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The Cod Wars: Cause And Context

2792 words - 11 pages

The cod wars between Iceland and Great Britain were ongoing from 1952-1976 and escalated three times throughout that period of time.1 This paper focuses on the cod war conflict between Great Britain and Iceland from 1972-1976 however a brief history of earlier conflicts is necessary in order to understand the critical period being analyzed. The conflict stemmed from the “extension of the fishery limits from three to four nautical miles by Iceland in 1952”2 this was largely as a result of the decline in marine resources available that Iceland “ for a long time been largely dependent on.”3 “The disappearance of the herring in Icelandic waters combined with a decline in export prices between 1966 and 1968 led to a drop in real per capita income in excess of 16 per cent”4 therefore Iceland found it necessary to extend fishery limits for the preservation of their economy. Britain’s initial reaction to the extension of fishing limits delivered by Iceland was a ban on processing and Icelandic fish in the UK.5 In retaliation Iceland turned to the Soviets; a large importer of Icelandic fish and “by 1955 the Soviet Union was the largest single importer of Icelandic fish and had replaced Britain as Iceland’s second largest trading partner.”6 The conflict turned from resource based to political with the potential for an “economic and diplomatic rapprochement” between Iceland and the Soviet Union7 which sparked concern among members of the OEEC (The Organization for European Economic Co-operation re-named OECD - Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). In order to prevent closer relations between the Soviet Union and a Western state the OEEC “set up an informal group of negotiators who succeeded in preparing a resolution of the conflict.”8 The solution announced by the OECD on 14 November 1956 involved British restrictions to be called
off until a definite setting of the fishery borders was negotiated by the UN.9 However in 1958 Iceland extended its fishery limits from four to twelve nautical miles10 which was essentially ignored by Britain until the Icelandic coastguard attempted to seize a British trawler. The situation reached its peak in January 1959 when an Icelandic vessel fired on a British trawler.11 There on after the crisis was averted when Iceland planned to discuss the matter in the 1960 Law of the Sea conference of the United Nations12 and in 1961 agreed to an exchange of notes as a response to Britain’s “bilateral settlement of the conflict”.13 The first cod war was settled by a recognition of a 12 mile zone and the permission given to British trawlers to fish within the zone during certain months.14 Finally in addition to this policy, it was announced that in case of any further extension of the fishery zone Iceland was obligated to give the United Kingdom six months’ notice of the extension and if disputes should arise the matter would be referred to the International Court of Justice by either party.15 However the agreement...

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