen. Hvis først den tillid ødelægges, bliver det ikke nogen hurtig proces at bygge den op igen. Vi er nødt til at bevare nogle broer. Hvis ikke vi har nogen overhovedet, vil det være en katastrofe for fremtiden,” siger han

Artiklen blev første gang bragt på Altinget/Arktis 1. december 2022


The Danish Kingdom’s Arctic votes are suddenly decisive, forcing postcolonial dilemmas to surface

november 12, 2022 • Af

Not since Donald Trump’s flamboyant 2019 vision of a U.S. takeover of Greenland, the world’s largest island, has the Kingdom of Denmark’s unique postcolonial construct demanded so much attention of the Danes themselves.

In 2019, the strength of the union between Denmark and Greenland was tested by the sudden move by then-President Trump. Now, after general elections that were held in Denmark on November 1, the kingdom’s internal relations have once again come under renewed scrutiny.


Aki-Mathilda Høegh-Dam (right) and Aaja Chemnitz, the two parliamentarians from Greenland now hold decisive powers. Photo: Leiff Josefsen

Since the election, three North Atlantic members of the Danish parliament — two from Greenland, a former Danish colony, and one from the Faroe Islands, a semi-autonomous group of 18 islands in the North Atlantic — have held the power to decide who will lead the government in Copenhagen for the next four years.

I can assure you that this is not a common situation in Copenhagen, the Kingdom’s capital, from where I write, and on the fringes of the furor that this situation has provoked in some quarters, thoughts of possible changes to our constitution are now being aired.

Arctic power

Although the situation is unusual, everything is happening according to carefully elaborated rules and procedures constructed to keep the Danish Kingdom inclusive and operating like a well-oiled machine. Even if there is more than 3,500 kilometers separating Copenhagen from Nuuk, Greenland is still — like the Faroe Islands — a part of the kingdom (unlike Iceland, which severed its last formal ties to the Danish king in 1943 and became a fully independent sovereign republic).

As we digest the peculiar details of the present, many Danes have been forced to revisit our old relations to the Faroe Islands and Greenland and to recount why it is that a tiny number of votes, cast by people who live far away in the Arctic and who speak their own separate languages, can suddenly hold such sway over our national politics.

The basic question, of course is whether it is still fair and good that the peoples of Greenland and the Faroe Islands have such powers?

Are the old rules and procedures, established in another era, still legitimate and sufficiently reflective of our values and ideals?

As one of our former prime ministers, the liberal Lars Løkke Rasmussen quipped on television in the late hours of the election night as he licked his electoral wounds:

“If you look at Denmark — not the Danish realm, but Denmark — there is no red majority. Only because of the way the votes fall in Greenland is there a red majority,” he said.

Others followed suit. Nobody questioned openly the electoral system that  allows the North Atlantic members of the Danish parliament their powers, but the electoral campaign had already revealed how Danish politicians will at times lack respect for their North Atlantic counterparts.

One contender for the office of the prime minister, the conservative leader Søren Pape Poulsen, was quoted during the campaign as remarking that “Greenland is just Africa on ice,” a slur allegedly aired during a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen. Poulsen had to apologize to the people of Greenland on prime time TV while a roar of dissatisfaction made its way from Nuuk.

Laws and tradition

Many Danes would be unable to remember the full explanation as to why voters in the Faroe Islands and in Greenland can suddenly wield such influence over the political process in Denmark.

As our constitution was put in place in 1849, the Faroese were considered part and parcel of Denmark’s cultural and historic realm. There were less than 10,000 people living on the islands at the time. Moreover, the islands were steered by Danish officials, the islanders spoke (and still speak) a Nordic language, and as a new parliamentary system was established on the basis of the Kingdom’s new constitution, the Faroese were guaranteed the right to elect two members of parliament.

In 1953, following a national referendum in Denmark (but not in Greenland), the constitution was revised and an end was put to Greenland’s colonial status. Greenland was turned instead into a fully integrated part of the Danish Kingdom and those who lived in Greenland became, like the Faroese, Danish citizens.

As all legislation pertaining to Greenland came from Denmark, Greenland was accorded the same right to elect two members of parliament.

The four North Atlantic members have since been counted as fully mandated members of parliament in Copenhagen. They carry exactly as much or as little political weight and influence as the 175 other members of parliament — and this is all stipulated by the constitution.

Most of the year, the efforts of these four members of parliament raise few alarms. The media, the public and most Danish politicians seldomly concern themselves with the affairs of Greenland or the Faroe Islands, but then — boom — suddenly, as in these days, the four extra votes may become crucially important as a majority in the Folketing, Denmark’s parliament, is needed to form a new government.

Tiny votes

This is then the resulting state of affairs: As I write this on Tuesday, a struggle for the central hold on political power in Denmark hinges on three politicians from Greenland and the Faroe Islands, who have chosen to support the efforts of Mette Frederiksen to form a new government.

Behind them stand relatively small numbers of voters. The two from Greenland received 4,289 (Aaja Chemnitz) and 6,655 votes (Aki-Mathilda Høegh-Dam). That is, from a Danish perspective, not a lot of people, and as the media in Denmark have been careful to report, more than half of the electorate in Greenland did not even take part in the elections. Most people in Greenland seem to care more about who holds power in Inatsisartut or Naalakkersuisut, the parliament and government in Greenland, respectively.

Sjurdur Skaale finds the power he suddenly holds over DAnish politics unreasonable

Sjúrður Skaale, the Faroese, won 3,804 votes at the polls in the Faroe Islands. In total, less than 15,000 voters invested in these three politicians, but if only one of them changes his or her mind tomorrow, the political situation in Copenhagen will be turned on its head. Somebody other than Frederiksen will win the power to lead negotiations to form the next government.


While we wait for the results, Frederiksen, a Social Democrat and acting prime minister, has won the mandate to lead the negotiations.

At the elections, her Social Democratic party and the center-left parties that support her won exactly 90 seats or a marginal majority of the 179 seats in parliament, but only if you include the three members from the North Atlantic who have chosen to support her.

We have to look back to a general election in 1998 to find a similar situation. The Danish prime minister of those days won another four years in office only through the support of a single politician from the Faroe Islands. The balance tipped when the Faroese support was declared on TV late into election night.

To top up the current turmoil, Sjurdur Skaale, the Faroese Social Democrat now re-elected into key position, argues that his own immediate hold on power is both undemocratic and illegitimate.

In and op-ed for JyllandsPosten, one of Denmark’s main media outles, he wrote last week:

“When a legitimate, democratic election leads to a result that is unfair and illegitimate, there is something wrong with the very system.”

“When many now find it problematic that I and the two Greenlandic members of parliament decide who will be prime minister, it confirms this very grave condition: The constitutional provisions for the four North Atlantic members might undermine Danish democracy.”

Outdated constitution

Skaale’s main point is that the Faroe Islands of today is a very different nation from the Faroe Islands of 1851, when the first Faroese politicians took their seats in the newly established parliament in Copenhagen.

In those days, the legislators in Copenhagen coined basically all legislation pertaining to the Faroe Island, and most people found it natural that Faroese politicians took part in the legislative process.

Today, as Sjurdur Skaale is at pains to explain, the kingdom works in radically different ways.

“The political development has led us far beyond the legal boundaries of the constitution. If the constitution is a size 42 shoe, the Danish realm is a size 47 foot,” Skaale writes.

Today, most legislation for the Faroe Island is designed and decided on by Lagtinget, the Faroese parliament, and Landsstyret, the Faroese government in Torshavn, just as most legislation in Greenland is designed and decided by Inatsisartut, Greenland’s parliament, and Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s government in Nuuk. The role of Folketinget has been greatly reduced.

“I now hold a seat in a parliament that does not legislate for the voters who have elected me,” Skaale wrote. He also finds it wrong that he can influence Danish legislation that will put burdens on Danes in Denmark, even if the Danish electorate cannot pay him back:

“Through the fiscal bill I can lay burdens on citizens who cannot punish me at the next elections. They cannot reach me. I am elected in another country,” he wrote.

Skaale has advocated an update to the Danish constitution for some time, but he has been unable to raise any sizeable support in Copenhagen and there is little support for his view in Greenland: “I see no reason to devalue the worth of our mandate. It is described in the constitution,” Aaja Chemnitz, one of the two re-elected members from Greenland told me a few days ago. She is currently using her suddenly swollen influence to push for, for instance, quick implementation of the largest ever investigation into possible Danish wrong-doings in Greenland, a project that was agreed prior to the elections.

Last year, when Skaale tried to win support for his views in Folketinget, Prime Minister Frederiksen answered with a dismissal:

“The four North Atlantic members of Folketinget bring something very, very important — a focus on the conditions that pertain in particular to the Faroe Islands and Greenland, but also to the combined efforts of the realm. I have no problems with or and suggestions for changes to the conditions under which we work.”


