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Climate change is opening up the Northwest Passage and reviving a dispute between the United States and Canada over who controls the potentially lucrative shipping route. The United States calls the passage an international strait, open to all. Canada claims control because it considers the passage an internal waterway. Until recently, the decades-long dispute has been mostly academic; thick sea-ice blocks the passage for about 11 months of the year. But as global temperatures rise and polar ice caps melt, the ice-free season may lengthen, making the Northwest Passage a viable shipping route within decades or, the U.S. Navy says, even a few years.
Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia. Prior to 2005, he was a Professor of Law and Director of Canadian Studies at Duke University; from 1996-1999 he was a Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford. Professor Byers writes and teaches on issues of military force, the laws of war, international human rights, the law of the sea, and Canada-US relations. He is the author of War Law: Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict (New York: Grove / Atlantic, 2006). (Lecture originally presented as part of Alumni Weekend 2006 on 30-Sep-2006)