Friday, May 11, 2012

American Arctic highlighted as key reason for U.S. to join the Law of the Sea Convention

A diverse, bipartisan coalition of politicians, military leaders, corporate interests and environmental groups  has launched a new initiative, The American Sovereignty Campaign, to urge US accession to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in the current Congress. The site provides multiple fact sheets, an interactive map and background on why each of the coalition groups supports the Convention. For example, representatives of Lockheed Martin Corporation, Level 3 Communications, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute – "made the business case for Law of the Sea Treaty ratification" at a recent Forum sponsored by the Atlantic Council and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The United States is the only Arctic State that is not a party to the LOS Convention, having first submitted the treaty to the U.S. Senate for approval in 1994, but has not yet acceded to it. Denmark and Canada joined the treaty in 2004 and 2003 respectively. Until the US accedes to the treaty it cannot submit its data regarding the extent of the US extended continental shelf (ECS) to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, established under the treaty. Without a Commission recommendation regarding such data, the legal foundation for US ECS limits is much less certain than if the US were a party to the LOS Convention.

The ASC website also addresses arguments, many of them unfounded,  raised by treaty opponents. For example, the site sets straight the record showing that former President Reagan's initial objections to the convention have been resolved.

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.