First published at 8 November 2022




Uncertainty reigns over the future of Arctic cooperation with Russia

november 4, 2022 • Af

The very first sentence in the new U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic Region almost didn’t make it into print.

The top sentence is meant to underscore the overarching desire of the U.S. to cooperate with the other seven nations in the Arctic: “The United States seeks an Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative.”

This pivotal wording was at the top of a final draft, when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and new discussions erupted in the U.S. administration:

“Following the invasion of Ukraine, the question arose: Do we really imagine an Arctic that is both peaceful and cooperative? But at the end of the day we decided that the answer is yes. We still do have that vision. It is still our goal and ambition, even if it is harder to achieve now,” Ambassador David Balton, executive director of the Arctic Executive Steering Committee in Washington, told me last week at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Ambassador David Balton, head of the US Arctic Executive Steering Commitee

“I think we all benefited from the peaceful and cooperative environment in the Arctic that we have had the luxury of experiencing since the end of the Cold War but which is now under threat“ he said.


I asked if he really believes that a resumption of cooperation with Russia in the Arctic will be possible in the foreseeable future. “I have to think so,” he said.

Russia conundrum

The Russia conundrum permeated this year’s Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland, involving some 2,000 attendees, including heads of states, the Crown Prince of Norway, Canada’s Governor General, ministers, ambassadors and scientists — but very few Russians and none affiliated with the Moscow government (or at least nobody known to be).

The seven western Arctic governments would like in principle to shun Russia; freeze cooperation, isolate President Vladimir Putin’s nation as a means of showing solidarity with Ukraine and punishing Russia’s violations of international law, human rights and other basic rules of civil conduct in Ukraine.

At the same time, however, several Arctic actors speaking from the assembly’s podiums or in private appeared painfully aware that a complete stop to cooperation with Russia in the Arctic would cause a host of problems and that some of the early restrictive measures, imposed soon after Russia’s invasion into Ukraine in February, may have to be relaxed.

Read more:

Russia’s Arctic provinces constitute half the landmass of the Arctic region and vast portions of the Arctic seas are within Russia’s exclusive economic zone or territorial boundaries. Also, non-Arctic nations like China and India are continuing cooperation with Russia in the Arctic.

“The Arctic cannot — we cannot afford long-lasting costs for suspension or paralysis,” China’s special envoy to the Arctic, Gao Feng said at the assembly.

Gao Feng, China’s special envoy for Arctic affairs, speaks at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland, on October 15, 2022. (Melody Schreiber)

Mead Treadwell, a U.S. business investor, former chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and former lieutenant general of Alaska, shared with me his thoughts, based on decades of cooperation with Russian partners:

“We cannot pretend that Russia does not exist just because we disagree with them. They have an agenda in the Arctic; they have allies like China. There are engineering firms not subject to sanctions who will work for them and countries like India who depend on them. To say ‘Russia is off, let us not pay attention to Russia’ is like saying we will not pay attention to the Arctic, the environment, shipping or the Indigenous peoples,” he said.

“It is important that we maintain contact. Since this horror in Ukraine started I have gotten messages from Russians friends who care about the future of the Arctic, who are sad for their country. Some even outwardly protesting. Without those networks, we only have spy satellites to tell us what goes on in Russia, and that is not good enough. It is important for our own security and for all that we are working on in the Arctic — environmental protection, safe oceans and so on. We need the personal connections so that we can hopefully get the governmental contacts back up at some point,” he said.

Much continues

Norway, while tough on sanctions on Russia and military support for Ukraine, continues its more than 50 years of cooperation with Russia on fish stock management in the Barents Sea. Like the Faroe Islands — a part of the Danish Kingdom — Norway also continues to service Russian fishing vessels in designated ports and Norwegian scientists are encouraged to continue private cooperation with Russian colleagues.

Other arrangements like search and rescue agreements with Russia are still operational in different parts of the Arctic, as a halt to such cooperation would potentially leave also seafarers of western Arctic countries to drown, should they need help from a Russian vessel.

Intergovernmental negotiations on fishing in the central part of the Arctic Ocean continues with Russia included; so do talks on the legal rights to the seabed in the Arctic Ocean and other formal processes.

Some weather services, civil nuclear disaster preparedness, coast guard operations, search and rescue and other essential functions depend to varying degrees on cooperation with Russia. The same goes for globally significant Arctic climate science programs, sea ice monitoring, atmospheric research, permafrost observation, biodiversity studies and others.

How long a pause?

The seven western governments in the Arctic have put cooperation with Russia in the Arctic Council, including large and long term science projects, on “pause” — no official contact is allowed with Russian partners — and at the Arctic Circle Assembly several observers agreed that the pause might last for years or even decades.

Numerous science projects involving Russian scientists are halted. Photo: World Meteorological Institute

The urgent question facing a multitude of military bodies, government agencies, institutions of learning and science, private enterprises and non-governmental actors is how to maintain operations in the Arctic if formal cooperation with Russia remains down for years.

[Ukraine conflict hurts Russian science, as West pulls funding]

A multitude of dilemmas are still unresolved: Can some work involving Russians be maintained? Can contacts with official Russian non-military agencies on fisheries, the environment, sports or culture be sustained? Are all types of official research programs involving Russian scientists prohibited? Can U.S., Canadian or European Union grants somehow still be spent on projects involving Russians, even if contacts with official Russian institutions are halted? Can artists collaborate across Russia’s borders? Can they do so on government grants? Can the flow of data on climate change and biodiversity in Russia be maintained through official channels — or privately? What to do with Russians on temporary work stays in the West? Are Zoom meetings with Russians acceptable? Are physical meetings with Russians possible outside Russia? Can money transfers be made to struggling Russian colleagues?


Evan Bloom, senior fellow at the Wilson Center Polar Institute in Washington and a former Director of Ocean and Polar Affairs of the U.S. State Department foresaw a period of “operational coexistence” rather than cooperation with Russia, but what that means in practice remains murky:

“Russia is key to the Arctic. Russia makes up half of the Arctic and it is not clear what coexistence means in their absence,” he told a sizable group of spectators in Reykjavik.

The Arctic Council has allowed more than 70 joint projects not involving Russians to resume operations while Arctic Council projects and all EU projects with Russian participation remain frozen, including large multi-year programs of climate science and biodiversity.

I asked Evan Bloom if he expected western Arctic governments to partially relax the Arctic Council’s pause to allow projects of particular significance to continue:

“It is very hard at this point for governments to say ‘yes it is possible to work with Russian government institutions or Russians in general,”’ he said.

“It is more likely that private researchers will find a way to work with Russian colleagues in a somewhat informal way. In cases where there is no prohibition and it is not government funded research, there are probably some ways for that very valuable exchange to continue, even if it may be tricky.”

Balton echoed this approach but cautioned against the dangers that collaboration with western partners could mean for Russians actors:

“People-to-people efforts could put people in Russia in jeopardy. We don’t want that. On the other hand, certain activities, in particular science activities — we do need the data coming out of the Russian Arctic, and as government-to-government contacts are largely closed off now, we may have to rely on other forms of communication to get that data,” he told me.

Russians still involved

Research professor Timo Koivurova of the Arctic Center at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland, presented at the assembly a study of how Russia’s war in Ukraine has completely altered Finland’s Arctic prospects:

“There will be no return to the pre-war reality,” the report, commissioned by the office of the Finnish prime minister in Helsinki, said.

The report recounts a host of new challenges to Finland. The EU, for instance, has stopped all Russian involvement in Arctic cross-border environmental programs worth millions of Euros. This is especially painful to Finland, who share a border of some 1,300 kilometers with Russia.

“The paralysis of international cooperation and research in the Arctic region is particularly problematic. Many measures related to the sustainability of the Arctic require extensive international and regional cooperation, as nature and the environment do not change in line with national borders,” the report reads.

In Reykjavik, Koivurova recalled for me an interview he did with a Finnish official who works with Russian colleagues to protect the many rivers crossing the Finland-Russia border:

“She asked me why we now have to punish the environment,” Koivurova said.

He reminded his audience that Russia has not given up on Arctic cooperation even if bodies like the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council have frozen all relations with Russia:

“Russia is represented in almost all intergovernmental organizations and treaty processes relevant to the Arctic. In all the legal circumpolar processes that we have been able to identify, the Russians are there and continuing the work. This shows us the power of international law, and I think it is a good thing,“ Koivoruva told me.

“We have seen the international prohibition on the use of force being broken before, for instance by the U.S. in Iraq. I fully support the sanctions against Russia — the war in Ukraine is horrible — but as academics we also have to look at the bigger picture,” he said.

