Op-Ed: Law of the Sea Treaty

Recent actions by Russia, Canada and other northern tier nations to strengthen or establish claims in the Arctic Ocean underscore why it’s so critical for the United States Senate to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Otherwise, we may be watching from the sidelines as other nations divvy up the energy resources of the Arctic seabed.

It is believed that the Arctic may hold 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas, a number that could rise considerably as additional survey work is completed in the region. An expedition by the Coast Guard Cutter Healy last winter showed that the U.S. could lay claim to an area the size of California as part of our extended continental shelf. The problem? The United States has no legal claim to most of this area, and the oil or gas it contains, unless we become a party to the Law of the Sea Treaty. If we don’t claim it, others certainly will.

Russia has already claimed almost half of the Arctic, including parts of what we believe to be Alaska’s extended continental shelf, while Canada is looking to establish military bases in the north. For those who think Russia’s claims, or those of other nations, will not be recognized, think again. On April 21 of this year, Australia’s claim to 2.5 million square kilometers of extended continental shelf, an area three times the size of Texas, was recognized. It is only a matter of time before other claims are accepted as well.

It would be naïve to believe we could reach multiple bilateral agreements with nations once their claims in the Arctic, and to its oil and natural gas, are internationally recognized. What is their incentive? What would the United States need to give up in return?

When we talk about sovereignty, those who say the United States already enjoys the benefits of the Law of the Sea Treaty ignore that we do so only by the grace of other nations. They ignore that our military commanders believe this Treaty is vital to ensuring the passage of U.S. naval vessels through international waters. They ignore that if we cede the Arctic to Russia and other Arctic nations, we could very well be importing oil that should belong to us in the first place. In a time of rising energy costs and demands, that does not seem like a sound policy to follow.

Source: from Congressional Quarterly