Sea treaty spat: Se­nate fight looms amid race to North Pole

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By David R. Sands

Can the Law of the Sea re­strain the race to the Pole?

An old-fash­ioned, flag-plant­ing, claim-stak­ing fight for the Arc­tic has bro­ken out just as the Se­nate pre­pares for a dif­fi­cult rat­i­fi­ca­tion vote on the U.N. Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea treaty.

The North Pole knock­down, fea­tur­ing the U.S., Rus­sia and three other Arc­tic states, adds fresh fuel to the heated de­bate over a treaty that has lan­guished in Congress for more than a decade.

“We are an Arc­tic na­tion be­cause of Alaska,” said Alaskan Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who broke from fel­low con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans to back the Law of the Sea treaty last month at a Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee hear­ing.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to us to be sit­ting at the ta­ble with the Rus­sians and oth­ers when the de­ci­sions about the Arc­tic are be­ing made,” she said.

Some 155 na­tions have rat­i­fied the treaty since it was signed in 1982. Pres­i­dent Rea­gan re­fused to sign the pact, ob­ject­ing to pro­vi­sions for the in­ter­na­tional reg­u­la­tion of deep-sea min­ing. Pres­i­dent Clin­ton sent an amended ver­sion of the treaty to the Se­nate in 1994, but it re­peat­edly has failed to win ap­proval, most re­cently in 2004.

Op­po­nents of the U.N.-backed ac­cord vow to de­feat the treaty yet again this year, de­spite strong back­ing from Pres­i­dent Bush, all the U.S. mil­i­tary ser­vices, the Amer­i­can Bar As­so­ci­a­tion and lead­ing busi­ness and en­vi­ron­men­tal lob­bies.

By last week, ev­ery ma­jor can­di­date for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion had come out against the treaty, with their views heav­ily in­flu­enced by a var­ied group of con­ser­va­tive le­gal schol­ars, de­fense an­a­lysts, talk-show hosts, sovereignty ad­vo­cates and anti-U.N. ac­tivists.

“The United States can lit­tle af­ford to have its sovereignty di­rectly chal­lenged by this treaty, and we must ac­ti­vate the con­ser­va­tive grass-roots base to rise up in de­fense of our coun­try and our sovereignty,” con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist Paul M. Weyrich said.

Cliff Kin­caid, an anti-U.N. ac­tivist and pres­i­dent of Amer­ica’s Sur­vival Inc., said the U.S. does not need the Law of the Sea treaty to press its claims to the Arc­tic and its min­eral and en­ergy riches.

“No­body both­ers to point out that [U.S. Ad­mi­ral Richard] Byrd flew over the North Pole for the United States 80 years ago,” he said.

Rus­sian subs

The Law of the Sea treaty, de­signed to set the rules of the road for the world’s oceans, iron­i­cally may have spurred the Arc- tic sweep­stakes.

When two Rus­sian deep-wa­ter sub­mersibles planted a cor­ro­sion-re­sis­tant ti­ta­nium Rus­sian flag on the seabed be­neath the North Pole on Aug. 2, they were not vi­o­lat­ing the treaty, but try­ing to strengthen Rus­sia’s claim un­der it.

A key pro­vi­sion of the treaty gives coastal states exclusive rights to mar­itime re­sources within 230 miles of their shore­line. But sig­na­to­ries can nearly dou­ble their ter­ri­to­rial claim if they can prove to a Law of the Sea tri­bunal that their un­der­wa­ter con­ti­nen­tal shelf ex­tends be­yond the coast.

Many coun­tries, in­clud­ing Rus­sia, face a 2009 dead­line to sub­mit a fi­nal sci­en­tific claim for the ex­tent of their con­ti­nen­tal shelves — and thus for their right to exclusive priv­i­leges fur- ther into the ocean. U.S. treaty sup­port­ers like Mrs. Murkowski say the U.S. will be cut out of the bound­ary wars if it does not rat­ify the treaty soon.

But the 2009 dead­line also has sparked just the kind of the dis­or­derly rush to put down mark­ers that the treaty’s drafters had once hoped to head off.

Moscow had sub­mit­ted a claim in 2001 to a Law of the Sea panel, as­sert­ing own­er­ship of some 463,000 square miles of Arc­tic seabed based on the ex­tent of its still largely un­mapped north­ern shelf. Rus­sia was told it needed more sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to sup­port its claim.

Pavel Baev, a re­searcher at the Oslo-based In­ter na­tional Peace Re­search In­sti­tute, said Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin was quick to ex­ploit the North Pole sub­ma­rine ven­ture in Au­gust for his own po­lit­i­cal pur­poses, restor­ing Rus­sian na­tional pride and ag­gres­sively as­sert­ing Rus­sian in­ter­ests on the global stage.

“The per­cep­tion in Rus­sia now is that there’s a real geopo­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion go­ing on in [the Arc­tic],” Mr. Baev said. “You need to move fast to ad­vance your claim be­cause it’s ev­ery na­tion for it­self.”

What­ever the mo­ti­va­tion in Rus­sia, the flag-plant­ing sparked an im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion in other states with Arc­tic claims — the U.S., Canada, Nor­way and Den­mark.

“You can’t go around the world th­ese days drop­ping flags some­where,” Cana­dian For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Peter Mackay said. “This isn’t the 14th or 15th


Canada has been among the most ag­gres­sive na­tions in asser ting its Arc­tic terr itor ial claims and is in a sharp de­bate with the U.S. over Ottawa’s claim that it con­trols the North­west Pas­sage water­way. The fa­bled sea route, fu­tilely sought five cen­turies ago by Euro­pean ex­plor­ers, has be­come a live is­sue once again as ac­cel­er­ated melt­ing of the Arc­tic ice caps could soon make the strait nav­i­ga­ble for sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of the year.

