U.S. at a disadvantage in Arctic Council discussions by not being a member of UNCLOS
[ Page 16 ]
The United States’ continued failure to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, despite broad, bipartisan consensus on its importance undermines our nation’s credibility in international marine affairs and diminishes our influence in international forums such as the Arctic Council. Since it was negotiated under Ronald Reagan, every president has supported ratification, and failure to ratify is preventing the United States from defining territorial claims in the Arctic under international law. This leaves us at a disadvantage to every other Arctic Council member. The Obama administration, as part of its comprehensive planning for the Arctic Ocean, should elevate efforts to secure Senate ratification of this treaty after the midterm elections. This effort should include renewed coordination with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, as well as high-level outreach to all members of the Senate to convey the vital importance of UNCLOS to U.S. commercial, scientific, and security interests in the Arctic Ocean. The administration should call on former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to jointly encourage ratification.
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.