War is hell, except when Canada is involved; then, war is just weird.
But polite as Canadians may be, let it never be said that they back down from a fight, as evidenced by the amount of spine they showed when Denmark tried to muscle Hans Island away from their sovereignty.
Yes, the correct answer would be, “Hans what?” But never mind, it’s the principle that counts. You back down from a territorial dispute and next thing you know, other nations will be emboldened to run roughshod, defiling your beavers and pillaging your syrup, and you will be powerless to stop it.
We never knew it, but all these years, Canada and Denmark have been fighting the Whisky War, a conflict over ownership of a barren rock outcropping in a channel separating Canada from Greenland. Maybe if America had bought Greenland like Donald Trump wanted, this entire sad chapter on global history might have been avoided. Or maybe Detroit and Toronto would be launching missiles at each other, who knows?
Hans Island is only a half square mile in size, and when a Canadian legal team was called in to make a presentation to lawmakers in Ottawa, they literally could not find it on a map. Both sides concede that the island, close as it is to the North Pole, really has no value. It has no timber, no oil, no strategic value, and unlike, say, New York, they haven’t figured out a way to tax it.
Still, neither side wanted to give it up. Frigates from both nations would occasionally visit, planting flags and leaving bottles of liquor for no obvious reason — unless they felt at some point it would be visited by Rudy Giuliani.
They would then engage in provocations that were about as intense as these two nations ever get: When Canadians found a Danish flag on the property, they wrapped it up and mailed it back to Copenhagen.
Whoa. You might expect a nation that has suffered such a brutal thrashing to capitulate, but that is not the Danish way. Instead, the Danes returned to Hans Island and — if there are children present, cover their ears — planted another bottle of Danish whisky.
Well. No one treats Canada like that, and amid patriotic calls for revenge and lusty cheers, a united Ottawa responded by hiring a lawyer.
As negotiations proceeded, strains within the Canadian government became evident. You will be gratified to learn that Canada has conservative lawmakers too, and as such there is no non-issue so irrelevant that it can’t be exploited.
“Denmark’s soldiers land on Canadian Arctic territory, hoist their flag, claim the island as their own and Canada does nothing,” a Conservative Party lawmaker said in 2004. “How much Canadian territory has to be claimed by a foreign power before (the liberal party) will speak up and stand up for Canada?”
But all’s well that ends well, and this week Canada and Denmark signed a historic treaty, agreeing to split the island down the middle. Brilliant. Henry Kissinger only wishes he could have pulled off such a technical compromise.
Both sides would have been smart to leave it there, but of course they didn’t. They took the opportunity to lecture Russia and Ukraine on matters of international diplomacy.
“As we stand here today, we see gross violation of international rules unfold in another part of the world,” said Jeppe Kofod, Denmark’s foreign minister. “In contrast, we have demonstrated how long-standing international disputes can be resolved peacefully and playing by the rules.”
Hold on there, Sparky. There’s a little more in play over there — Hans Island doesn’t produce half of the world’s grain crop, for one thing. And besides, you don’t want to give Putin any ideas.
Everybody’s all happy and self-congratulatory now, but what happens if the next time they visit the island they find a bottle of vodka?
Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Dispute over Hans Island leads to bedlam, by Canadian standards