Monday, April 02, 2007

Does Anyone Know How To Say 'Dokdo' in French?

Well, 'Dokdo' I'm guessing. But hey...I needed a creative title and that's all I could come up with given the food coma I'm currently laboring under.

Wrapping up class last week or perhaps a few weeks ago, we had a good chuckle about Dokdo (in terms of it being an uninhabitable rock, not in terms of the larger issues at the center of the debate). There seemed to be a consensus about the validity of the debate surrounding EEZs and the legitimate economic issues that are sometimes attached to territorial disputes.

I don't know about you, my esteemed classmates, but I left with the feeling that there had to be parallels for the Dokdo dispute elsewhere. After spending a little quality time with "The Google" and "The Internets," (yes, Dick Cheney's and the one we all use) I found this Yahoo (AP) piece that hit so close to home I'm amazed I'd never heard of it before in discussions of Dokdo (keep'll see why later).

So, not being a nefarious Canadian ultra-nationalist or a geography buff, I'd never heard of Hans Island. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Well, it's apparently a rock about a half square mile large (yes, you read that half square mile...check out the pic on can see the whole thing) somewhere in between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Greenland (Danish-ruled).

Needless to say, it's completely barren and totally uninhabited (not counting sporadic flag-planters). It's also, of course, (insert drumroll here) the subject of a vigorous territorial dispute between Canada and Denmark, the happiest nation on earth. (As the AP piece points out, both are NATO nations.)

Although, I'll admit, there's clearly no comparison in terms of the nationalist sentiment involved, I think the parallel is fairly interesting in other ways. You won't be surprised to find out that the Canadians and the Danish aren't fighting over a useless rock that has no commerical value. Big shock here...some think there are significant amounts of oil, gas, diamonds, minerals, and fish & maritime resources located in the region, if not nearby.

Others see Hans Island as key to newly emerging shipping routes (more on this later) that could open the North Pole region for "easy navigation for five months a year" and cut "sailing time from Germany to Alaska by 60 percent, going through Russia's Arctic instead of the Panama Canal." With significant climate change, "the Northwest Passage could open through the channels of Canada's Arctic islands and shorten the voyage from Europe to the Far East."

As such, there has been a back and forth over the island that might sound familiar. From the AP piece:
"In 1984, Denmark's minister for Greenland affairs, Tom Hoeyem, caused a stir
when he flew in on a chartered helicopter, raised a Danish flag on the island, buried a bottle of brandy at the base of the flagpole and left a note saying "Welcome to the Danish island." The dispute erupted again two years ago when Canadian Defense Minister Bill Graham set foot on the rock while Canadian troops hoisted the Maple Leaf flag. Denmark sent a letter of protest to Ottawa, while Canadians and Danes took out competing Google ads, each proclaiming sovereignty over the rock 680 miles south of the North Pole. Some Canadians even called for a boycott of Danish pastries."

Sound like any island dispute we know? I love the Google ads...and the pastry boycott.

Which leads to another thing I thought was interesting. While some in our group suggested (in jest) that the "global warmings" might resolve the Dokdo issue (the idea being that rising sea levels would simply covering the island up), in the case of the Arctic, the "warmings" seem to be making such disputes all the more tense. According to the story, sections of ice thought to be solid for the next 100 years are apparently now forecasted to melt within the next 10-15.

As the ice caps melt, navigation paths open up. Easier navigation makes the extraction of petroleum and other valuables first possible, then cheaper and more efficient (significant considering that, according to the story "the U.S. Geological Survey estimates the Arctic has as much as 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas.") Not surprisingly, the US, Russia, Canada, Denmark, and Norway are rushing to firm up their claims to territory in the region.

Some seem pretty sensitive to facets of the dispute, too. The Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, is quoted in the story as having promised to put military icebreakers in the area "to assert our sovereignty and take action to protect our territorial integrity." Sound familiar?

I guess my points (finally, you're probably thinking) are: 1) the Dokdo issue is far from unique, 2) I'm interested how concrete an impact environmental change can have on politics, and 3) these disputes aren't going away...they're going to get worse, so it seems finding a way to solve them is thus becoming increasingly important.

OK...enough for now. (I have to say I'm pretty proud of myself here: not one Canada joke! Not one! And given the material to work with in this one, that's saying something!) =)


Grace said...

I heard it in passing on NPR this morning but apparently the Canadians are so riled up over the Northwest passage dispute with the US that their army (whatever it's called) is doing what every country is doing regarding disputed lands: sending expeditions, surveying, planting flags, etc. etc. The army apparently has broken a couple of vehicles doing this because of the rough terrian, but in an interview one of the Canadian officers said it was worth it to ensure Canada's sovereignity. We'll probably be hearing more about this soon!

Eric said...

Very interesting - but I think the core to the dispute is different between Hans Island and Dokdo/Takeshima. I believe the national pride issue drives the Dokdo/Takeshima confrontation, in contrast to the Hans Island which I imagine is almost purely economically driven.

The flag raising and naval "guarding" does sound very familiar though =) Canada just needs some poor peasant who drove off all the wicked Danish to be their national hero and the stage would be set.

Erin Robinson said...

I've never really thought of Canada as a nationalist country, but a few of the readings I've done in a class on nationalism have discussed Quebec as a separatist province, so maybe it's more of an issue there than we might think? And also, the declarations that protecting Hans Island means protecting their territorial integrity and sovereignty makes it more similar to the Korean/Japanese situation than you might think it was at first glance. Does Denmark have the same kind of rhetoric? I would imagine it would be more difficult to determine since... I don't think anyone in our class speaks Danish.