U.S. must adopt cooperative multilateral approach by ratifying UNCLOS if it wants to regain leadership role in Arctic
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A cooperative approach among international partners is key to ensuring U.S. interests are met within the Arctic region. A multinational effort is essential to ensure both human safety and appropriate environmental stewardship. A unilateral U.S. approach is simply not feasible. However, as the world’s sole superpower and as a contiguous Arctic nation, it is imperative that the U.S. assumes an Arctic leadership role within the international community.
Perhaps the most important step for the U.S. is to ratify UNCLOS in order to establish the legitimacy of U.S. leadership among the other stakeholders who have interests in the Arctic. This would partner the United States with the seven other Arctic nations (Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland), along with six indigenous organizations that are permanent members of the Arctic Council.52 This multinational assembly meets semiannually and “provides the greatest potential for a comprehensive resolution of environmental and governance issues in the Arctic.”53 NSPD-66/HSPD-25 clearly acknowledges that the “Arctic Council has produced positive results for the United States by working within its limited mandate of environmental protection and sustainable development.”54 U.S. representation on the Arctic Council has slowly increased since its first meeting in 1996. In fact, in March 2010 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her counterparts from Canada, Russia, Denmark, and Norway in Chelsea, Quebec, as part of the Arctic Ocean Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. This meeting affirmed the importance of the Arctic Council, its membership, and the need for “new thinking on economic development and environmental protection.”55 However, the Arctic Council is hindered by its “lack of regulatory authority and the mandate to enact or enforce cooperative security-driven initiatives.”56 Although very useful for “scientific assessments” and “policy-relevant knowledge”, the Council does not address military concerns.57
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.