Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Rebirth of Danish Imperialism?

Aug 10, 2007 11:08 pm

The Rebirth of Danish Imperialism?

"Danish researchers plan to set sail for the North Pole on Sunday to collect geological data, on a mission similar to Russia's one last week.

"The month-long Danish expedition will study the Lomonosov Ridge. Russia believes the underwater feature is linked to its territory.

"Denmark will investigate the ridge to see if it is geologically connected to Greenland, a Danish territory."

About the last time Denmark featured in the annals of imperialism was 1917 when the U.S. bought the Danish West Indies for $25 million and promptly enforced strict racial segregation in what had now become the American Virgin Islands. The African slaves had been emancipated in 1848. Somehow I doubt if all this was explained in your high school history class. A good source is Julius William Pratt's America’s Colonial Experiment: How the United States Gained, Governed, and in Part Gave Away a Colonial Empire (1950/1964). Pratt (1888-1983) taught at Cornell and was a distinguished historian of American diplomacy.

The same news story informs us that"Canada and the US are also engaged in a dispute over the future of the Northwest Passage, the partially frozen waterway that links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans." Casus belli, anyone?

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Randll Reese Besch - 8/13/2007

Indeed a fine distraction for Putin's tightening of his iron fist upon Russian with a dose of nationalism.
Though if any of the countries moving to claim the seabed 5,0000ft. down and mine it would be monumental and probably cost prohibitive in the long run. Of course the USA wants to rule the world though the only possible concern would be "security" as opposed to increased surface and subsurface cargo traffic as a possibility in the coming decades as most of the ice melts for longer periods. None of them have a "right" to the area,it should be open to all who can utilize it.

Andrew D. Todd - 8/12/2007

The Northwest Passage is a fantasy for those who know almost nothing about transportation logistics. It reminds me forcibly of the generals in Dr. Strangelove arguing about "the mineshaft gap."

High value goods, such as electronics, instruments, pharmaceuticals, etc. are too valuable to send by sea. They go by air, at about a dollar or two per pound. Anything worth ten dollars a pound or more is worth flying. Practically anything which is subject to export controls will go by air, simply on grounds of value. What moves by sea is mostly cheap stuff, that is, mid-priced raw materials and cheap manufactured goods.

Railroads and pipelines tend to have interior lines across continents. A sea route, such as the Northwest Passage, tends to have to go out and around all the capes and peninsulas. You might typically find that a railroad goes half the distance at twice the speed, getting to the destination in a quarter of the time. Sea routes only make sense when you are going from one continent to another, or when there are certain types of extraneous political considerations. The container ship port of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, is in the process of taking off. Prince Rupert is the point on the continuous North American rail network which is closest to China. It is about as close to Chicago as King William Island, that inaccessible point in the deep Arctic where Sir John Franklin's crew starved to death. If you take your ship up through the Bering strait, and work your way through the narrow passages between the Canadian Arctic Islands, all the way to King William Island, you are no further along than when you started. Similarly, the most practical way to move goods from China to Europe is by railroad, either along the Trans-Siberian railroad, or along a new line running along the alignment of the medieval "Silk Road" to Samarkand.

Crude commodities such as oil, coal, iron ore, and grain tend to flow to the nearest user, to the extent possible. One might add that commodities are becoming more homogeneous over time. You can make gasoline from coal, or biomass. The present price of oil is an artifact of political confusion, not of long term economic trends. The basic long-term trend relating to oil is that telecommunications are much faster than any plausible form of transportation, and that those who learn to use telecommunications effectively will have an ultimately decisive advantage over those who insist on relying heavily on transportation. That said, the demand for oil is likely to crash in a few years, wiping out all of the hopes founded on high oil prices. Steel is more and more likely to be produced by an electric-arc furnace from recycled scrap, rather than requiring supplies of iron ore and metallurgical coal. Merchant shipping is in long-term decline, except for a handful of "boom" sectors such as the China trade.

The whole Arctic dream is a kind of projected myth, for people who are afraid of the ways in which the world is changing. The most important fact about Russia, for example, is that it is committing demographic suicide as its young people emigrate. Now, of course, hypernationalism in the Arctic will not change anything. It does, however, tend to antagonize other nations into corresponding displays.