It is a 1.2-square-km rock and is located in a region where only the White Walkers would love to live, yet Hans Island is at the centre of a decades-long dispute between Denmark and Canada.
The Hans Island. Wikimedia Commons
But unlike the aggressive manner of the Japan-China tiff over the disputed Senkaku Islands, the dispute over the Hans Island is like a lesson in how mighty nations can behave.
When did it start?
Technically in 1946, just after the disbandment of the League of Nations. In 1933, the island was given to the Danes by the Permanent Court of International Justice of the League of Nations perhaps because the Danish had mapped the island in 1920. Later the World War 2 happened and all was forgotten until 1973.
The modern age
In 1973 the two countries decided to draw an international border along the waters off the west coast of Danish territory of Greenland and east coast of Canada.
The line was going fine over the water till Hans Island came into the picture. The makers did not bother and simply skipped over the island and continuing with the boundary.
That skipping-over act left in the open the ownership of Hans Island. So the Canadians claimed Hans belonged to them while the Danish claimed Hans as their own. And they have been doing so ever since. Both countries have officially raised the matter and discussed territorial sovereignty of the islands at the international level. But, that is not where the beauty of their dispute lies.
This NASA image shows Hans Island surrounded by ice sheets.
In the 21st century
The two countries have been sending scientists, or ministers or warships to the island. In 2005, there were just too many visits to the island but neither country sank each other’s vessel into the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean.
They continue to fight in a way where whiskey and schnapps play important roles.
In 1984, the Danish minister for Greenland arrived on the island and left a bottle of schnapps and a sign proclaiming “Welcome to the Danish Island”. That gave birth to what is now known as the ‘whiskey war’. Peter Takso Jensen, the Danish Ambassador to the United States, said
that “when Danish military go there, they leave a bottle of schnapps. And when [Canadian] military forces come there, they leave a bottle of Canadian club and a sign saying, ‘Welcome to Canada.'” Whenever the militaries of either country visits the island, they raise their flag.
When the Danes come, they raise their flag. When the Canadians come, they raise theirs. o.canada.com
The island is within 12 nautical miles from the shore of both Canada and Greenland. That complicates things because international law states that any country can have control over lands in territorial within 12 nautical miles (22.2km) from shore.
Is Hans significant at all?
No one knows as of now. But melting ice might allow for the exploration of oil and gas reserves or fisheries.