Thursday, August 9, 2007


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.)


CaitlynA said...

While US explorers placed a flag at the North Pole, there was no territorial claim made (any more than planting the flag on the moon made it US territory). In fact, the concept of a claim to a frozen and floating ice sheet has no basis. The concept of claims to the continental shelf only go back to the 1945 Truman proclamation and the codification of the shelf in the 1958 Geneva Convention, which still left questions as to the extent of the shelf away from shore.

The US (including President Reagan) has always stated that the non-seabeds parts of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention represent customary international law. The fact that we are not party to the convention has little bearing on this dispute - in fact, we don't have a dog in this fight at all. The ridge that Russia may claim may also be of geological connection and legal interest to Canada and Denmark, but not to us. Frankly, the establishment of scientific criteria in the LOS Convention to guide the evaluation of scientific data to resolve the territorial claim is a good thing.

Besides, the US will one day want to have international recognition over the Chukchi Plateau over 600 miles north of Alaska. The Convention is the avenue for that recognition.

Finally, right now Joe Biden is the problem - in two and a half months he has failed to set a date for hearings on the convention in spite of entreaties from government and non-government groups alike.

Diane Marie Amann said...

Thanks for this most informative comment. And in an e-mail Caitlyn forwarded the web address of an oceans law organization that compiles news on the treaty: Thanks for this, too.