The U.S. State De­part­ment also be­lit­tled the Rus­sian sub mis­sion, and even na­tions not di­rectly in­volved in the North Pole sweep­stakes ex­pressed alarm.

“The North Pole is not a lawfree zone,” Ger man For­eign Min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier said in Au­gust. “There are in­ter­na­tional ac­cords, which must be re­spected by all na­tions who have in­ter­ests there.”

Den­mark, which bases its Arc­tic claim on its con­trol of Green­land, dis­patched a team of some 45 re­searchers just weeks af­ter the Rus­sian mis­sion to map the seabed north of Green­land. Cana­dian Pr ime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper an­nounced that Ottawa will spend more than $7 bil­lion to build up to eight new ships ca­pa­ble of pa­trolling the Arc­tic Ocean.

U.S. of­fi­cials re­cently be­gan the third Amer­i­can seabed-map­ping ex­pe­di­tion in the Arc­tic since 2003 — all to boost U.S. ter­ri­to­rial claims if and when the U.S. rat­i­fies the Law of the Sea treaty. Boon or boon­dog­gle?

Ex­pert opin­ion is di­vided on the min­eral and en­ergy wealth to be tapped in the Arc­tic.

Breath­less pro­jec­tions that the re­gion could hold a quar­ter of the world’s en­ergy re­serves have been tem­pered in re­cent days.

An ex­ten­sive 2006 study by con­sult­ing firms Wood Macken­zie and Fu­gro Robert­son con­cluded that Arc­tic en­ergy re­serves are “sig­nif­i­cantly less that pre­vi­ous es­ti­mates had sug­gested” and were not likely to pose a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the Pe­tro­leum Ex­port­ing Coun­tries.

“This as­sess­ment ba­si­cally calls into ques­tion the long-con­sid­ered view that the Arc­tic rep- re­sents one of the last great oil and gas fron­tiers and a strate­gic en­ergy-sup­ply cache for the United States,” study au­thor Andrew Latham wrote.

It may turn out that the sea routes opened up by melt­ing Arc­tic ice may prove the big­ger long-term eco­nomic boon. The North­west Pas­sage could re­shape the world’s mar itime trade, cut­ting, for ex­am­ple, the voy­age from Tokyo to New York from 11,300 miles to 8,700 miles.

Mr. Baev said Rus­sia may have sac­ri­ficed its long-term in­ter­ests for short-term gain with the flag-plant­ing mis­sion. It may, he said, spur the U.S. to fi­nally rat­ify the Law of the Sea treaty and unite the four other Arc­tic claimants against Moscow.

The “main risk” for Moscow, he said, is not con­fronta­tion with the U.S. “but that the four Arc­tic states, plus pos­si­bly the United King­dom [. . . ] would join forces against Rus­sia.” Se­nate sea bat­tle

How the Arc­tic land grab will af­fect the com­ing Se­nate de­bate on the Law of the Sea treaty is an open ques­tion, but both sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of the pact say it will pro­vide a cru­cial test of U.S. at­ti­tudes to­ward the United Na­tions and am­bi­tious mul­ti­lat­eral agree­ments on trade, the en­vi­ron­ment and law.

Con­ceived as a global pact to es­tab­lish mar­itime-nav­i­ga­tion prac­tices, the treaty evolved into a far more am­bi­tious pro­gram to cod­ify and en­force rules on the high seas.

The lengthy treaty out­lines not only coastal sovereignty rights, but nav­i­ga­tion prac­tices for com­mer­cial and mil­i­tary ves­sels, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and ex­ploita­tion guide­lines for min­ing, fish­ing, en­ergy ex­plo­ration and other busi­nesses that tap the wealth of the world’s oceans.

Treaty sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing such con­ser­va­tive le­gal ex­perts as Univer­sity of Vir­ginia law pro­fes­sor John Nor­ton Moore, ar­gue the U.S. was the big win­ner in the Law of the Sea ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The U.S. will have a vast exclusive eco­nomic zone be­cause of its ex­ten­sive coast­line. U.S. firms will read­ily ex­ploit the oceans’ min­eral and en­ergy wealth with clear proper ty rights in place. U.S. mil­i­tary ves­sels can carry on their global du­ties while ex­empt from the treaty’s com­mer­cial re­stric­tions.

Treaty op­po­nents counter with one big idea — a deep dis­trust of the United Na­tions — and a host of ob­jec­tions to spe­cific pro­vi­sions that they say will ham­string the U.S. mil­i­tary and sub­ject U.S. cor­po­ra­tions to an un­friendly, un­elected global bu­reau­cracy.

If the treaty drafters had stuck to the orig­i­nal, mod­est man­date on nav­i­ga­tion, “this treaty would have sailed through,” ac­cord­ing to Her­itage Foun­da­tion an­a­lyst Baker Spring.

RTR TV via As­so­ci­ated Press

A Rus­sian minia­ture sub­ma­rine is low­ered from the re­search ves­sel Akademik Fy­o­dorov mo­ments be­fore div­ing into the Arc­tic Ocean be­neath the North Pole Aug. 2.

As­so­ci­ated Press

With Mount McKin­ley as a back­drop, a climb­ing guide stu­dent skis across a glacier in Alaska, a state that one of its sen­a­tors says makes the U.S. “an Arc­tic na­tion.”

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