Arctic Imperatives Reinforcing U.S. Strategy on America’s Fourth Coast
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The United States benefits from a rules-based international order that enhances economic well-being, respects human rights and human dignity, and supports mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of disputes while providing for territorial integrity and defense of the United States and its allies. In the Arctic, which is in rapid flux due to the changing climate, no one country can manage the coming challenges alone. A collective approach is needed to mitigate and adapt to changing realities, advance scientific understanding, and build resilience and capacity; the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is part of this rule-based order.
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More than 160 countries have ratified the treaty, but the United States remains an outlier. The Bush and Obama administrations both supported approval of the convention, but opposition in the U.S. Senate remains. Opponents charge that UNCLOS accession is unnecessary for defending U.S. interests in the Arctic and would require the United States to cede sovereignty to an international body. Yet without the treaty, the United States cannot claim and use resources beyond its two-hundred-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and other countries could have their overlapping claims substantiated by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (map 1).
Recognizing the political obstacles, the Task Force strongly urges the U.S. Senate to provide its advice and consent for the ratification of UNCLOS and recommends that the Trump administration make this a high priority for its work with the Senate. The Task Force finds that the convention would serve U.S. national security, economic, and environmental interests. It would also codify U.S. legal rights to exploit oil and gas resources on the ECS of the coast of Alaska, mine valuable minerals on the deep seabed, and lay and service submarine telecommunications cables. The United States should secure these resources to retain economic and strategic choices in the future. Even friendly neighbors are moving to claim these resources; the United States should not lose out.