Science suffers

As many links to Russia are down, the flow of Arctic data into the global climate models is one likely victim. A few weeks prior to the Arctic Circle Assembly I attended a meeting in Keflavik, Iceland of INTERACT, a network of Arctic research stations. One of the founders of the network, British biologist Terry Callaghan, who was included in the IPCC’s Nobel Peace Prize award, has worked in the Arctic for more than 55 years. He has had to put many long-lasting cooperations with state-affiliated Russian partners on hold with no hope of resumption in sight, but still collaborates with individual Russian scientists outside of the EU-funded INTERACT activities.

[Russia’s climate goals and science are also casualties of Putin’s war in Ukraine]

“This whole break of collaborations is a huge and tragic loss. There are Russians on the ground on half the Arctic landmass who are observing day to day what is happening. And this is not a trivial part of the Arctic, but land which is key to the feedbacks that will determine what happens to the climate and to biodiversity on the rest of the Earth. We can look at satellite images and see what is happening on the surface but we cannot understand why we see changes. We need people on the ground,” Callaghan told me.

“It has taken 30 odd years to build up trust and collaboration since the Soviet Union fell apart. Once that trust is destroyed it is not a fast process building it up again. We have to try to maintain some bridges. I don’t believe collaborations on carbon emissions or biodiversity or medical science is going to hurt anybody. If we have no bridges at all, it will be a disaster for the future,“ he said.

Researchers based at the Toolik Field Station, on Alaska’s North Slope, work on an Arctic Lake. (Craig McCaa / BLM)

Professor Syndonia Bret-Harte, science co-director at Toolik Field Station of the University of Alaska, the largest Arctic field station in the U.S., also recommended contact be maintained with Russian partners as long as their safety in Russia was not imperiled.

“Very few people in the West speak Russian, so we are dependent on the Russian scientists to tell us what is going on. Also, the pause (of the Arctic Council) has made it much more difficult for Russian scientists to do science because their sources of funding have been reduced. I think there is going to be a big gap in knowledge. We will still have some sort of knowledge like remote sensing, but you will not have the on-the-ground perspective, which is very valuable,” she said.

“The longer the pause lasts the harder it is going to be to get things restarted. I think the sanctions against Russia are appropriate and I don’t have a problem complying with them. But I feel quite strongly that the efforts of individual people to collaborate should not be restricted. Putin’s efforts to isolate his people — I don’t think we need to help him do that.”

First published on 22. October 2022. 


The largest ever probe into possible historical Danish wrongdoings in Greenland is about to begin

oktober 6, 2022 • Af

The largest ever investigation into possible abuses in Greenland by the former Danish colonial powers or more recent Danish governments is about to begin.

In June this year, the head of Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s government, Múte B. Egede and Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, from where I write, agreed on a joint effort to investigate all major relevant incidents in the seven decades since the second world war.

Mette Frederiksen and Muté B. Egede signining in June their agreement to begin a joint investigation. Photo: The Primeministers office

Their joint statement received surprisingly little public attention, but it revealed an astonishing ambition:

“The investigation will cover the period from the second world war until today. The investigation will focus on the most important political decision, events and other circumstances that shaped the development of Greenland and its population as well as the relation between the two countries,” it said.

At no time in the past has any Danish government shown willingness to partake in such a wide-reaching and deep-probing exercise.

The statement by the two leaders was kept deliberately short and vague, leaving room for the civil servants to design in detail the more precise and potentially controversial mandate for the investigation. It is due later this month; the decisive proportions of the probe, its format, financing and duration is being hammered out as I write this.

Political will

Meanwhile, there is no reason to doubt the political will of the two political leaders behind the investigation.

In Greenland, anger over an extensive series of historical incidents — as well as more recent ones — and what might possibly amount to systematic violations of basic rights of Greenlanders has been brewing for generations and Egede added a separate statement to the joint communique: “During later years we have witnessed how one sad story has been revealed after the other. Stories that have carried with them great personal costs to the individuals involved. All of the people of Greenland stand behind the demand that a historical investigation be carried out,” he said.

In Denmark, Frederiksen has been contemplating a deeper probe for several years. After her first visit to Greenland in 2015, she told me that “it is quite a lot easier to establish a cooperation between Denmark and Greenland, if both parties acknowledge that mistakes have been made through time. You cannot spend many hours in Greenland before you realize that history and also its darker sides play a large role for many there.”

In June she was quoted in the formal press release as follows: “We have recently become aware of cases and processes that bear witness that there are still chapters of our common history that we have not yet uncovered. I am happy that we have made this joint decision about a historical investigation for the benefit of our two countries and for reconciliation with our common past.”

The upcoming probe must be understood in this light. The Danish prime minister most likely finds the entire exercise essential for future cooperation with Greenland. By acting on her conviction that a common approach to the past, including its troublesome sides, is necessary if reconciliation is to be achieved, she aims to restore Greenland’s faith in cooperation with Denmark at a time when Greenland and the Arctic is becoming still more important to Denmark.

No thanks

A few isolated events have been investigated on earlier occasions, reported on and even officially apologized for by shifting Danish governments, but we have not seen more encompassing investigations like that of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission or that of the ongoing investigations in Sweden, Norway and Finland. In those countries long-standing and possibly discriminatory practices against Sámi and other ethnic minorities are being scrutinized by other truth and reconciliation bodies.

Some will find that a thorough probe in the Danish kingdom is long overdue. The first Danish-Norwegian missionaries settled in Greenland in 1721 and Greenland was a de facto Danish colony from then on. From 1953, Greenland became an integral part of Denmark; Greenlanders are Danish citizens. Phenomenal changes, often spearheaded by Denmark, has taken place in Greenland since, so it is no surprise that the upcoming investigation will be pinned to this particular period of time.

Aki-Mathilda Høegh-Dam, Greenlandic member of the Danish parliament, talked of “genocide” when the latest scandal was unearthed. Photo: Siumut

In many respects, Greenland is an autonomous nation, ruled and regulated by Naalakkersuisut, the government in Nuuk, but the island and its people are is still part of the Danish Kingdom and subjects to the Danish constitution.

A separate Greenlandic Reconciliation Commission worked in Greenland from 2014-2017, but with limited impact. The then-head of Greenland’s government Aleqa Hammond often argued openly with the political establishment in Denmark (and she also caused controversy in Greenland).

When asked about potential Danish involvement in the reconciliatory commission proposed by Hammond, Denmark’s prime minister at the time, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, offered only an icy no thanks: “We don’t have a need for reconciliation,” she quipped.

The Greenlandic commission remained a local initiative and it only indirectly probed the events and processes that are often talked about in Greenland as systemic abuses caused by Danes or Denmark’s colonization of Greenland. Eyewitnesses and other people in Greenland were heard, recommendations written, but the Greenlandic commission suffered from a frequent exchange of personnel and shifting levels of political support from the political leaders in Nuuk.

Latest scandal

News of the upcoming joint investigation coincided with widespread consternation in Greenland over the latest scandal.

A Greenland women’s magazine Arnanut did the first interviews with women involved and in May this year the Danish Broadcasting Corporation revealed how, from 1966 to 1975, some 4,000 women — about half of the fertile women in Greenland —had an intrauterine contraceptive device or coil inserted as part of a campaign by the Danish health authorities.

Many of those affected were only 15-16 years old, and many did not understand what happened to them. Some of those interviewed told of horrific pains that lasted for years. Long-forgotten documents revealed that the health authorities in Copenhagen at the time were eager to halt the rapid population growth in Greenland, the rising number of single mothers and an accompanying hike in public expenditure.

As the details of the campaign were unraveled, one of the two Greenlandic members of the Danish parliament, Aki-Mathilda Høegh-Dam, dubbed the campaign ”genocide,” and when I visited Nuuk a few weeks ago with members of the Danish Foreign Policy Society, we were told how others in Greenland shared her indignation:

“My initial reaction was that ‘genocide’ was probably an exaggeration, but as the scope of the scandal has become clear it is actually not wrong. Thousands of Greenlandic lives were never born. Very young girls and women were forced to not have children or did not understand the implications,” said Asii Narup Chemnitz, one of Greenland’s most experienced politicians, a former mayor of Nuuk and now a member of Inatsisartut, Greenland’s parliament, for the governing Inuit Ataqatigiit party.

A deputy chairperson of the Siumut party, Inga Dora Markussen, who has teen-age daughters of her own, told us she wept as she learned of the campaign.

”The state has no right whatsoever to violate anybody’s virginity. This deed can never be justified — never,” she wrote on Facebook, demanding ”an unreserved apology from the Danish state” and ”tangible compensation.”

