Whiskey Wars in the Arctic. In today’s world of international politics, confrontation, posturing and outright unwarranted aggression, it is good to see that some instances of international dialogue have retained a certain sense of humor. Canada and Denmark have been fighting a good natured Whiskey War since 1971.
Recently, they struck a deal to settle almost 50 years of good-natured squabbling over the ownership of a small, uninhabited Arctic island: The countries have been “fighting” the “Whiskey Wars” to settle competing claims over Hans Island.
During those 50 years, successive expeditions from Ottawa and Copenhagen have braved icy conditions to plant bottles of alcohol on the tiny 1.2sq km (0.75sq-mile) rock as a way of claiming sovereignty.
The prank war began after the two countries convened to settle boundary disputes in the Nares Strait, a 35km (22 miles) wide channel of cold water separating Canada and Greenland, an autonomous territory of Denmark. In 1973 they struck a deal to create a border through the strait, but while they negotiated, competing claims emerged over the tiny island.
Both Canada and Greenland sit 18km away from Hans Island. In other words, the agreed boundary runs right through the middle. This geographic reality allows both countries to claim the rock under international law. In order to complete the boundary agreement in 1973, they decided to settle the dispute at a later date.
In 1984, Canada made a bold stake for ownership when it landed troops on the rock.
They swiftly planted their maple leaf flag, and buried a bottle of Canadian whiskey, before returning home to a country now larger to the tune of almost one square mile.
Denmark’s minister of Greenland Affairs couldn’t let such a provocation stand. Weeks later, he set off for Hans Island, where he replaced the offending Canadian symbolism with a Danish flag and a bottle of Copenhagen’s finest schnapps. But he went one step further than the Canadians. He proudly left a note that read: “Welcome to Danish Island.”
And so the “Whiskey Wars” commenced.
Over the following 49 years, dozens of Canadians and Danes took part in the ritual, and visitors to the island now describe a sea of slightly tattered flags and notices, not to mention whiskey and schnapps.
Finally, in 2018, the countries decided to establish a joint working group to resolve the dispute, ending their decades-long “agree to disagree” policy. The deal will be signed once both countries grant parliamentary approval.
If finally approved, the island will be split along a naturally occurring cleft on the rocky outcrop, according to a notice published by the Danish foreign ministry on Tuesday. However, the Canadians still haven’t published their official notice. Maybe the game is continuing? Which is the better side, one might ask?
Once signed off, Canada and Denmark will have established the world’s longest maritime border at 3,882km.
I wonder what will happen to all those bottles of whiskey and schnapps? That may ignite another set of Whiskey Wars over ownership. Long may the fun continue!