The Battle for Santa Claus’s Home

STOCKHOLM – A couple of years ago, a Canadian minister proudly declared that Santa Claus was a citizen of Canada. After all, his home and toy factory are at the North Pole, which, according to the minister’s interpretation, belongs to Canada.

Though Santa Claus has not commented on the matter, it is now clear that he could choose several passports when he travels the world on December 24th. In 2007, a privately funded mini-submarine planted a Russian flag directly beneath his alleged home. And two weeks ago, Denmark, which has sovereignty over Greenland, staked its own territorial claim, also covering the North Pole.

By filing its claim with the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, Denmark has joined our era’s “great game”: the contest for economic control over a large part of the Arctic. And Denmark’s claim is massive. Not only does it seek sovereignty over everything between Greenland and the North Pole; it is also extending its claim to nearly 900,000 square kilometers, all the way to the existing limits of the Russian economic zone on the other side of the Pole – an area 20 times Denmark’s size.

How to assess countries’ claims to Arctic territory hinges on the status of the Lomonosov Ridge, a vast formation that rises from the sea floor and stretches 1,800 kilometers from Greenland to the East Siberian continental shelf. Everyone agrees that it is a ridge. The key question is whether it is an extension of the Greenland shelf or an extension of the East Siberia shelf.