A Great Game

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A US Geological Survey estimating the presence of huge minerals, oil and gas reserves in Arctic has made the region a centre-stage of a great game. Iftikhar Gilani, who visited Denmark and Greenland, tells the story of a great game to Jehangir Ali.

The weather is freezing in Nuuk, Greenland, the sparsely populated and largest island on the globe. After a torturous five hour flight from the Danish capital, Copenhagen, nothing is green in the sub-zero temperature of Greenland, which has been mesmerized and fabled by adventurers and explorers worldwide on their way to North Pole.

The territory comprising 836,330 sq miles with a population of just 56,000 souls under the Danish sovereignty was left unattended by world for centuries, except US setting up a radar base during the cold war period. But, with the ice in the Arctic ocean melting due to climate change and discovery of huge mineral wealth and fossil fuels, the region is centre of a great game involving the US, Russia, Denmark, Canada and even China!

Greenland and Faroe Islands under the Denmark suzerainty enjoy self-rule. While the territory got home rule status in 1979, an agreement almost akin to the Delhi agreement between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah on Kashmir in 1950, was enacted between Copehnagen and Greenland in 2008 with the Danish royal government made in-charge of foreign affairs, security (defence-police-justice), and financial policy, and providing an aid of $ 3.4 billion to Greenland.

Now, with the race for a share of the enormous reservoirs of fossil fuel – an estimated 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil alone — beneath Greenland’s ice sheet in the Arctic Circle hotting up, countries like US are instigating Greenland to declare independence.

Some four years after the US Geological Survey came out with its estimates of huge oil and gas reserves in the region, periodically, in ways big and small, the stakes are being raised by ‘Arctic Five’. The five coastal states in the frontline of the high-stakes hunt are the Danish Commonwealth (including self-governed Greenland and Faroe Islands), Russia, Norway, Canada and the US. Finland, Sweden and Iceland are also stakeholders in the Arctic Rim.

Other countries including India but especially China are in no mood to let these eight states get away with the Arctic as their property. A number of powerful nations are pressing the point that geography cannot be the sole determinant of rightful access to common resources in the emerging global order. In fact, China is reported to have been most forceful in making the point (and pitching itself also as an Arctic power) that the South Pole Principle – which allows access to all, but ownership control to none in Antarctica – should prevail in the Arctic Ocean too.

The 90 billion barrels represents 13 per cent of world’s oil resources. Besides, 30 per cent of world’s gas resources are also estimated to be in an area around the North Pole, which covers more than a sixth of the planet’s surface. Much of this area, over which Greenland reigns supreme, is also rich in minerals such as gold, zinc, iron, copper, diamonds, rubies and several rare earth elements.

It is hardly a coincidence then that Greenland is emerging as a highly sought-after political, strategic and military prize. A recent report by a US think-tank projects the possibility of Greenland breaking away from the Kingdom of Denmark.

While political observers agree that after 50 or 60 years, Greenland might be ‘independent’ in ways not envisaged now, the US projection may be more than wishful thinking. “Does making the study public suggest that the US would begin inciting Greenland to be more assertive vis-?-vis Copenhagen? Perhaps,” said an informed observer, who does not want to be identified.

However, Martin Breum, a journalist and television anchor who has researched and published an authoritative book on the subject points out that there is no tussle between Greenland and Denmark. “It would be more appropriate to say these two parts of the kingdom are striving to balance their relationship,” said Breum, who has spent a lot of time researching the controversial Arctic issues.

Breum recalls that Russia planted its flag on the North Pole’s seabed in 2007 by using a robot. But the question of who ‘owns’ the North Pole is unlikely to be resolved by such acts. The suspicion that the US think tank?s study might be aimed at injecting tensions in Greenland-Denmark —

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