Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Open can of worms

When Russia claimed land beneath the North Pole as their own, there was an understandable global concern. The claim was that the land is an extension of the above-sea-level land mass and therefore Russian 'soil'.
Naturally, this is all about gas, oil and mineral rights. As resources dwindle and population grows, there'll be ever-increasing competition. Moreover, as polar ice melts and ever more turbulent whether threatens to permanently flood some of the densest populous regions - think Bangladesh, for instance - the level of competition ramps up. And as we've already had dire warnings regarding the politics of mass migration from flooded areas, you can add another factor of n to that when it comes to supplying everyone with fuel.

Previously, a nation had rights over an area 200 nautical miles from it's coast. Obviously there are instances where these 200 mile limits overlap and that's where diplomacy comes in, but we'll put that to one side now. In an effort to keep Russia sweet, the UN upped that to 350 nautical miles provided the state in question can show the land is in some way attached to the mainland in the way Russia did. The USA, Denmark (through Greenland) and Canada are all following Russia's lead in attempting to claim parts of the previously unownable Arctic.
Slightly more worryingly is the position of Britain and France. The French territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific borders dozens of small island nations. France seem keen to push their boundaries as far as possible and throw their weight around in order to get it. Nations like Vanuatu do not seem to have a chance.
Britain has three areas under discussion. Ascension lies 1,000 miles from the African coast. The tiny island of Rockall - basically a bit of granite in the North Atlantic - will cause consternation between Britain, Ireland and Iceland, as the new limits on what can be claimed extends well into existing claimed waters. And then there's the Falklands. Remember them? A pointless pair of rocks 300 miles off Argentina. Home to a few farmers and a lot of penguins. Well it's set to become a major battle-ground again. One hopes not the extent of 1982. While Ireland may be willing to compromise regarding Rockall, it's difficult to see Argentina giving up regarding the Falklands. While the hateful junta of the 80s is no longer in power - probably the major benefit of the war - the 1995 agreement to share oil found in adjacent waters was scrapped at Argentina's behest.
The UN have set a worrying precedent in appeasing Russia. The can is open. How far the worms spread is yet to be seen.

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