Equal numbers

In writing about the upcoming joint investigation, Inge Høst Seiding, head of the Institute of Language, Culture and History at the University of Greenland, argued that equal numbers of Greenlandic and Danish researchers should be involved. If not enough are available in Greenland, they should be educated as part of the investigative exercise, she argued. She also recommended that ordinary citizens be heard and engaged, youth included. In Greenland, the experts talk of intergenerational trauma or psychological wounds that are passed from the victims of abuse to their children or even grandchildren.

The 2010 film “Eksperimentet” (The Experiment), based on the 1998 book that brought the program to light, follows the lives of the children taken from their families to be assimilated into Danish culture after their return to Greenland (Nimbus Film)

“Memories are carried by living people, but also by their descendants as recollections  of unwanted relocations from hamlets to towns, adoptions out of the country, divided families, segregation by language and the feeling of not moving forward in life in your own country,” Seiding wrote in an op-ed for Altinget, a Danish news outlet.

No pope expected

Few if any observers expect that the upcoming Danish-Greenlandic investigation will uncover hitherto unknown assaults on the lives and physical integrity of men, women and children in Greenland to the extent now known from the Canadian north through Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As previously reported, even Pope Francis found it necessary to react to the findings in Canada, begging as he did during a recent visit of penance “forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.” The Pope was speaking in particular of the many residential schools that were homes to tens of thousands of Indigenous Canadian children forcibly removed from their communities as Canada’s government — and the Catholic Church — tried to rid them of traits of their origins. Many suffered physical and sexual abuse.

Pope Francis attends a public event in a plaza outside of Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit, Nunavut on July 29, 2022. (Vatican Media /­ Handout via Reuters)

There is no indication of crimes of this magnitude in Greenland, but the catalog of what is often interpreted as Danish abuse is impressive. Examples include: the forced relocation of those who lived close to Thule Air Base in 1953; the closure of dozens of small settlements in Greenland in the 1950s and 1960s; the absence of a referendum in Greenland in 1952, as Greenland changed from colony to integral part of Denmark; the lack of subsequent equality between Danes and Greenlanders; the closure of Qullissat, a mining town, in 1972; the “birthplace-criteria” that gave, until 1989, Danes in Greenland much higher salaries than their local colleagues; the segregation of all school children in Danish- and Greenlandic-speaking classes; the so-called “experiment children”  who in the 1960s were sent on extended stays in Denmark in order for them to become more Danish; the “legally fatherless,” who were not entitled to inherit from their Danish fathers when the fathers abandoned them and repatriated to Denmark; the many children adopted by visiting Danish families and the discrimination of Greenlanders in Denmark  — just to name a few.

To get a better idea of the challenges the upcoming investigation will face I called on Astrid Nonbo Andersen, a historian of ideas at the Danish Institute of International Studies and one of Denmark’s leading researchers of truth and reconciliation processes:

“This will be a very, very large exercise. An investigation into all major incidents through seven decades. Think about it for a moment,” she said.

She expects that a least a handful of academic researchers will be roaming archives in Greenland and Denmark for at least five years: “Parts of the archives are not in a very good condition, so one has to dig carefully,” she says.

She also assumes that hearings of eyewitnesses still alive in Denmark and Greenland will be necessary: “What happened to the Greenlanders over time was not necessarily put in writing. It may be something that was felt and talked about in Greenland, but not automatically experiences that were written down,” she said.

Reconciliation how?

There will be particular focus on how the investigation will pursue actual reconciliation.

“Reconciliation with our common past” was highlighted as a goal in the June statement from Greenland and Denmark’s political leaders, and — as Andersen explained to me — the mere provision of facts and figures is not likely to do the job:

“The ‘coil campaign’ is a good example,” she said.

“It is good that the campaign is now out in the open, but in the first instance this has only led to more bitterness and anger in Greenland. It has not brought any immediate relief to the relation between Denmark and Greenland. Reconciliation is all about how you handle such cases,” she told me.

Previous Danish investigations of wrongdoings by the authorities have been based, she finds, on a belief that facts will bring reconciliation by themselves, but reconciliation is not that easy.

To those subjected to abuse, giving evidence of the abuse may cause re-traumatization, just as new Greenlandic accusations against Denmark, Danish institutions or individuals will likely cause indignation and anger in Denmark.

In the end, we should perhaps expect not too many indisputable truths. In Canada for example, the government and communities in the North maintain that the apologies of Pope Francis did not cover all abuses committed by the Catholic church.

As Andersen told me: “Any historian will know that the final word is never said. There will always be new discoveries, new interpretations and explanations. We have to recognize just how long-term any reconciliation is likely to be.”

This text was first published on October 5th 2022. Shortly after, a general election was called in Denmark. This might delay the mandate of the joint investigation mentioned in the text. 


Rusland vil afbryde samarbejdet med Vesten i Arktis

september 12, 2022 • Af
Placeholder image

Ved Arktisk Råds ministermøde i Reykjavik i Island i maj 2021 overdrog Islands udenrigsminister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson (t.h.) formandshammeren til Ruslands udenrigsminister Sergei Lavrov (t.v.). I dag er Arktisk Råd sat på ubestemt pause p.g.a. Ruslands invasion i Ukraine; samarbejdet er brudt sammen. Foto: Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs/Gunnar Vigfússon

For få dage siden fik vi et dystert indblik i, hvordan Arktis måske vil se ud efter den russiske præsident Vladimir Putins krig i Ukraine. uslands Minister for Udvikling af Arktis og Ruslands fjernøstlige provinser, Aleksey Olegovich Chekunkov, beskrev den 30. august på det russiske mediehus RBCs hjemmeside en verden, hvor Rusland ikke længere samarbejder med Vesten i Arktis.

Chekunkov anbefaler ikke bare en udskiftning af Ruslands vestlige partnere i Arktis med kinesiske, indiske og andre østlige venner. Han ønsker et egentligt brud med 300 års russisk fokus mod vest; et altfavnende paradigmeskifte mod øst baseret på den kinesiske krigsfilosof Sun Tzu. Det gælder om at have tålmodighed, lange tidshorisonter, en fast kurs og om at bygge på egne styrker. Chekunkov tænker her især på Ruslands arktiske reserver af olie, gas, guld, zink, sjældne jordartsmetaller, diamanter, fisk og andre råstoffer men også på hvede og andre russiske eksportvarer længere sydpå.
“Rusland har alt, hvad der skal til for at klare vanskelighederne og opnå høje økonomiske vækstrater, følge med den teknologiske udvikling og indtage sin rette plads i en foranderlig verden. Vores “drejning mod Øst” skal ske ikke bare ved at skifte partnere, med ved at skifte paradigme. Vi kan udnytte vores styrker og øge vores eksportindtjening fra vores naturressourcer. Vi kan stimulere vores økonomi og øge livskvaliteten for befolkningen gennem store investeringer i byfornyelse og infrastruktur. Vi skal koncentrere investeringerne på uddannelse, så vi sikrer fremtiden,” skriver Chekunkov i sin kronik. 

Chekunkov vil forfølge de asiatiske tigerøkonomiers model “over generationer” – og det er på høje tid, mener han.

“Ti af Ruslands 15 største handelspartnere har indført sanktioner, der rammer 40 procent af vores handel. Halvdelen af vores guld og valutareserver – 300 milliarder dollars – er fastfrosne. Russiske banker er blevet afkoblet fra det internationale betalingssystem. Russisk industri er afskåret fra den teknologi, der skal bruges til at producere tusinder af ton varer fra papir til satellitter. Himlen er lukket for vores flyvemaskiner, grænserne er lukket for fragt og for russerne selv,” lyder det fra den arktiske minister.

Ruslands landmasse udgør halvdelen af hele den arktiske region, og vendingen mod øst er for længst i gang: Vestlige olie- og teknologikoncerner trækker sig ud af arbejdet på gas-terminalerne på Yamal-halvøen; de største industriprojekter i Arktis nogensinde. Kina er allerede den største udenlandske investor i disse mega-projekter, og Chekunkov vil videre: Flere kinesiske og indiske partnere og et fuldt udviklet asiatisk udviklingsmønster. Et fuldstændigt paradigmeskifte for det russiske nord.

Permanent pause?

Måske dækker Chekunkovs kronik over en dybere angst for fremtiden. Han indrømmer blankt, at de vestlige sanktioner bider hårdt. Det skaber eksempelvis dybe vanskeligheder for logistikken i det russiske nord, at alle vestlige containere er trukket ud.

Men hans melding åbner for en mørkere fremtid, der allerede anedes, da de syv vestlige regeringer i Arktis efter Rusland invasion i Ukraine satte samarbejdet med Rusland i Arktisk Råd og andre arktiske fora “på pause”, som det hed.

