Analysis: US Seeks Beaufort Sea Compromise While Canada Favors Full Rights

While Americans appear more open to working with Canadians to settle the Beaufort Sea border dispute, Canadians appear entrenched in their view that this area is within their jurisdiction, a study by Ekos Research Associates for the University of Toronto revealed.

Approach to US - Canada Dispute Over Beaufort Sea

As part of the study, Rethinking the Top of the World: Arctic Security Public Opinion Survey, U.S. and Canadian residents were asked whether they feel that the two countries should work together to strike a deal to resolve their dispute over the Beaufort Sea or whether they would prefer to see their government assert its full sovereign rights over the area.

Half of respondents from Northern Canada say that Canada should assert its full sovereign rights over the Beaufort Sea while 43 percent say they would prefer to work with the U.S to come to an agreement. Respondents from the Northwest Territories are more likely to suggest that Canada should assert its full sovereign rights. Additionally, fifty-one percent of survey respondents over 60 and 48 percent of those holding a college degree "are more keen" on the idea that Canada should work with the U.S. to reach an agreement.

Of Southern Canadians surveyed, nearly half prefer to assert their full sovereign rights over the Beaufort Sea, while 43 percent would rather strike a deal with the U.S. College graduates in southern Canada, or 57 percent, are more likely to say that Canada should assert its full sovereign rights. Survey respondents over 60 and those with a university degree, or 50 percent and 46 percent respectively, would prefer to work with the U.S.

Sixty-two percent of U.S. respondents said they would like their government work with Canada to strike a deal regarding the Beaufort Sea, while 10 percent said they would prefer to assert full sovereign rights over the area. "It is important to note that the proportion of American respondents who did not offer a response is significantly higher than in Canada (28 percent). This difference may reflect differing levels of awareness of this issue between the two countries," the survey noted.

Seventy-seven percent of U.S. respondents over 60 and 65 percent of university graduates also favor the concept of the two governments working together, while youth in the U.S. are more apt to say the U.S. should assert its full sovereignty rights.

The U.S. and Canada have an ongoing dispute involving a wedge-shaped slice of 8,100 square miles on the international boundary in the Beaufort Sea between Yukon and Alaska. Canada claims the maritime boundary runs along the 141 meridian west out to 230 miles following the Alaska-Yukon land border. The U.S. asserts that the boundary line is perpendicular to the coast out the 230 miles following a line of equidistance from the coast. The Beaufort Sea is believed to be rich in oil and gas resources.

Respondents were also asked how they would like their government to handle border and resource sharing disputes in the Arctic. Results vary heavily by country, which are members of the Arctic Council. Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden strongly support either negotiating a compromise with the other countries, or transforming the Arctic into an international territory like Antarctica.

In Northern Canada, Southern Canada and Russia, however, respondents are divided between pursuing a firm line in defending their sections of the Arctic and negotiating a compromise with other nations. In Northern Canada, 52 percent of respondents with only a high school education and 45 percent of males surveyed are more likely to say that Canada should pursue a firm line in defending its section of the Arctic. Meanwhile, forty-six percent of university graduates appear to prefer negotiating a compromise with other countries.

In Southern Canada, fifty percent of Albertans, 49 percent of college graduates and 48 percent of men appear to favor a more aggressive role. University graduates here are more likely to say Canada should compromise with other countries.

The U.S. shows moderate support for a compromise or creating an international territory, though a plurality of respondents are undecided, the study found.


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