Recently, Canada and Denmark settled an outstanding dispute over the sovereignty of Hans Island, pictured above. The two countries decided to draw a line down the middle and split the island into Danish and Canadian zones. Until this settlement, there was apparently a rotation of visits by the respective navies of the two countries to substitute flags and leave a bottle of spirits for the other guys when they inevitably came on the same errand. Much was made of the peaceful nature of the conflict and the fact that it was finally settled through diplomatic channels rather than through the ruinous discharge of ordinance as is so often the case when international conflict arises, and not the least bit of irony seemed to leak into the announcements and the minor jubilation that accompanied the settlement.
The dispute and its settlement beg a few questions, the first of which is, who cares? I suppose the importance of the “territory” might touch on questions of control of navigation in Arctic waters, or of two hundred mile fishing boundaries, in which case there might be some question as to whether anything is truly settled. The second is enforcement: will there be customs and immigration stations set up to keep the Danes and Canadians on their own side of the island? Will Canadian mining interests begin drilling in such a way that it impedes the enjoyment of the Danes on the other side of the island?
Part of the charm of reading about the whiskey war was the patent and acknowledged absurdity of the affair, but the charm of the international farce is gone and we’re left with a feeling that a resolution better suited to our time of crises might have been an agreement that the island and the sea around it might have come under mutual protection and that people might actually stay the hell off it, leaving it to wildlife and protecting this and other areas from the predations of shipping, tourist and military traffic.