WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today said the best way for America to protect its interests in the Arctic is for the United States Senate to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty.

“I believe it is very important for the United States to be a party to this treaty and be a player in the process, rather than an outsider hoping our interests are not damaged,” Murkowski said.


Murkowski made her remarks at a forum entitled “U.S. Strategy in the Arctic: Energy, Security and the Geopolitics of the High North” sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a leading public policy think tank.


Murkowski, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the recent heightened focus on the Arctic is due to the impacts of climate change, which is shrinking polar ice, opening up new shipping routes and raising new resource development opportunities.


“The intense interest in claiming Arctic territory is primarily driven by the quest for Arctic resources,” Murkowski said. “Until recently, the resources of the Arctic were deemed to be too difficult and expensive to develop. But with increasing access and high energy prices, the Arctic’s wealth, which is conservatively estimated to contain up to 25 percent of the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves, including over 100 billion barrels of oil, is now being explored and developed at an unprecedented rate.”


Murkowski pointed out that Canada has announced plans for an Arctic military training facility on the Northwest Passage and that Russia has planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole and is building the first offshore oil rig that can withstand extreme cold and pack ice.


“The Arctic is truly the last frontier,” Murkowski said. “It is one of the few places on earth where all the borders aren’t drawn on the map yet and some of those that are, are disputed. While the anticipated claims do overlap in many cases, there exists an opportunity to address these claims and many of the other key issues in the Arctic, cooperatively and multilaterally.”


Earlier this year, the United States and four other coastal states bordering the Arctic – Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia – adopted a declaration of cooperation in the Arctic. That declaration supports the Law of the Sea Treaty as the legal framework for governance in the Arctic.


The Bush administration has been supportive of treaty ratification, but it has yet to come up for a vote in the Senate.


“Here in the United States, we are not able to make a claim in the Arctic until we ratify the treaty,” Murkowski said, calling for ratification.


“If the U.S. were to become a party to the treaty, we could lay claim to an area in the Arctic of about 450,000 square kilometers, or approximately the size of California,” she said. “If we do not become a party to the treaty, our opportunity to make this claim, and have the international community respect it, diminishes considerably, as does our ability to prevent claims like Russia’s from coming to fruition.”