Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 16:40 UK

Denmark plans forces for Arctic

Ilulissat fjord, Greenland
The risk of confrontation in the Arctic seems to be growing

Denmark plans to set up an Arctic military command and task force because the melting of the ice cap is opening up access to the region's resources.

Denmark's activities will be focused on its vast ice-covered island Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Details of the plan, for the period 2010-2014, have emerged in recent days. Danish MPs approved it last month.

The retreat of sea ice is fuelling rivalry between Russia, Denmark and other nations bordering on the Arctic.

Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the US are staking claims to Arctic territory, based on geological and other data collected in the region. The sovereignty claims are being submitted to the UN.

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The Danish plan said the increasing activity in the Arctic "will change the region's geostrategic significance and thus entail more tasks for the Danish Armed Forces".

Denmark will set up a joint-service Arctic Command and is considering expanding the military base at Thule in northern Greenland, which was a vital link in US defences during the Cold War.

Denmark will also create an Arctic Response Force, using existing Danish military capabilities that are adapted for Arctic operations.

The defence plan also speaks of using combat aircraft for "surveillance and upholding sovereignty in and around Greenland".

Copenhagen has ruled Greenland for three centuries. But Greenland - with just 57,000 inhabitants - now has a large degree of autonomy. It is set to take a greater share of the revenues from its natural resources.

Russia expects the Arctic to become its main source of oil and gas within the next decade and in March it announced plans to set up a military force to protect its interests there.

And in 2007 Canada announced plans to build two military facilities in the far north in a bid to assert its sovereignty in the Arctic.

The Arctic is estimated to contain as much as 25% of the world's undiscovered oil and gas, and global warming is opening up new drilling possibilities.

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