Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: Law of the Sea Convention, not military involvement, is the basis for activity in the Arctic

In an exclusive interview with Voice of Russia on July 13, Sergei Lavrov, the Minster of Foreign Affairs for the Russian Federation, reiterated that the law of the sea convention is the basis for maintaining security in the Arctic.  He made clear that there is no problem in the Arctic requiring military involvement and emphasized the importance of the law of the sea convention as the foundation for international cooperation in the Arctic.

Lavrov took the opportunity presented by a question on Russia's plans for a new submission to the Commission on the Continental Shelf in 2012 to make his point:

"Interviewer:  You know, it`s been mentioned that Moscow will submit a claim next year to the UN to expand its Arctic shelf borders. Other nations including the US have also increased their activities in the region, and it is described by some analysts as a new re-division of the Arctic. How do you see the role of Russia in this process and does it need to increase its military presence there as the US and Canada do?   May the future of the Arctic be resolved peacefully?

Lavrov:  Well, first of there is no such thing as redesigning of the Arctic landscape and redesigning the legal regime of the Arctic. The five coastal states, the Arctic Five so to say, back in 2008 agreed during their meeting that there is no single problem in the region that cannot be resolved on the basis of existing law, this law being the international Convention of 1982.
Then this position was endorsed by the entire Arctic Council which is composed by eight Arctic states and you now the fact that this is really the case was demonstrated by the signature and entry into force of the Russian-Norwegian agreement on de-limitation in the Barents Sea area.
There is no single issue in the area that would require any military presence of the non-regional actors, be it countries or organizations. The Arctic Five, Russia, the US, Canada, Norway and Denmark are perfectly capable of maintaining the necessary level of security, the freedom of shipping and safety of the shipping and we are open to other countries who want to cooperate but on the basis of the rules of the game established by the Arctic countries.
We met last May in Greenland, in the city of Nuuk, as the Arctic Council ministerial meeting and we adopted the first pan-Arctic legally binding agreement on search and rescue and instructed our experts to draft a Treaty on how you fight oil spills. We also endorsed the rules for observers who want to participate in the work of the Arctic Council which provide for them to be parties to projects like exploration of oil and gas, transportation of oil, gas and other commodities through the Northern Sea route, participation in scientific research and many other activities.
But I would like to emphasize once again that there’s no problem requiring any military involvement in the Arctic. Everything must be and should be on the basis of the international convention of the law of the sea and it’s a common position of the members of the Arctic Council, including Russia and the US." (Emphasis added.)

The Russian research vessel the Akademik Fedorov embarked earlier this month for another summer of mapping related to the the Russian continental shelf submission.

For a digital recording of Voice of Russia's entire interview with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and its full text, see the Voice of Russia report for July 13, 2011.

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.