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Ever heard of Nunavut, Canada? I hadn’t. That shows how badly out of date my geographic knowledge of Canada is. Nunavut was designated a Canadian territory in 1999, splitting off from the Northwest Territories. It’s a huge place – 31,000 people spread over an area the size of Western Europe, and it’s a name you’ll be hearing a lot more of in the coming years and decades. Why?

Well, Nunavut contains some of the northernmost points of North America. Previously, that was only sort of interesting, as the area is cold and icy.

Thanks to global warming, it’s not as cold nor as icy any more, and that means the opening of the Arctic Ocean to shipping. What does that mean? Ships won’t necessarily be forced to use the Panama Canal any more – a ship could conceivably sail from England to Tokyo across the Arctic Ocean – which will change the flows of international commerce. This is the Northwest Passage, and is hotly debated in international circles. Canada says the Northwest Passage is sovereign territory. The United States and the EU claim it’s international waters. The difference? Millions of dollars in shipping and passage.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has repeated that the Northwest Passage belongs to Canada. Frankly, as an American who can actually locate it on a map, Mr. Harper is welcome to it, since most everything you can buy in the United States is made in China anyway. I suspect my opinion is probably in the minority, though. America’s track record for respecting other nations’ sovereignty hasn’t been so hot the last 7 years or so.

Is it wrong of me to say that if you can’t locate Nunavut on a map, your opinion on Canada’s sovereignty claims are automatically invalid?

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