United States Stewardship of the Last Frontier: To what extent could the U.S. lead negotiations toward the setting up of an International Marine Peace Park in the Arctic High Seas?
With the melting of the Arctic sea ice, the issue of the Arctic “scramble” has drawn considerable media and academic attention. The Arctic's changing conditions raise strategic, environmental, economic, political and geopolitical issues. Sea-ice decline opens access to the Arctic Ocean for shipping, tourism and natural resources exploitation. This potential rush – conducted by whoever, state or business, has the legal right and the technical capacity to seize these opportunities – makes the high seas portion of the Arctic Ocean and more precisely the area beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) appear as the “last frontier.” Historically speaking, the American Arctic fits in the construction of the American Frontier. Though the on-land frontier has ended, the off-shore frontier has been so far relatively unexploited but highly coveted. Being ice-covered, the high seas portion of the Arctic Ocean has an ambiguous status. The high seas – in the form of water – are governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS – 1982) and are not subject to state sovereignty. Being international waters, they are an international commons. Under article 76 of this convention, however, sovereign states can file a claim for the extension of the outer limits of their continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles – limits that corresponds to states' exclusive economic zones (EEZs). The extension “shall not exceed 350 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured” (Article 76 §6) but can lead to overlapping claims between the Arctic coastal states. This process is currently going on and if accepted, Arctic coastal states may see the area over which they have jurisdiction extended. Thus, they will obtain extended sovereign rights over the exploration and exploitation of natural resources of the seabed – including oil and gas deposits and other minerals and biological resources. The Russian Federation, Norway, Denmark (via Greenland) and Canada have all submitted their claims. The U.S. however is not party to UNCLOS – since the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the convention – and thus cannot make an official claim or cannot review or contest other states' claims. The U.S. has however conducted the necessary scientific research. This poses two significant issues. First, the biodiversity of the Arctic's fragile environment as well as its people and their culture may be jeopardized by the competition for access to and use of the ABNJ. Second, the United States as a non-party to UNCLOS is disadvantaged in this competition. A potential solution would be to drop these claims and set aside the high seas portion of the Arctic Ocean in the form of an international marine peace park. Such a protected area would guarantee UNCLOS provisions for the high seas and would go further in environmental protection and international cooperation by making the Arctic ABNJ free from exploitation. The goal of my project is thus to analyze the role the United States could play in such a scenario.