Arktisk Råd har siden 1996 været det primære rum for forhandlinger om Arktis mellem Rusland og de syv vestlige nationer i Arktis og de arktiske folkeslag. Rådet har to gange været indstillet til Nobels Fredspris.

Vanskelig fælles indsats

Arktisk Råd har sikret, at Rusland i de seneste 25 år er blevet inddraget i klima- og miljøovervågning, forebyggelse af oliekatastrofer, redningsarbejde til søs, sikring af forskeres ret til at krydse grænser, indsatser til gavn for dem, der bor i Arktis.

Rusland har taget del i en vanskelig og langsommelig men fælles indsats til sikring af bæredygtig udvikling i Arktis midt i verdens voldsomste klimaforandringer og et heftigt boom i råstofudvindingen, fiskeriet og andre industrier.

Rusland har været godt tilfreds med Arktis Råd, der har fungeret som konsensus-apparat, hvor Rusland ikke kunne nedstemmes af et vestligt flertal. Rådet har til Ruslands udtalte fornøjelse også garanteret, at andre nationer, især Kina, blev holdt ude af den arktiske magtcirkel.

I dag er Arktisk Råds funktion som samlingspunkt for hele Arktis reelt kollapset. Årsagen er Ruslands invasion i Ukraine, men konsekvenserne skal vi alle leve med.

De syv vestlige nationer i Arktis Råd satte i marts formelt som nævnt kun samarbejdet “på pause”. Døren kan åbnes igen; men det står ikke klart, hvad der skal til, før det sker – eller hvornår. De vestlige regeringer ved det ikke selv, og Putins folk ved det heller ikke. I mellemtiden er mere end 70 forsknings- og udviklingsprojekter i Arktisk Råds regi sat i gang igen uden Ruslands medvirken – til Ruslands udtalte vrede.

I værste fald tegner Chekunkovs kronik en ny, fast forståelse i Kreml. Måske giver samarbejdet med vesten i Arktis, som Rusland metodisk er indgået i siden 1990’erne, bare ikke længere mening i Kreml. Chekunkov nævner i sin kronik ikke Arktisk Råd med ét ord.

Rådvilde Vesten

På den vestlige side hersker rådvildheden. Jeg har i de seneste uger talt med forskere og diplomater fra flere arktiske nationer; været til workshop i Udenrigsministeriet, talt med iagttagere i Stockholm m.v. Intetsteds høres noget bud på, hvordan Arktisk Råd måske kunne heles og genopstå.

Heller ikke den tidligere amerikanske Arktis-diplomat Evan T. Bloom, der i dag arbejder ved det anerkendte Wilson Centers Polar Institute i Washington, tilbyder nogen plan. I sidste uge forsøgte han at pege fremad på nyhedssitet ArcticToday, men reelt lød hans råd blot, at de vestlige lande ikke bør skeje helt ud og stifte et nyt, alternativt Arktisk Råd uden Rusland – en tanke, der i forvejen ingen synlig opbakning har.

Tavlen er blank. Måske kan Arktisk Råd ad åre genopstå i en form, hvor hele Arktis taler sammen igen, men Chekunkovs kronik peger ikke i den retning.

Vi må i stedet forestille os, at de syv vestlige nationer i Arktis (de fem nordiske, USA og Canada) i fremtiden kan være tvunget til at forsøge at sikre bæredygtig, fredelig udvikling i Arktis uden den ene halvdel af Arktis. De skal i så fald finde helt nye veje, hvis Rusland skal indlemmes i fremtidens aftaler om forureningsbekæmpelse i Arktis, bæredygtigt fiskeri, beskyttede havzoner, sikkerhed til søs – for slet ikke at tale om det akutte behov for dialog om freden i Arktis, forebyggelse af militære fejl, misforståelser og sammenstød.

Vi må også forstå, at EU’s store vision om et klima-stop for olie- og gasudvinding i Arktis måske må forfølges uden Rusland, og at Rusland satser stadig hårdere på olie- og gas.

Politikerne i København og Nuuk må desuden til at fundere over, hvad den ny skillelinje i Arktis vil betyde for Danmarks og Grønlands store arktiske interessekonflikt med Moskva.

Rusland kræver retten til ressourcerne på 75 pct af havbunden i den internationale del af Det Arktiske Ocean; Danmarks og Grønlands fælles krav til havbunden overlapper Ruslands med mere end en million kvadratkilometer. Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste har i nogle år advaret om, at også den sag kan udvikle sig uheldigt.

Klimaforskning lider

Forskningen i klimaet i Arktis lider allerede. Den britiske professor og Nobelpristager Terry Callaghan, der har mere end 50 års prisvindende polarforskning bag sig, skrev for nylig til mig, at også han har måtte sætte sine mange samarbejder med russiske kolleger på pause – og han ved ikke, hvornår de kan genoptages.

Forskere, der vedligeholder datasæt om permafrost, havtemperaturer, is og atmosfæriske forandringer i Arktis, må fremover måske undvære data fra halvdelen af Arktis. Selv når det formelt er lovligt, tør mange russiske forskere ikke længere samarbejde med deres vestlige kolleger.

Det er skidt for klimaet, men hele afkobling er også dårligt nyt for de russere, der har haft personlig glæde af samarbejdet. Måske må de helt lukke vinduet til et vores vestlige samfundssystem. Ingen videnskabsdiplomati, igen udveksling af studerende, ingen kontakter mellem forretningsfolk, embedsmænd eller folk i uniform.

Det lille Barents-sekretariat i Kirkenes på den norske side af den norsk-russiske grænse kæmper med accept fra Oslo tappert for at holde et minimum af kontakter levende på tværs af grænsen, men det er muligvis snart blot undtagelsen, der bekræfter reglen.


Denne tekst optrådte første gang på Altinget/Arktis 12.09 2022


Several “islands” recorded as the northernmost on Earth are probably only icebergs

september 5, 2022 • Af
This is one of the most astonishing stories, I have covered in the Arctic – and for a short while, I was part of the story myself. But before your read on, check this picture – and think about it for a second. Is this an island – or something else?
This new and until-then-unrecorded island lookalike, now believed to be an iceberg covered with gravel, was discovered during the Leister Go North 2022 expedition. (Martin Nissen / Danish Agency for Data Supply and Infrastructure)

For years, a heated international debate has been ongoing among explorers, scientists, island-hunters and other interested parties about which is indeed the northernmost island on Earth.

Since 1978, what has appeared to be a mushrooming family of smaller islands north of Greenland has fueled the discussion as still new members of the family were spotted. At least seven of these phenomena have been recorded and celebrated by visiting explorers, adventurers and scientists.

In the summer of 2021, five members of a Swiss-Danish science expedition, including this reporter, landed in a helicopter on yet another and until then undiscovered ice-and-gravel phenomenon about two kilometers north of the Greenland mainland.

When we returned home and as our aerial photography was studied more closely, the muddy but sturdy structure turned out to be about 80 by 30 meters, rising to about two meters above sea level. We came to believe it was indeed at the time the northernmost island in the world — or at least some sort of almost-island located in this very special geographical spot.

Several passing expeditions, explorers and scientists have recorded the structures in the shallow waters north of Greenland as islands. New findings say that they are not; these are icebergs partly or fully covered with gravel and only temporarily stuck on the seabed. When they melt, they will disappear again. (Martin Nissen / Danish Agency for Data Supply and Infrastructure)

What are they?

Now, a year later and following a new expedition counting Swiss and Danish scientists as well as two experts reporting to the Danish authorities, the issue of the small and poorly understood island-like structures has possibly been settled once and for all.

“For many years we all thought that storms from the north pushed sea ice from the Arctic Ocean towards Greenland, where the ice then forced sediments from the seabed towards the surface, so that these new islands were formed, but that is not the case,“ Rene Forsberg, a professor of physical geodesy with DTU Space at the Technical University of Denmark, told me at his office in Copenhagen.

Rene Forsberg and Martin Nissen, a geographer from the Danish Agency for Data Supply and Infrastructure, camped for two weeks with the Leister Go North 2022 expedition at Kap Morris Jesup, Greenland’s northernmost point. The expedition, like the Leister Around North Greenland Expedition in 2021, were funded by the Leister Foundation in Switzerland.

A rock measuring about 1 by 1 meter on the top of the “island” discovered in 2021. According to Rene Forsberg of the Technical University of Denmark, this is probably not sediment from the seabed, but part of the luggage carried first by a glacier and then an iceberg from Greenland’s interior into the sea. (Rene Forsberg)

New surveys

Martin Nissen and Rene Forsberg joined the expedition this year to survey the structures in the waters north of Greenland for the authorities in Copenhagen. While Greenland — the world’s largest island — enjoys a large degree of political autonomy, the mapping of Greenland is still a responsibility of the government in Denmark.

