Testimony of Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr.: The United States as an Arctic Nation: Opportunities in the High North (December 10, 2014)
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United States engagement with international partners in this region is extremely important, as governance of the Arctic region falls to the United States and the seven other Arctic States: Canada, Iceland, Denmark (through Greenland), Finland, Russia, Norway, and Sweden. International cooperation takes place in multiple fora, such as the Arctic Council, International Maritime Organization, and the new Arctic Coast Guard Forum. Each of these serves a purpose to advance specific priorities and affords the opportunity to engage with appropriate delegations. By and large, our international Arctic engagement takes place through the Arctic Council, the preeminent forum for international diplomacy on Arctic matters.
Unfortunately, our engagement with Russia, in particular on Arctic issues, is complicated by Russia’s aggressive action in Ukraine and attempted occupation of Crimea. But we have worked with Russia on Arctic issues during past political crises and are maintaining activities related to protecting the Arctic environment, ensuring maritime safety, including search and rescue, and enforcing laws. We also continue to work with Russia in multilateral fora, including under the auspices of the Arctic Council, and our allies are following similar policies.
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While the United States has a significant amount of ECS in the Arctic, as a non-party to the Law of the Sea Convention, the U.S. is at a significant disadvantage relative to the other Arctic Ocean coastal States. Those States are parties to the Convention, and are well along the path to obtaining legal certainty and international recognition of their Arctic ECS.
Becoming a Party to the Law of the Sea Convention would allow the United States to fully secure its rights to the continental shelf off the coast of Alaska, which is likely to extend out to more than 600 nm. However, only as a Party would we put our rights on the firmest legal footing and have access to the Convention’s procedure that would maximize legal certainty and international recognition of the U.S. continental shelf that extends beyond 200 nm. U.S. accession is a matter of geostrategic importance in the Arctic (where all other Arctic nations, including Russia, are Parties and can fully secure their continental shelf rights). The Administration remains committed to acceding to the LOS Convention as a high priority.