TORONTO – Canada’s prime minister announced plans Friday for an army training center and a deepwater port on the third day of an Arctic trip meant to assert sovereignty over a region with potentially vast energy resources. But Denmark was staking its own claim with a scientific expedition.
The race to secure subsurface rights to the Arctic seabed heated up when Russia sent two small submarines to plant a tiny national flag under the North Pole last week. The United States and Norway also have competing claims in the vast Arctic region, where a U.S. study suggests as much as 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas could be hidden.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s three-day trip to the Canadian Arctic had been planned for months. But it has taken on added significance since the Russian flag-planting, which Canada and the U.S. promptly dismissed as legally meaningless.
Harper, speaking from the territory of Nunavut, said the new military installations would help back up Canada’s claim to the waters and natural resources of the Northwest Passage, which runs below the North Pole from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago.
The United States and other countries say the passage is neutral territory.
“Canada’s new government understands that the first principle of Arctic sovereignty is: Use it or lose it,” Harper said from a storage shed protecting him from howling winds on a barren, rock-strewn highland in Resolute Bay, where the temperature was 35 degrees.
“Today’s announcements tell the world that Canada has a real, growing, long-term presence in the Arctic,” he added, flanked by rifle-toting members of the Canadian Rangers, an Inuit volunteer force.
Resolute Bay, about 370 miles south of the North Pole, will be home to a new army training center for cold-weather fighting that will house up to 100 military personnel. The new deep-sea port will be built for navy and civilian purposes on the north end of Baffin Island.
Global warming has raised the stakes in the scramble for sovereignty in the Arctic because shrinking polar ice could someday open up resource development and new shipping lanes.
Denmark said scientists would embark Sunday on a monthlong expedition seeking evidence that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,240-mile underwater mountain range, is attached to the Danish territory of Greenland, making it a geological extension of the Arctic island.
That might allow the Nordic nation to stake a claim under a U.N. treaty that could stretch all the way to the North Pole. Canada and Russia also claim the ridge.