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24 Maritime Reporter & Engineering News • SEPTEMBER 2014


T he answer to this question is a resounding “no.” The U.S. is not prepared to protect its in- terests in the Arctic over the next decade. The primary legal regime that is being relied upon by all members of the Arctic fraternity, the Law of the

Sea Convention, has not been adopted by the U.S. The operational resources needed to pursue our interests have not been funded and there is currently little prospect that they will be funded in the near future. U.S. interests in the Arctic are vast. They include oil and gas, ship- ping, environmental concerns, climate change, and the rights and interests of

Alaskan native communities. The article describes why we are so unprepared.

A Legal Regime for the Arctic

The U.S. is one of eight member na- tions of the Arctic Council. The others are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland,

Norway, the Russian Federation, and

Sweden. Next year, the U.S. takes over as Chair of the Council. But the Arctic

Council is a voluntary organization with few resources to implement or monitor its own guidelines. It has no formal trea- ty status and no enforcement authority.

The only international framework that presently applies to claims and resolution of confl icts in the Arctic is the Law of the Sea Convention. As then-U.S. Coast

Guard Commandant ADM Robert Papp,

Jr., testifi ed before the Senate Commit- tee on Foreign Relations at a June 12, 2012 hearing, “[t]he Coast Guard needs the Convention to ensure America’s

Arctic future.” Admiral Papp also stated that “[o]f the eight Arctic nations, only the U.S. is not a party to the Conven- tion.” Further, in testimony before the

House Transportation and Infrastructure (“T&I”) Committee on July 23, 2014,

Ambassador David Balton, Deputy As- sistant Secretary of State for Oceans and

Environment, echoed this view, stating, “The United States could signifi cantly advance our national security interests in the Arctic by joining the Law of the

Sea Convention. Notwithstanding the strong support of past administrations (both Republican and Democratic), the consistent backing of the military, and the support of all relevant industries and environmental groups, the Convention remains a key piece of unfi nished inter- national business for the United States.

Further delay serves no purpose and de- prives the United States of the signifi cant economic and national security benefi ts we will gain by becoming a Party to the


Why the Law of the Sea Convention?

It is only with ratifi cation of the Con- vention that the U.S. will have a formal seat on the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf established under the Convention and be able to protect its claims to a vastly extended continental shelf of up to 600 miles containing po- tentially extensive oil and gas deposits.

The Russian Federation has already fi led its claim to an expanded continental shelf as have Norway, Denmark and Canada.

The U.S. can only observe and protest publically to other nations’ claims with which it may disagree. There is no in- ternational forum in which the U.S. can currently bring a legal challenge. With the rapidly deteriorating relations be- tween the U.S. and Russia, it is foolish to think that other members of the Arctic community will stand up to protect U.S. interests with regard to Russian claims in the Arctic when they have their own interests to protect, and when the U.S. has not acted to protect its interests on its own.

Arcti c


Is the U.S. Prepared Legally &

Operationally to protect its


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