There's something so last-millennium about the news that explorers have planted the Russian flag at the North Pole; to be specific, more than 2-1/2 miles underneath the pole. The move of these latter-day conquistadors would bemuse if the stakes weren't so high.
It's intended to give Russia rights to exploit "oil, gas and mineral reserves" believed to lie in the claimed "vast swathe of territory in the Arctic." The reserves are more accessible, U.S. Coast Guard Academy Professor Scott Borgerson writes, on account of the warming of the Arctic. And Russia's not the only interested state: Borgerson names a half-dozen more that claim interests in the Arctic, and demonstrates that the potential for an ice rush, if you will, calls for some international cooperation.
Eventually there should be a comprehensive Arctic treaty, he writes, and even before that, bilateral agreements.
An obvious route for cooperation is the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. As posted earlier, however, the United States remains outside that treaty regime, a fact that reduces its leverage on this issue. In May, President George W. Bush called for ratification. But, as in the past, ratification's become a topic of heated debate. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Joseph Biden's among Democrats in favor of ratification, while folks generally supportive of Bush are weighing in on both sides. It remains to be seen whether the support of this President can propel this multilateral treaty through the U.S. Senate.
(photo of flags at North Pole during Robert E. Peary's 1909 expedition (c) 1910 Frederick A. Stokes Co.)