Should ratify UNCLOS even if most Arctic benefits are not immediately available as UNCLOS establishes best long-term regime
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Arctic policymakers must also overcome the inertia arising from the fact that near-term prospects for industry action on the Arctic extended continental shelf and beyond seem remote. Potential Arctic benefits, no matter how lucrative, provide little political incentive for immediate action. Incentive is further reduced by the ease with which the United States has been able to enjoy many UNCLOS benefits without joining the convention. While this has contributed to a more stable maritime legal regime conducive to U.S. global interests, it has also led UNCLOS opponents to claim successfully—albeit unwisely, and, in some instances incorrectly—that the United States can continue to exploit all UNCLOS benefits without paying the minimal costs of UNCLOS membership. Application of this fallacy to the Arctic could be costly.
The United States should join UNCLOS to fully preserve U.S. Arctic interests. Although some of the convention’s most important advantages in the Arctic may not be immediately available, UNCLOS would allow the United States to preserve maximum flexibility today for developing offshore energy resources tomorrow. In addition, accession would reinforce a legal regime favorable to other important U.S. Arctic interests as well, and deter prospects for the UNCLOS to collapse or be revised to the detriment of U.S. interests.