In April 1988, Canada and the United States of America were locked in a series of high level negotiations surrounding the question of Arctic maritime sovereignty. During one of the meetings between Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan in which the question was discussed, the Prime Minister produced a globe, pointed to the Arctic and said simply, “Ron that’s ours. We own it lock, stock, and icebergs.”
The legal and political status of the Arctic waters has always been a complex and uncertain question; yet, at the same time, it has always enjoyed a remarkable simplicity for most Canadians and their government. While no Canadian government of the past century would question the country’s absolute right to sovereignty in the High North, few have looked beyond that political certainty to examine the basis of that right. What exactly is Canadian sovereignty, what does it consist of, how is it justified and what has the country done to secure it?
This dissertation is primarily an examination of those crucial questions. It covers the legal, political, military and economic factors which affected (or prevented) the formation of policy and the international framework in which these took place. It charts the evolution of that policy, from the late nineteenth century through to the final declaration of straight baselines in 1985, and studies the factors which guided and influenced Canadian decision makers. It is a history of Canada's quest to win international – and particularly American – recognition for its Arctic sovereignty while demonstrating how both countries still managed to work together in the region towards their mutual goals.