U.S. must adopt multilateral approach to succeed in the Arctic region, starting with ratification of UNCLOS
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Global climate change is bringing about epochal transformation in the Arctic region, most notably through the melting of the polar ice cap. The impact of these changes, and how the global community reacts, may very well be the most important and far-reaching body of issues humanity has yet faced in this new century. A number of nations bordering the Arctic have made broad strides toward exercising their perceived sovereign rights in the region, and all except the United States have acceded to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which provides an international legal basis for these rights and claims.1 Similarly, while most Arctic nations have been planning, preparing, and program- ming resources for many years in anticipation of the Arctic thaw, the United States has been slow to act on any of the substantive steps necessary for the exercise of sovereign rights or the preservation of vital national interests in the region.2
The United States must move outside the construct of unilateral action in order to preserve its sovereign rights in the Arctic, capitalize on the opportunities available, and safeguard vital national interests in the region. In today’s budget-constrained environment and as a Nation at war with higher resource priorities in Iraq and Afghanistan than in the Arctic, it is unrealistic to believe that any significant allocation will be programmed for addressing this issue.3 Since the United States is too far behind in actions necessary to preserve its critical interests as compared to the other Arctic countries, the Nation must take the lead to cultivate a new multilateral partnership paradigm in the region.
By remaining outside of UNCLOS, the U.S. is ceding its leadership role in the region in a number of ways. First, and most importantly for the U.S. strategic and economic interests, by remaining outside of the treaty the U.S. is not able to submit its claims for the extended continental shelf in the Arctic to the CLCS, preventing U.S. industries from claiming mineral rights. Secondly, existing Arctic governance regimes are based on and rely on UNCLOS and the U.S. non-party status prevents it from contributing as a full partner, weakening the overall Arctic governance regime. Finally, U.S.