During the two weeks of surveying, GPS mapping and lidar (or laser) mapping from a helicopter was carried out alongside bathymetric measurements both in the waters close to the disputed island-structure and also close to a new and previously unmapped member of the family. Some of the island-structures that were recorded years ago have disappeared and were therefore, of course, not subject to any measurement.

The icebergs long believed to be islands north of Greenland most likely stem from glaciers like this at Kap Christian IV, some 50 kilometers west of Kap Morris Jesup, Greenland’s northernmost tip. (Rene Forsberg)

A peer-reviewed scientific rendering of the collected data will be published in the future, but a preliminary conclusion has been put into a press release.

“The new bathymetry observations confirmed all the ‘islands’ to be located at water depths in the range of 25-45 m, which uniquely confirmed all ‘islands’ to be grounded icebergs, with an usual cover of glacial soil, pebbles and rock debris, forming a new category of semi-stationary ice islands,” the press release reads.

In other words, and according to these new findings, all the structures recorded since 1978 are not islands in any classical sense of the word, but simply icebergs partly or fully covered by gravel and temporarily stranded on the seabed in the shallows north of Greenland.

Drilling for depth

Forsberg and Nissen also measured the water depth right next to the island-like structure that was discovered in the summer of 2021 during the Leister Around North Greenland expedition.

“We drilled through three meters of ice on both sides of your ‘island,’ and concluded with the help of ordinary echo sounders that the water is about 27 meters deep in this particular spot. When we drilled, we stood on the frozen sea 27 meters above the seabed. We concluded that the gravel on top of the iceberg — which you took for an island — presently lies 29 meters above the seabed,” Forsberg told me.

“We also determined that about nine-tenths of the iceberg lies under water, just like icebergs usually do. It is stuck on the seabed. Only when it melts sufficiently will it travel onwards,” he said. According to Forsberg, the new measurements correlate lidar measurements of the iceberg done earlier this year as Forsberg passed overhead in a fixed-wing plane.

Moving east

The gravel-covered structures north of Greenland — icebergs, ice-islands or ghost-islands, as you like — are potentially short-lived, but nobody knows exactly when they will disappear again.

The icebergs have most likely broken off from glaciers on Greenland’s mainland to the west of Greenland’s northernmost point, Kap Morris Jesup. These glaciers, like dozens of other glaciers in Greenland, carry with them gravel from Greenland’s interior. After breaking off into the sea from the calving glaciers, the icebergs drifted eastward. Those still visible are now temporarily stranded in the relatively shallow waters just north of Cape Morris Jesup and new ones will continue to appear.

Holes were drilled in the ice three meters thick next to one of the ghost-islands north of Greenland. Echo sounders were guided through the holes so that water depths could be determined. (Martin Nissen / Danish Agency for Data Supply and Infrastructure)

“We don’t know when they will disappear again. But we now know that the northernmost island in the world is still Kaffeklubben Ø or Coffee Club Island. That is the northernmost land point on Earth, closest to the North Pole,” Forsberg told me, pointing at Coffee Club Island, or Inuit Qeqertaat in Greenlandic, on his digital map.

Inuit Qeqertaat lies somewhat closer to shore than the disputed icebergs. The small, roundish and storm-scarred island, some 30 meters high at the top, lies at 83°39’55” North, 30°37’45”West. It was named Kaffeklubben Ø by Danish explorer Lauge Koch in 1921, but was likely seen already by U.S. explorer Robert E. Peary during an expedition in 1900.

The Danish Agency for Data Supply and Infrastructure is currently mapping all ice-free land in Greenland in an exercise that also involves U.S. satellites, the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Danish defense forces and Greenland’s Self Rule Authority. The ice-free parts of Greenland’s landmass cover an area roughly the size of Norway; Greenland’s inland ice sheet is not included.

In 1978, as the first of the stranded icebergs was discovered, it was named Oodaaq Island after a famous Greenlandic dog handler. For years, Oodaaq Island, which lies a bit north of Inuit Qeqertaat, was talked about as the northernmost island in the world and added to formal Danish maps of Greenland. Now, as Oodaaq Island changes in status from island to iceberg, it will be scrapped from the maps again.

“Oodaaq Island will not appear on the maps when we publish our new maps of Greenland, most likely later this year,” Martin Nissen told me.

This story first appeared at August 31st 2022


Krigen i Ukraine rykker mere magt og indflydelse til Grønland og Færøerne

juni 23, 2022 • Af

Et akut behov for enighed om forsvaret i Arktis gør “mellemrigspolitikken” på tværs af rigets tre dele stadig mere afgørende.

Ti ministre fra Nuuk, Thorshavn og København samlet til det første rigtige møde i det ny kontaktudvalg 9. juni i Müllers Pakkhus i Thorshavn. Foto: Udenrigsministeriet/Sissel Christine Bøss

Foråret 2022 har for alvor lært os betydningen af mellemrigspolitikken. Ikke indenrigspolitik, ikke udenrigs, men den eskalerende mængde af politik, der forhandles under stadig mere tvingende involvering af beslutningstagerne fra Færøerne og Grønland.

Grundloven er der ikke rokket ved, men den reelle beslutningskraft i kongeriget forskydes på centrale punkter mod nord i højt tempo. Her følger de seneste fem mest prægnante eksempler:

1) Kongeriget fik i denne måned sin landegrænse nr. to ved deling af Hans Ø plus en ny havgrænse mod Canada; verdens længste. En folkeretligt bindende, historisk aftale om kongerigets udstrækning og deling af Hans Ø. Begge dele resultat af et diplomatisk samarbejde så intenst mellem regeringen og Naalakkersuisut (Grønlands landsstyre, red.), at det savner fortilfælde.

2) Den 9. juni i Thorshavn mødtes ikke mindre end ti regeringsmedlemmer fra Færøerne, Grønland og Danmark for første gang i rigsfællesskabets nye, permanente Udenrigs-, Sikkerheds- og Forsvarspolitisk Kontaktudvalg. Her koordineres nu synspunkter på de mest påtrængende spørgsmål.

Denne første gang gjaldt det bl.a. “Ruslandskrigen”, “NATO-topmødet i juni 2022”, “Strategisk partnerskab med USA” og “Inddragelse i det kommende forsvarsforlig”. Udvekslingerne fandt sted blandt andet på baggrund af klassificerede oplysninger.

Kontaktudvalget er endnu langt fra et Mellemrigspolitisk Nævn på linje med Udenrigspolitisk Nævn i Folketinget – men noget nyt er på vej.

3) Samme dag indgik Danmarks statsminister Mette Frederiksen (S) en formel aftale med formanden for Naalakkersuisut Muté B. Egede om en udredning af alt væsentligt i den grønlandsk-danske historie siden 2. verdenskrig. Udredningen skal bane vej for “forsoning med historien”.

Kongeriget har akut behov for sikring af den fælles kurs og sammenhold i Nordatlanten og Arktis, hvor stormagterne trænger sig på; fortidens fejl kan ikke stå i vejen. Med aftalen om den endelige udredning af fortiden – som Helle Thorning Schmidt (S) blankt afviste – erkender Mette Frederiksen nu, at et langtidsholdbart samarbejde med Grønland kræver en tilbundsgående genoprettelse af tabt tillid.

4) Færøerne har foråret igennem ligesom Norge insisteret på fortsat at servicere den russiske fiskeflåde, uanset at det for nogen kan stride mod ånden i det vestlige sanktionsregime – og regeringen har ikke grebet ind. Briterne, Peter Skaarup fra DF og andre andre er pikerede, men Færøernes økonomi er afhængig af Rusland i en grad, der trodser vanetænkningen.

Tórshavn har nu vedtaget sin egen lov om sanktioner; færingerne taler om, at Færøerne med dansk accept for første gang her fører rendyrket udenrigspolitik.

5) Forsvarsminister Trine Bramsen (S) måtte i sin tid som minister igennem pinsomme forhandlinger med Nuuk og Tórshavn. Først i maj og juni i år kunne afløseren Morten Bødskov (S) underskrive aftaler med Nuuk og Tórshavn om en række udvidelser af det danske forsvars indsats i Arktis.

Det var de første aftaler af den slags nogensinde underskrevet af en dansk forsvarsminister, og de grønlandske forhandlere udvirkede endda en skriftlig garanti for, at Grønland også vil blive direkte inddraget i forhandlingerne om næste forsvarsforlig.

Listen over nyskabelser kunne snildt forlænges.

