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Canada vs. Denmark: The story of Hans Island and the 'Whisky War'

50 years ago, a dispute arose between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island, a piece of land that exists almost exactly halfway between the coast of Nunavut and Greenland, a Danish territory.

50 years ago, a dispute arose between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island, a piece of land that exists almost exactly halfway between the coast of Nunavut and Greenland, a Danish territory. The island holds value as a hunting ground for local Indigenous populations, but holds no strategic or economic value for either nation. And yet, for five decades our two countries were unable to reach an agreement over ownership of the island. Canadian and Danish troops would, reportedly, exchange bottles of booze with one another, which is why the conflict is sometimes called the 'whisky war'.

Recently, Canada, Greenland and Denmark reached an agreement that brought the conflict to the close. Essentially, they drew a line down the middle of the island, thus creating the first land border between Canada and Europe. 

So what does that actually mean in a geopolitical sense? Why did it take half a century to come up with a solution that sounds like it was written by a third grader? And as wider swathes of the region become accessible due to climate change, could the resolution serve as a framework for future Arctic diplomacy? 

GUEST: Martin Breum, Danish journalist and Arctic expert.

 

  

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