Arctic Polarization

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has endorsed the problematic Law of the Sea Treaty, arguing that it will improve America's position in the ongoing skuffle for territory near the North Pole. Interestingly, the treaty itself is at least partly responsible for the Arctic conflict. David Sands explains:

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 further 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….

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

An alternative narrative for liberal readers: Blame it on global warming.

Canada has been among the most aggressive nations in asserting its Arctic territorial 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.

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  1. So we have to hurry up and ratify a treaty, or other states might use that treaty to make territorial claims that we don’t have to recognize if we don’t ratify the treaty?

    That seems odd.

  2. 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.

    Bigger is better, size matters, and screw the little guy.

  3. *passes Vlad the Enzyte*

  4. Funny you should mention that – I find those commercials creepy as hell. The only one I liked was the Japanese one they got so much PC shit for.

    “He is wood that will not bend.”

  5. 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.

    Hooray for global warming! Opening up new transportation routes, facilitating globalization and making the whole world wealthier. Leave a legacy to your grandchildren, burn a tree.

  6. Plate tectonics are great for expanding territory, but science be damned if it interferes with my fairy tale/God…

  7. I googled this up for fun. It looks like the Danes and the Canucks have the best claims. Both nations have a long history of non-agression and respect for human and commercial rights.

    Let them split it.

  8. 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.

    This whole thing sets up for a fantastically complicated and creeping set of problems. Here’s how this should work:

    Your contry ends at the beach– if you want to get it exactly, it can officially end at your measured low-tide mark. The same rules for off-shore buffers exist. International waters etc.

    But correct me if I’m wrong, but once we start measuring the underwater ‘coastal shelves’, doesn’t this blow away the “international waters” concept altogether?

  9. LOST also says the seas are “peaceful” and might used to limit _legal_ arms trading. Mostly it could affect small arms, since governments never restrict their own rights to arm themselves.

  10. J sub D

    The real reason that the Canadian Government is pushing for sovereign control is environmental concerns. The US has run it’s nuclear subs through for 40+ years without problems*, but a Liberian rustbucket sinking there would be very difficult to clean up. Recovery would be very slow because things grow far more slowly in the arctic.

    *except for inducing apoplexy in the hard-core Canadian Nationalists (read: anti-American frothers).

    1. No, the real reason is that some countries don’t recognize Canada’s internal waters in northern Nunavut as being theirs.

  11. As much as I’d like to believe that noticing that the reduction in Arctic ice has opened up a shipping passage is an exclusively liberal phenomenon, fairness compels me to observe that conservatives and even a few libertarians are capable of telling the difference between ice and water, too.

  12. Aresen, I made that proposal only half in jest.

  13. joe,

    Of course:

    Ice = cover

    Water = Profit!

  14. Or more accurately, just think of all the technological, enviro-friendly progress we can make with the added wealth of the arctic?

  15. Thanks, Aresen. I was a little puzzled about that NW Passage statement.

    Shucks, if the US & Canada can’t share and play nicely, is there hope for anyone?

  16. I don’t want to sound russophobic, but what the hell. If you take Russia out of the Arctic Ocean mix all of the other players would resolve this reasonably, fairly and quietly. It’s a big fat non-issue but fot the Russians.

    Am I wrong?

  17. J sub D-
    Well, maybe. It may be quieter, but not necessarily reasonably or fairly. More precisely, it may not resolve in a way that makes and keeps everyone happy. The US & Canada don’t really share and play as nicely as you would think with, for example, the Grand Banks fishing rights. It’s not the Kasmir, but IIRC their have been shootings on interlopers by each side.

  18. Fuck Russia,

    Putin is a tyrant of the highest order. The shit he’s pulling in Chechnya right now is chilling…

  19. fairness compels me to observe that conservatives and even a few libertarians are capable of telling the difference between ice and water, too.

    The world is getting warmer. Is it because of my 4wd vehicle, or is it because of that pesky solar activity?

    Hmm, can’t do anything about solar activity, but hey, we sure can control other people’s lives if we blame it on their personal activity. Let’s choose Paul’s 4wd vehicle.

  20. J sub D,

    You aren’t wrong.

    It’s becoming more and more apparent that Morganthau was right, and our Soviet problem was and always has been a Russia problem.

    Murderous, expansionist monarchists. Murderous, expansionist socialists. Murderous, expansionist republicans. They just don’t play well with others.

