Although European discovery in the Arctic began during the Middle Ages, sovereignty issues did not become a major concern until the early twentieth century. At that time, the controversial sector theory was taken up by Canada, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, but opposed by the United States and Norway. This article examines the sector theory in Canadian state practice, clarifying the version of the theory to which Canadian officials subscribed and the aims they hoped to achieve through its use. The international response to Canadian claims is also described. The article demonstrates that Canadian use of the sector principle during the 1920s was pragmatic and successful, but in later decades, confusion arose both inside and outside the government. Inconsistent public statements were made by government representatives in the 1950s and 1960s; these have puzzled and misled scholars ever since. Differences between the Canadian and Soviet versions of the sector theory, lack of adequate institutional memory in Ottawa, and partisan political rivalries all played a part in creating the confusion, but perhaps the key factor was the inherent difficulty of state control over this remote yet geopolitically crucial region.

Arctic sovereignty, Pearson, Lester, Poirier, Pascal, sector theory, White, James
International History Review
Department of History

Cavell, J. (2018). The Sector Theory and the Canadian Arctic, 1897–1970. International History Review, 1–26. doi:10.1080/07075332.2018.1475404