Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Refuting Arctic Misconceptions and Misinformation

On 22 June 2009, the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) published a noteworthy article by Alastair Cameron, “The Arctic Uncovered: Refuting the Last Colonial Grab Theory.”  The article (summarized here) appears in the institute’s monthly Newsbrief and is available for purchase at the RUSI website.

The article makes a short but useful contribution to correcting the rampant misconceptions in the media and elsewhere that the circumpolar Arctic states are heading for conflict or engaged in some form of land grab.  Cameron disagrees that an “energy free-for-all” is underway in the Arctic, pointing to the fact that many of the major petroleum fields identified by the USGS in recent studies are believed to be within Russia’s EEZ.  He lays out the orderly legal process by which states are gathering data under the Law of the Sea Convention for submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf; and speaks of “spirit of international co-operation which has so far been fostered through the Arctic Council and the Ilulissat Declaration.”  He counters perceptions of a military buildup by speaking of the special challenges in the Arctic, observing that these are “best tackled in partnership” yet also speaks of the special and difficult relationship between NATO and Russia, querying what role the alliance should have in the High North.  The complete article expands cogently but significantly on each of these points.


Camreron is Head, European Security Programme, of RUSI, which is self-described as an “independent think tank engaged in cutting edge defence and security research.”  RUSI is based in London, with offices in Doha, Qatar and Washington, D.C.


Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.