  21. As much as I’d like to believe that noticing that the reduction in Arctic ice has opened up a shipping passage is an exclusively liberal phenomenon, fairness compels me to observe that conservatives and even a few libertarians are capable of telling the difference between ice and water, too.

    Are my jokes getting more inscrutable with age, Joe? Or are you just riffing?

  22. They just don’t play well with others.

    All cultures are not equally moral, huh?
    joe, Won’t they fine you for that at the liberal democrat confab? 😉

  23. Sorry if this is off topic, but have I missed Jacob Sullum’s analysis of the SF Bay Oil Spill?

    I am pretty sure that the enviros are oppressing the free market here by demanding speically skilled pilots, by trying to find a universal health care solution for the dying birds and sea animals, and by noting the destruction and loss of the crab and fishing markets around SF Bay.

    For the life of me, I am not sure why Busan and others haven’t just paved the SF Bay long ago, because it would make it easier for them to bring their cheap shoes and shirts and pickles to the United States.

    I await Sullum as he fights to keep anyone from being fined for this, with the possible exception of the Sierra Club.

    Thanks!

  24. Law of the Sea type stuff goes back to Grotius. Part of the reason for this present treaty is to clarify and simplify a set of inconsistent definitions from prior sea treaties. (Continental shelf vs. continental sea floor vs. 200 miles from land)

    There’s a great book I read about sea law affecting oil rigs, the different type of oil rigs (floating vs. tethered), when is an oil rig to be considered a “sea-going vessel” vs. a stationary object/island.

    If Libertarians want to rip up the latest Law of the Sea treaty, go ahead. Just figure out what you want to put in its place and how you’re going to mollify a lot of really pissed off people. And hope you don’t mind paying higher prices and not having certain undersea oil sites developed because of legal uncertainty.

  25. I am not sure why Busan and others haven’t just paved the SF Bay long ago

    Think local, pave global!

  26. Jesse Walker: congratulations! This is for you:

    |>

    Yes, that’s right. For being the first Reason contributor that I know of to mention the LOST – and to even say it’s “problematic” – you win 1/8 of a cookie. Enjoy!

    And, here I thought Reason would endorse LOST, seeing as it’s an globalist powergrab that would let the UN engage in the equivalent of GlobalTaxation.

    Congratulations again, and for those who’d like more information, see this brief intro or the many documents linked here:

    http://www.eagleforum.org/topics/LOST/

  27. Don’t really have time to argue why LOST (or UNCLOS)is not all that much of a problem (or really much of a big deal), one comment on the central theorem of the contra-LOST position:

    for the treaty’s true intent – to subvert the overwhelming economic and military advantages of the United States.

    I have a cynical faith in the US government to ‘work around’ any treaty obligations that conflict with US national interests. You can ask the Native Americans on our track record in that regard.

  28. Oh, yeah, maritime law disputes go way the hell back… and I don’t believe you’ll find a single case in which a nation put forth an interpretation that conflicted with its then current political or economic interests. Which is why I can’t believe that any treaty will ever settle the matter.

    And Joe’s actually kinda right about Russia (whoa, that feels weird) – it doesn’t matter who’s in charge, their political and economic interests are pretty much constant… control of the near abroad, a strong eastern border, access to a warm-water port etc. Putin’s a jerk, no doubt, but Russia isn’t going to abruptly discover new priorities in international relations with a new leader.

  29. And hope you don’t mind paying higher prices and not having certain undersea oil sites developed because of legal uncertainty.

    You’re kidding, right?

  30. Putin’s a jerk, no doubt, but Russia isn’t going to abruptly discover new priorities in international relations with a new leader.

    Is that true for all countries, or just Russia?

  31. They melted the ice and they put up a parking lot.

  32. Putin’s a jerk, no doubt, but Russia isn’t going to abruptly discover new priorities in international relations with a new leader.

    I would say that depends on the leader. I mean, aren’t we constantly hearing about the new priorities in international relations that the US will “discover” once we ashcan teh Chimpler?

  33. Paul–I’m not. There already have been several cases (Norway/Sweden) where certain potential sites for drilling were left alone because of confusion over who actually “owned” the territory due to conflicting definitions in previous treaties.

    Think of this Law of the Sea Treaty as a codification, pruning, and clearing up of the mess of regulatory stuff that has already been passed.

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