Putins atomarsenaler

Mellemrigspolitikken bringer Nuuk og Tórshavn stadig dybere ind i udenrigs, forsvars- og sikkerhedspolitikken.

Nuuk har længe rutinemæssigt deltaget i fortrolige forhandlinger med USA om de amerikanske militære styrkers indretning i Grønland. I Nordgrønland er statslige investeringer fra USA ved at trænge Kina ud af spillet om en mægtig forekomst af zink, der efter krigen i Ukraine står ekstra skarpt i strategernes søgelys; også her er Nuuk involveret.

På Færøerne benytter et stigende antal amerikanske flådefartøjer i dag de færøske havne, mens uroen fra Ukraine trækker op i Nordatlanten. Putins vigtigste atomarsenaler ligger i Arktis, og en ny dansk luftovervågningsradar på Færøerne er nu endelig forhandlet på plads mellem Tórshavn og forsvarsminister Bødskov.

For et par år siden var det Kinas interesse for Færøernes tele-netværk, der pirrede nerverne, men regeringen har ikke formået at overtale Færøerne og Grønland til at lade nye udenlandske investeringer omfatte af dansk sikkerheds-lovgivning.

Sådan bliver det ved. Minedrift, havne, infrastruktur, satellitter, fisk og geografi spiller alt sammen ind, og Ruslands krig i Ukraine skærper årvågenheden.

Stadig mere alvorstungt

Det kan næppe overraske, at politikere i Tórshavn og Nuuk tænker nyt om det ansvar, de har for at sikre borgernes ve og vel – uanset om det skal ske sammen med, igennem eller i yderste fald udenom Danmark.

Vicecenterleder fra Center for Militære Studier på Københavns Universitet, Kristian Søby Kristensen forklarede på Folkemødet på Bornholm, hvordan spørgsmålet om Grønlands og Færøernes udenrigs- og sikkerhedspolitiske kompetence bliver stadig mere alvorstungt i takt med krigen i Ukraine; dét er mellemrigspolitikken centrale kerne.

Søby Kristensen og kollegaen Lin Alexandra Mortensgaard beskrev første gang mellemrigspolitikkens natur i “Rigsfællesskabets Arktiske Militærstrategiske Problemkompleks” tidligere på foråret:

“De juridiske og politiske dynamikker bevirker, at alle spørgsmål af sikkerhedspolitisk betydning (…) automatisk medfører en intern dialog eller decideret forhandling i Rigsfællesskabet. Dette skaber set fra et dansk perspektiv (…) en udfordring for Danmark, fordi udenrigspolitiske beslutninger aldrig kun er ”udenrigs”, men per definition også “mellemrigs”,” lød det.


Mette Frederiksen og resten af regeringen svarer igen ved at omfavne Tórshavn og Nuuk stadig varmere. Kongerigets nye grænse mod Canada og delingen af Hans Ø blev til efter ekstraordinært tæt tandem-kørsel mellem Danmark og Grønland – for nu at tage et eksempel.

I tre år samordnede Udenrigsministeriets juridiske tjeneste og det grønlandske Departement for Udenrigsanliggender synspunkter og prioriteter forud for alle centrale træf  med Canada, og den endelige aftale blev underskrevet i Ottawa ikke kun af Danmarks og Canadas udenrigsministre, men også af Muté B. Egede, formanden for Naalakkersuisut, det grønlandske landsstyre.

I folkeretlig forstand kunne aftalen fint være indgået uden Muté B. Egedes underskrift. Men Canada accepterede den ny virkelighed i kongeriget, så der blev plads til tre signaturer.

Aftalens titel afspejler på samme måde Grønlands voksende betydning som udenrigspolitisk aktør; Naalakkersuisut nævnes specifikt som medspiller. Nuuk vandt også konkrete resultater: I aftalen lover København og Ottawa bl.a. fortsat dialog om egentlig inuit-kontrol over store områder i nord mellem Grønland og Canada.

Væggene står stadig

Inddragelsen af Grønland og Færøerne sker ikke, fordi regeringens jurister har ændret syn på Grundloven. Udenrigs- og sikkerhedspolitikken anses fortsat som en del af regeringens magtmonopol, der kun kan gradbøjes på snævre, hjemtagne områder. Møblerne kan omrokeres inden for råderummet, men væggene står stadig efter dansk opfattelse urokkeligt på Grundloven.

Sluterklæringen fra det ny kontaktudvalgs møde i Tórshavn, nøje overvåget af de danske jurister, afspejler tilstanden. Kontaktudvalget beskrives alene som en “politisk overbygning” på det eksisterende, men det slås samtidig fast, at Danmarks, Grønlands og Færøernes interesser kan være forskellige:

“Udvalget giver mulighed for politisk dialog baseret på den samme viden. Derved kan der opnås en fælles forståelse for udviklingen i verden og det trusselsbillede, Danmark, Færøerne og Grønland står over for. Udvalget kan på dette grundlag drøfte, hvilke konkrete hensyn hvert land og riget samlet skal tage for at sikre alle tre landes interesser,” lyder det.

Efter alt at dømme drives regeringen i disse delvist uudforskede mellemrigspolitiske radarfelter af to lige stærke –  men ikke altid let forenelige – kræfter:

For det første et stærkt ønske om at bevare riget intakt, enigt og handlekraftigt, især fordi det betyder alverden for selvforståelsen i Danmark og for alliancerne med USA og andre partnere.

For det andet et mere politisk betonet ønske om at imødekomme det, regeringen opfatter som forståelige og rimelige grønlandske og færøske ambitioner om stadig mere selvbestemmelse, også når det gælder forsvaret og forholdet til fremmede magter.

Let redigeret efter første offentliggørelse Altinget/Arktis 23. juni 2022


Canada, Denmark agree on a landmark deal over disputed Hans Island

juni 14, 2022 • Af

With a single sweeping deal, Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark have resolved a 51-year-old territorial dispute over Hans Island in the Kennedy Channel between Nunavut’s Ellesmere Island and Greenland’s far north. The deal also finalizes the maritime border between Canada and Greenland — the longest maritime border in the world.

Hans Island will be divided into two parts, with the Greenland part slightly larger than the Canadian. The difference occurs because the new border will follow, in line with international norms, a natural phenomena; a rift in the surface of the island that runs from north to south — almost, but not quite, through the middle of the island.

According to the information available, none of the officials involved in the negotiations have visited Hans Island, but the rift on the island that will now be used as the basis of the new border is easily seen on satellite images that have been available to the negotiators.

The border will run from a small bay on the northern shore of Hans Island across the island to its steep southern precipice. Almost 60 percent of the island will be part of Greenland, including the island’s highest point, while the rest will belong to Canada. Both parties will own part of the bay on the north shore; the only landing place on the island.

A satellite image of Hans Island shows a prominent rift that runs near the center of the Island. (Denmark Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

At the same time, negotiators have agreed upon the northernmost end of the maritime border between Greenland and Canada in the Arctic Ocean and the southernmost end in the Labrador Sea, with most attention going to the Labrador Sea.

Canada and Denmark, which still holds sovereignty over Greenland, have disagreed for years about the rights to 79,000 square kilometers of seabed in the Labrador Sea, where oil or mineral extraction may be possible in future. According to the new deal the disputed piece of seabed will be split in two; again the Greenlandic part slightly larger than the area allocated to Canada.

A 2018 expedition from Greenland and Denmark visits Hans Island, in the Kennedy Channel between Greenland and Nunavut, Canada. (Martin Breum)

Copenhagen and Ottawa both hail the deal as proof that mutually beneficial solutions to difficult territorial disputes can be reached on the basis of international law:

“It is an extremely fine signal to the whole world that you can solve territorial disagreements in a constructive way based on international law. It is exactly this type of message we need in a time when international law is under attack, in particular, of course, by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine,” Denmark’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeppe Kofod told ArcticToday.

Message to Moscow

In Copenhagen, before traveling to Ottawa for the formal signing of the deal, Jeppe Kofod told ArcticToday that he expected the new deal to also have a positive influence on future negotiations with Russia over the seabed in the central parts of the Arctic Ocean. There, Canada, Russia and Denmark/Greenland have all made claims that overlap by several hundred thousand square kilometers.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a wholly unacceptable attack on international law” Kofod said. ”But everybody knows how important the Arctic is to Russia. In that region in particular they will have an interest in peaceful cooperation, even if there is conflict in other areas of the world. The agreement between the Kingdom of Denmark and Canada serves as an example that it is possible. They can tell now that it is possible to reach a result where everybody is a winner.”

Island politics

Hans Island is name Tartupaluk  — or “kidneyshaped” — in Greenlandc. It lies in the Kennedy Channel, a mostly frozen strait separating Canada’s Ellesmere Island and the very north of Greenland, some 650 kilometers east of Grise Fiord, the closest civilian settlement in Canada, and 350 kilometers north of Siorapaluk, Greenland’s northernmost township.

