Denmark to Exploit its Former Colony Greenland

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The icy waters and frozen tundra of the Arctic region. Courtesy: Balazs Korany

By Ann-Marie de Veer
Saturday 20 December 2014

Earlier this week the Kingdom of Denmark, in collaboration with its former colony but now an autonomous country, Greenland, lodged yet another application with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) to extend their territorial rights: this time it was for a large swathe of the Arctic continental shelf.

In the words of Martin Lidegaard, the Danish foreign minister:

The submission of our claim to the continental shelf north of Greenland is a historic and important milestone for the Kingdom of Denmark. The objective of this huge project is to define the outer limits of the borders for our continental shelf and thereby - ultimately - the Kingdom of Denmark.

Their claim, over 895,000 km2 of icy waters and frozen tundra which includes the North Pole, starts 200 nautical miles north of Greenland, the border of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and stretches to the EEZ's of both Norway and Russia. Previous applications by Denmark, and Greenland, to the UN to extend their EEZ's have included: an area north of the Faroe Islands in 2009, an area south of the Faroe Islands in 2010, an area south of Greenland in 2012 followed by an area northeast of Greenland in 2013. None of these applications have been resolved as yet, and are unlikely to be in the short to medium term future.

The fact that over 60 oil and gas fields have already been discovered in the Arctic Circle, most of them in the Russian sector thus far, has swiftly focused the attention of the nations bordering the Arctic Ocean. For Denmark, memories of failing to secure an EEZ in the North Sea which included the Ekofisk oilfield, a resource that has earned billions of krone for the Norwegians over the last four decades, are not easily forgotten.

The Kingdom of Denmark is not going to be deprived of the mineral wealth in these new EEZ's, or is it?


The Danish-Greeland claim to the Arctic continental shelf. Courtesy: Danish Foreign Affairs Ministry


In 1994, when the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was enacted a ten year deadline was set for the submission of claims by nation states who believed their EEZ's should extend beyond the agreed 200 nautical mile limit. (The US has neither signed, nor ratified the UNCLOS Convention.) Thus, most countries bordering the Arctic Circle have already submitted their applications to UNCLCS basing their claims on geological research of the seabed to substantiate the notion that a given territory is an extension of their national continental shelf and thus belongs to them. However, the ability of UNCLCS to adjudicate unequivocally in favour of just one claimant in all of these cases is extremely unlikely given the presentation of conflicting scientific evidence of equal merit and it is expected to issue notices of joint ownership to be resolved by bilateral negotiations. Clearly Denmark, and its dependent Greenland, being members of the Arctic Council which includes Canada, Finland , Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, plus six other international organisations representing the Arctic Indigenous Peoples, will have to negotiate with its Arctic neighbours if it is to resolve its claims.

Nonetheless, while Denmark's interests surrounding the Faroe Islands and Greenland will probably be contested by many of the nations bordering the Arctic Circle, including the US and the UK, who has an interest in the claim to the south of the Faroe Islands, a settlement is likely to be found that will benefit them all.

However, Denmark's power and influence over Greenland has been weakened.

On the 21 June 2009, following a national referendum, Greenland extended its powers of home rule to include control of its police force, the coastguard and the courts. The nations currency, military defence and foreign affairs still remain the responsibility of its former colonial master, Denmark, while the anticipated proceeds of oil exploration is to be evenly split between the two countries after the first DKK 75m (kroner) has gone to the island's treasury. More importantly, for Greenland, it has assumed responsibility for its natural resources: its mineral wealth is no longer the preserve of the Danes.

Subsequently, Greenland has courted the exploration of its resources by multinational corporations from China, Norway and Scotland, amongst others, who are keen to exploit the expanding opportunities of the mineral wealth in the region as the the Arctic ice retreats. However, since the arrival of the multinationals, in particular the Chinese, the Danish press has consistently portrayed their involvement in as many unflattering terms as there are colours in a rainbow while Danish companies have remained aloof and eschewed the investment opportunities.

So, what is going on here?

Clearly Denmark has stepped back from the fray while the multinational corporatists gorge themselves in a feeding frenzy for the spoils: there is no point in investing in an enterprise when there are others ready and willing to do it for you, and you can collect your share of the proceeds without lifting a finger. On the other hand, if the corporatists takeover of the nation should go horribly wrong then Denmark can simply step into the melee and become its saviour. Either way, Denmark has nothing to lose that it has not already lost and everything to gain come what may.

As for the investments of the Chinese and other state-owned-enterprises: Danish politicians do not seriously view these as a threat but simply an opportunity to fund the resource exploration and development they neither have the will nor the capital to undertake. Of course, if these operations should prejudice their interests and other Western investors, then they would be forcibly ejected one way or another as they were in Libya and Sudan. As for the Danish media, they are merely tools of whoever is in power and are continually being used to broadcast diversionary stories when the incompetence of the current regime is likely to be exposed.

That Denmark does not care whether Greenland should succeed or fail in its quest to become an independent nation state is certain. It is also certain that in the event of Greenland fully transitioning to statehood it will not be allowed to prosper outside the orbit of the Western Empire.

This time, unlike the Ekofisk debacle of the late 1960's, Denmark plans to get its share of the spoils.

Heads I win, tails you lose.
US Congressional Record, 1 February 1802