Denmark And Canada: ‘Whiskey War’ Over Hans Island

Why for most of the people a barren, small and uninhabited island would mean little to nothing at all, for two countries the deserted Hans Island located almost halfway between the Ellesmere Island and northwestern Greenland (specifically in the Kennedy Channel of the Nares Strait) seem to represent an important territorial issue.

Since the 1930s onwards, the little rocky Hans Island has been in the middle of a hot dispute between Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark, with both sides claiming sovereignty over this rather insignificant strip of land in the Arctic Ocean.

Elevated view of the Hans Island, with Ellesmere Island in the background. Image source: www.wikipedia.org

Elevated view of the Hans Island, with Ellesmere Island in the background. Image source: www.commons.wikipedia.org

Given international law which clearly stipulates that countries can claim territories/islands within a radius of 12 miles from their shores, both Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark are therefore entitled to claim Hans Island as a constituent part of their overall territory.

To understand why Hans Island seems to be that problematic for both countries it is pivotal to mention that it was designated as a Danish territory by the Permanent Court of International Justice of the League of Nations in 1933. Nonetheless, given the fact that the League of Nations fell apart during the 1930s (being subsequently replaced by the United Nations), this decision has virtually speaking little to no prevalence today.

Until the 1980s, this territorial issue gradually declined to signify anything, only to reemerge in 1984, when the Greenlandic Minister of Affairs visited the island and planted a flag on behalf of the Kingdom of Denmark. He had also left a note where he wrote: ‘Welcome to the Danish island’. Aside from that note, the Minister of Affairs of Greenland had also left a bottle of brandy.

Thus, ever since the 1980s both Canada and the Kingdom of Denmark have been involved into a so-called ‘whiskey war’ over Hans Island, on almost an annual basis. The Danish Ambassador to the United States, Peter Takso Jensen, has stated: ‘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.”.

Danish and Canadian military hoisting flags on Hans Island. Image source: www.worldatlas.com

Danish and Canadian military hoisting flags on Hans Island. Image source: www.worldatlas.com

Although the two countries still disagree on each other’s claim over the island, this doesn’t prevent them from keeping a good sense of humour over the matter.

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