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Arctic Soverignty Dispute


During the summer of 1985 the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker called the Polar Sea sailed through the Northwest Passage from Greenland to Alaska. Its mission was an unspecified research mission for the United Stated Navy.

Canada claimed the Northwest Passage as internal waters. Any nation wishing to sail through them would have to receive Canadian permision first. The American government viewed the Northwest passage as international waters. It simply informed the Canadian government that they were coming through, but did not receiver permision. The Mulruney government took no action against the American ship.

The government was surprised by the outcry of the oppostion parties, and the Canadian public. Canadians saw the 'Polar Sea' incident as a challenge to our sovereignty over the Arctic waters. The government responded to public pressure. After a little hesitation, they warned the U.S. that failing to recognize the Arctic as Canadian territory was an 'unfriendly act'. Canada promised that they would take steps to build the world's most powerful icebreaker, increase air force flights over the Arctic, buy nuclear submarines to patrol Arctic waters, and draw new territorial maps that would clearly define Canada's sovereignty. Neither the icebreaker, or the submarines were built.

At a 1987 summit meeting between Prime Minister Mulroney and U.S. President Ronald Regan, the U.S. prommised to get prior permision before a U.S. government ship or aircraft crossed the Arctic. They also recognized Canada's claim to the Northwest Passage as Canadian territory.
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