Procedures of CLCS commission are empirically working with countries working peacefully together to resolve disputed claims
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For purposes of this assessment, however, the crucial point is that mechanisms exist for the peaceful establishment of these claims through the submission of scientific evidence to the Commission.58 And the Arctic states, including Russia, have been following the rules of the game, and, in some instances, working together to develop the necessary scientific data.59 It is important to keep in mind that while these claims may implicate very large tracts of territory (as Russia’s initial application certainly did), there is nothing inherently illegitimate about such claims; the extent of “the submerged prolongation of the land mass of the coastal State” and “the slope and the rise” of “the sea-bed and subsoil of the shelf” does not command a pari passu distribution of continental shelf among the Arctic states.60 In brief, some states’ shelves may simply be bigger than others. This outcome could be entirely consistent with the rule of law.
While there are legitimate reasons to be concerned that the Commission is overworked and understaffed, there is currently no indication that any country, Russia included, is prepared to charge ahead with an Arctic claim that has not received the Commission’s approval.61 Consistent with that view, it has emerged that February 2009 talks between Canada and Russia included discussion of a potential joint submission from Canada, Denmark, and Russia to the Commission.62 Such an application would not determine competing claims among the three countries, but would allow for demarcation of the area under the control of those coastal states from the area beyond. Furthermore, the collaboration required to produce a joint submission could itself be a valuable confidence-building measure that would defuse nascent disagreements over exactly where final borders should be drawn.
One way to determine the extent to which UNCLOS’s navigational provisions have achieved the status of binding international law is to study the behavior of nations. The consistent practice of states—maritime states, coastal states, UNCLOS members, and nonmembers—indicates that the UNCLOS navigational provisions are almost universally accepted law.