International Ice

The International Court of Justice, one of the six major organs of the United Nations, held its first meeting on this day in 1946. While it does not preside over the same sort of life-and-death issues as the International Criminal Court, there is every reason to believe that the ICJ will soon be in the spotlight. Within its jurisdiction are issues relating to territorial and maritime claims, and a handful of nations are poised to contest for the Arctic and its fortunes. In The Arctic Gold Rush (2009), Roger Howard predicts that the ICJ will have to sort out an ice-water version of the nineteenth-century “Scramble for Africa”:

Until recently almost no government had attempted to stake its claim to the wilder, more remote regions of that lie further north, either because there seemed no point in doing so or because they had no historical, cultural or geographic basis for making such a claim. Only over the past decade has this started to change because the ice has started to melt and huge energy resources have been discovered and become increasingly accessible. Of course the “Arctic Five” [Canada, Russia, Denmark, Norway, U.S.] can claim to have sovereignty over their surrounding waters, but beyond that lie frozen seas and wastelands that seem to belong to no one.

In After the Ice (2009), Alun Anderson develops the human and environmental issues behind the geopolitics. Those issues are not only immense and complicated, says Anderson, but quickly shifting: “The Arctic is changing so fast that no one — not the scientists that study it, the politicians who want to control it, the oilmen who want to exploit it, or the indigenous people who call it home — can keep up.” All the more need for a farsighted UN, capable of not merely apportioning the territory and the wealth but of choosing the colonial road-less-taken:

One route leads to an Arctic that is part of the global community, with living standards to match. The other leaves Arctic people living among transient workers from the south in a ruined landscape.… We will see either a sustainable Arctic or an abandoned Arctic.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at