Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but he doesn't own the North Pole. It belongs to the Russians, if President Vladimir V. Putin gets his way. Or maybe it belongs to the Danes, the Norwegians or the Canadians, all of whom are staking their claims to whatever is under the melting Arctic ice.
Global warming has started a new Great Game in the Far North. Rival navies have been sailing into formerly ice-locked seas, bearing geologists in search of data to support territorial claims. The prize is perhaps 25% of the world's undiscovered oil and gas, as well as mineral riches and access to lucrative shipping lanes. As the Northwest Passage thaws, ships will be able to sail from Europe to Asia for more of the year, shaving up to 2,500 miles off the trip compared with going through the Panama Canal. And whose military will control the expanding Arctic Ocean? Who will own what lies under its seabed and control the airspace above its waves?
Russia planted a flag on the seabed under the North Pole earlier this month. Denmark is sending scientists on an expedition to prove that the Arctic is connected by an underwater mountain range to Greenland, which is Danish territory. And the Canadians say they would be best suited to protect the Northwest Passage against terrorist threats and polluters.