U.S. participation in UNCLOS necessary to resolve Arctic dispute between Russia and Norway
From the U.S. perspective, the crucial issue is not merely the minerals that it can claim, but the potential for a major shift in the relative mineral wealth of Russia vis-a-vis its neighbors. A growing dispute between Russia and Norway is perhaps the most important of these. In 2001, Russia submitted its definition of its continental-shelf borders. Russia's claim is widely considered a significant overreach, since it claimed a shelf extending almost to the North Pole and it made territorial claims that impinged on oil- and natural gas-rich Norwegian claims (claims that have long been widely, if informally, acknowledged as belonging to Norway) in the Barents Sea. Though Norway's claim, released in late 2006, is in some ways more realistic, it appears to have been drafted to meet Russia's aggressive claim in kind.
With Russia increasingly aggressive in its use of oil and natural gas as a lever against Europe, it will fall in part to UNCLOS (and possibly the CLCS) to make decisions that will affect the reserves and production potential of Norway and Russia.
As it stands now, the CLCS is highly unlikely to support one side over the other, and it will throw the decision over the extent of continental shelf ownership to the two countries to negotiate, a resolution that bodes ill for Norway. Treaty advocates say this would not necessarily be the case if the United States were involved in the organization.
National security-focused advocates in the United States say the country's nonparticipation in UNCLOS shuts out Washington from being able to meaningfully influence how UNCLOS resolves the disputed claims. Industry, from oil and natural gas producers to their major customers in the chemical and transportation industries, also wants the United States to have a seat at the table.
Tension between Russia and other Arctic nations will remain high as they continue to compete for Arctic territory. Maintaining UNCLOS as a viable legal framework for settling Arctic territorial claims should help avert potential confrontations between Russia and other UNCLOS members.