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Whiskey Wars Over Tiny Uninhabited Island – Canada Vs Denmark


Hans Island, an uninhabited half-square-mile barren and desolate island Far in the Arctic North, is a bizarre sliver of territory for two countries to fight over.

Canada and Denmark are known for their peaceful and democratic nature. Despite this, Canada and Denmark have been engaged in a territorial dispute for almost a century. At the center of this dispute is a tiny outcropping Hans Island.

According to World Atlas : Hans Island is located in the middle of the 22-mile wide Nares Strait, which separates Greenland, an autonomous territory of Denmark, from Canada. Due to international law, all countries have the right to claim territory within 12 miles of their shore. 

hans island disputed terretory denmark and canada

As such, Hans Island is technically located in both Danish and Canadian waters.

World Atlas notes that the island was decided to be Danish territory by the Permanent Court of International Justice of the League of Nations in 1933.

However, as the League of Nations fell apart in the 1930s and was then replaced by the United Nations, the ruling on the status of Hans Island carries little to no weight.

In 1972-1973

Canada and Denmark agreed on the demarcation of maritime borders in the Arctic. Both countries recognized each others’ claims extending out from the continental shelf, making the agreement the largest of its kind in history. Despite the scope of the negotiations, the status Hans Island remains unresolved. The maritime border immediately north and south of the island were established, but not the island itself.

In 2004

the official opposition in the Canadian parliament cited Hans Island as a reason for increasing defence spending. This suggestion prompted a swift reaction from Denmark, which summoned the Canadian envoy to the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, to explain Ottawa’s statements.

On July 13th 2005

Canadian forces landed on the island, erecting an Inukshuk and Canadian flag. The following week, Canadian Defence Minister Bill Graham landed on the island. This led Denmark to file a complaint stating that “we consider Hans Island to be part of Danish territory, and will therefore hand over a complaint about the Canadian minister’s unannounced visit.”

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On April 11, 2012

Proposal for Canada and Denmark to split Hans Island was made.

On November 29, 2012

Canada and Denmark settled an agreement on the exact border between them, however  the border near Hans Island has not been defined.

canada denmark boundary hans island national flag standoffs

Fortunately, despite the strong rhetoric, both sides maintain a sense of humour on the issue. As successive Danish and Canadian landings on the island erect and dismantle flag poles and markers, they leave presents for the next contingent. This ‘whiskey war’ was initiated in 1984, when the Danish minister for Greenland landed on the island leaving a bottle of schnapps and a sign proclaiming “Welcome to the Danish Island.”

Peter Takso Jensen, head of international law department of the Danish Foreign Ministry, noted 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’”

whiskey wars hans island danish schnapps canadian club

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