Disputes within the southern periphery

Over the centuries, much of the Arctic's southern periphery has attracted a steady flow of migrants and has been gradually absorbed by neighbouring governments. This means that the question of who rules has long been settled in many cases.

The most obvious single examples are those sovereign countries that are located, wholly or in part, north of the Arctic Circle. The three Scandinavian countries, Norway, Finland and Sweden, all lie mainly to the south of the Circle, but are either integral to, or have well-established claims over, areas that lie north of the latitudinous line or are located exactly on it. For centuries, around half of Norwegian territory has been located north of the Circle, and its territorial claims even over more remote Arctic territories have long been undisputed: in 1920, the world's leading powers agreed to recognize

Oslo's sovereignty over the Svalbard archipelago, which lies about halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole.12 Tiny Grimsey Island, which is located exactly on the boundary of the Arctic Circle, has long been governed from Reykjavik.

Russia first started to stake its own claim as far as the Arctic Ocean in the early seventeenth century, when its armies had started to push northwards, lured by the prospect of controlling the lucrative local fur trade. The resistance they encountered from most of the indigenous tribes was limited, and by the middle of the century Cossack troops had moved as far as the river Lena, just a short distance south of the Arctic Circle. Over the coming decades, Siberia's Arctic coast would be mapped by a number of Russian explorers, notably Dmitri Ovtsyn, Fiodor Minin and Khariton Laptev, before a steady stream of Russian migrants began to colonize the region in ever greater numbers.

By contrast, the involvement of some other countries north of the Circle is a relatively recent affair. The far north of Alaska has been formally incorporated into the United States only since 3 January 1959, when the province was recognized as the 49th state, although it was nearly a whole century before, on 30 March 1867, that the Senate had voted to purchase the region from the Russian government for a lump sum of $7.2 million.13

But there are also other parts of the southern Arctic where the question of who rules has, by contrast, long been disputed.

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