The Arctic’s Changing Landscape Addressing New Maritime Challenges
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In May 2008, the United States signed the Ilulissat Declaration, an agreement among the five coastal states bordering the Arctic Ocean to abide by the customary law of the sea framework, even while it has not yet ratified the broadly accepted United Nation Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).10 While the Ilulissat Declaration establishes the body of law for managing the rights and obligations of states specifically within the Arctic Ocean, UNCLOS provides the primary mechanism for peaceful resolution of disputes and recognizes underwater territorial boundaries on the extended continental shelf.
Without ratification of UNCLOS, the United States lacks the legal power to contest the claims of other states in issues of overlapping maritime boundaries and the rights to resources on the continental shelf. This could give rise to what the international legal community terms excessive maritime claims. Therefore, unless the United States ratifies UNCLOS, the nation cannot properly protect its freedom of navigation as well as natural resource, energy and environmental interests in the Arctic.11
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The United States should accede to UNCLOS and file an internationally accepted claim for jurisdic- tion over the continental shelf extending beyond the 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone. In taking this step, the United States would legitimize its claim to nearly 300,000 square miles of sovereign underwater territory for scientific exploration, marine stewardship and natural resource exploration and extraction.38 Most importantly, acceding to UNCLOS would protect the nation’s sovereignty, ensure freedom of navigation in the Arctic for U.S. commercial and military vessels and prevent competing maritime claims against U.S. sovereignty.