Hans Island has an area of 1.25 square kilometers, and its tallest point extends 183 meters above sea. Much of the island’s rock face rises vertically out of the sea; only to the north does it slant more lazily towards the ocean, offering potential visitors scalable access to its flat upper surface.

Most importantly, the islands lies exactly midway between Canada and Greenland. From a visit to Hans Island in 2018 this author remembers the unimpeded frosty views towards Greenland and Canada, both only 18 kilometers away. The island itself appears void of vegetation, its rock floor rounded by the violent storms that used to tear flags hoisted by the Danish soldiers to shreds.

Members of 2018 expedition from Greenland and Denmark visit Hans Island, in the Kennedy Channel between Greenland and Nunavut, Canada. (Martin Breum)

The final compromise on the island border was agreed upon at what has been described as a diplomatic marathon in Iceland in November 2021. Final signatures are to be added to the deal Tuesday in Ottawa by Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly and Denmark’s Kofod. Also signing will be Muté B. Egede, chairman of Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s self-rule government.

The deal seems unlikely to cause much controversy, and independent observers find it laudable:

“This is the solution I have suggested for decades. You will not hear me pointing out all the faults. I can’t see any,” says Michael Byers, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

No rewards

Parts of the maritime border between Canada and Greenland were previously agreed upon in 1973. Negotiators drew a line in the ocean to the shores of Hans Island, but they left the controversial issue of a terrestrial border on the island unresolved.

The lack of a final agreement has pained both sides ever since, even if the island offers basically no material rewards. Geologists at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland told ArcticToday that there might be deposits of zinc and lead on the island, but also that the island is so tiny that commercial mining is very unlikely. Any oil in the adjacent seabed will be more than 400 million years old and either gone or too old to be of use.

Strategically, Hans Island is regarded as equally irrelevant. There are often rumors of Russian submarines in Greenland’s waters. Also, Thule Air Base, the U.S. air base in northern Greenland, lies only a short flight to the south, but Hans Island has spurred no interest from the armed forces of any nation.

Politically, however, the island has long played a role.

In 1984, a Danish minister in charge of Greenlandic affairs raised the Danish flag on Hans Island, thereby initiating decades of national posturing by both Canada and Denmark. From 2000 Danish visits to the island became more frequent as old flags were replaced by new ones. Canada protested in diplomatic notes to Copenhagen, and in 2005 Canada’s then minister of defense landed on Hans Island in what was dubbed Operation Frozen Beaver.

A Danish flag was taken down and confiscated and, according to legend in the Danish foreign service, formally delivered to the Danish embassy in Ottawa in a cardboard box from a local bakery. Legend also goes that Danish and Canadian troops left bottles of spirits to each other whenever on visit to Hans Island; the media has often referred to the conflict as “the whisky war.”

Following the Canadian removal of the Danish flag, Denmark dispatched a naval ship towards Hans Island to raise a new flag. Before the ship reached the island, however, the foreign ministers of Denmark and Canada met in New York and agreed to replace any further gesturing with diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue.

Still, for years, nothing was solved.

Conservative governments in Canada, in particular under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper from 2006 to 2015, emphasized Canada’s intention to defend by any means its sovereignty in the Arctic.

“Stephen Harper would never have agreed to a partition or to give up Hans Island,” Byers told ArcticToday.

In 2018, diplomatic efforts picked up speed, reportedly on Canada’s initiative. A joint task force, working quietly behind the scenes, was to finally end the affair. In 2015, Canada’s Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau had taken office, eager to better Ottawa’s relations with Canada’s Arctic communities, and the work on outstanding border issues progressed. The Trudeau government favors the kind of value-based foreign policy also pursued by the current Danish government, in office since 2019. After half a century, diplomats eyed a solution.

Inuit influence

On the Danish side, diplomats from Greenland and Denmark worked in tandem to also satisfy Greenlandic wishes. In the preamble to the new arrangement, promises are made that inuit in Greenland and Canada who used to travel on the ice between Canada and Greenland without regard to any borders, will still be able to enjoy unhindered mobility, hunting and fishing. Before the final settlement was reached, officials from Nuuk and Copenhagen twice travelled to Qaanaaq and Siorapaluk, Greenland’s northernmost settlements, to consult with the local communities.

In the preamble to the new deal, there is mention of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission, established in 2016 by the Inuit Circumpolar Council to investigate avenues towards joint Inuit control over Pikialasorsuaq, or the North Water Polynya, a vast polynya famous for its abundance of wildlife in the same strait as Hans Island. In the new deal, the governments of Denmark and Canada promise to look at further options for increased Inuit control over relevant matters in the area.

“We will establish a border, but I hope that the border will in fact draw people closer together. The idea is that the practical implications of the border should be minimized to the benefit of those who live in the area and have lived there for generations without being preoccupied with borders,” says Kofod.

Members of 2018 expedition from Greenland and Denmark visit Hans Island, in the Kennedy Channel between Greenland and Nunavut, Canada. (Martin Breum)

“The most important is the work that follows to secure cooperation after the agreement on the border. That people are free to move, secure agreements on fish stocks and other resources; anything that is relevant to this geographical area. This will not be up to the Danish government, but to the government of Greenland,” Kofod told ArcticToday.

In Canada, Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), the legal representative of the Inuit of Nunavut on native treaty rights and treaty negotiation, hailed the deal in a statement to the Toronto-based Globe and Mail:

“The dispute between Canada and Denmark over Tartupaluk or Hans Island has never caused issues for Inuit. Regardless, it is great to see Canada and Denmark taking measures to resolve this boundary dispute,” Kotierk said.

“As geographic neighbors with family ties, Inuit in Nunavut and Greenland recognize the significance of working together toward our common future. NTI expects this long-standing relationship between Inuit in Nunavut and Greenland to be a symbol of continued co-operation between Canada and Denmark,” she said.

And who is Hans?

Suersaq, who signed his name Hans Hendrik when working for foreign expeditions, was a Greenlandic hunter and doghandler, serving between 1853 and 1883 as a guide, translator and provider of food for five Arctic expeditions. His close encounters with polar bears, grumpy expeditioners and wrecked ships are depicted in his “Memoirs of Hans Hendrik, The Arctic Traveller,” translated from the Greenlandic in 1878.

In the south of Greenland, he and his family were attached to the German mission of the Herrnhuts, until, in 1853, Suersaq took hire with an American polar expedition. His mother, who had recently been widowed, begged him to remain at home, and his farewell-promise burned itself into his memoirs: “If no mischief happen me, I shall return, and I shall earn money for thee.”

Hans Hendrik, however, never returned home. He settled in the north of Greenland. He found life appealing there with plenty of walrus, seals and bears. He married, raised a family and for a series of still more adventurous American and European polar expeditions, he made survival possible.

Notorious in particular were his efforts when in 1872 half of the American Polaris Expedition, who had set sail for the North Pole, got separated from the main party in the ice north of present day Thule Air Base. For seven months the group survived in igloos on ice floes. Also Hans Hendrik’s wife Mequ and their three children, the youngest only a couple of years old, had to make do as waves and heavy currents cut piece after piece off their floes. Meanwhile, the seemingly indefatigable Hans Hendrik and a Canadian inuit colleague hunted seals and bears, meat for the hungry and blubber for their oil lamps. Life was sustained, all survived, saved at the last instant by an American seal hunting vessel after drifting more than 1,500 kilometers at sea.

Hans Hendrik had an island named after him (actually two, but according to Danish author Jane Løve, the other is more of a rock than an island). The naming of Hans Island took place during the better days of the Polaris Expedition in 1871. Expedition leader C.F. Hall pointed out the island, named it, but then died a few months later. The name stuck, but we have no knowledge of C.F. Hall’s reasoning behind it.

After the naming of the island, 100 years passed before Danish and Canadian negotiators, about to draw a border at sea between Greenland and Canada, discovered that the island lies on exactly equidistant between Denmark and Canada.

The new deal may well be the end of Hans Island’s fame.

“That could certainly be one of the outcomes. In 20 years from now, perhaps nobody will be speaking about Hans Island anymore,” says Byers.

The new deal still needs to be ratified by the Danish parliament while a similar procedure takes place in Canada. Also, negotiations with the EU Commission are pending. As Greenland is part of the so-called Schengen Area in which Europeans can travel freely with principally no border control, the new border on Hans Island will also be considered an EU border towards Canada. It’s possible, though, that the EU Commission in Brussels may accept that no formal border control on Hans Island will be needed.

This story first appeared on June 13th 2022.