Sovereignty in the Arctic: An Analysis of Territorial Disputes and Environmental Policy Considerations (2009)

A. Canada’s Claims to the Arctic

Canada is the world’s second largest circumpolar country. The extensive coastline of northern Canada and many of the islands of the Arctic Ocean fringing this coast are unequivocally Canadian territory. However, little else regarding Canadian Arctic territory is so resolute—not even its starting point, the baselines. Rather than the usual baselines determined by the low water line, Canada has drawn straight baselines around its Arctic Archipelago. Thus, Canada asserts that the straits between these islands, which are an essential route along the Northwest Passage, are internal waters and not subject to the right of innocent passage. This assertion, effectively enclosing the Northwest Passage as Canadian internal waters and giving Canada the right to exclude foreign ships or charge them tolls for their passage, is one of four main international disputes concurring Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.


B. The Russian Federation’s Claims to the Arctic

Leading the way on December 20, 2001, Russia was the first nation to submit its extended continental shelf claim. The international community received the bold claim to nearly half of the Arctic Ocean with condemnation. Russia’s submission declared 1.2 million square kilometers of Arctic territory stretching through the North Pole, including the potentially oil and gas-rich Lomonosov and Alpha-Mendeleev Ridges. This is about the size of Texas, California, and Indiana combined. Canada, Denmark, the U.S., and Norway could also claim portions of this region. Each of the other four Arctic powers made an official response to the Commission regarding Russia’s submission. Canada and Denmark tersely commented that more information was needed to make a recommendation regarding the delineation of the Russian extended continental shelf, while carefully reminding the Commission of its obligation under the LOS Convention to make recommendations without prejudicing the claims of bordering countries.


C. Norway’s Claims to the Arctic

On November 27, 2006, Norway became the second and only other Arctic nation besides Russia to submit an extended continental shelf claim to the Commission. Norway’s submission would extend its continental shelf by 250,000 square kilometers, including an area lying beneath the Norwegian Sea, called the Banana Hole, and an area under the Barents Sea, called the Loop Hole.

The Commission has yet to make a recommendation on the Norwegian submission. It is uncertain whether the Commission’s forthcoming decision will bring finality to the disputed area between Norway and Russia or if it will only add fuel to the fire.

D. Denmark’s Claims to the Arctic

Geographically, the Kingdom of Denmark is not within the Arctic region. However, because of its territory, Greenland, and its province, the Faroe Islands, Denmark’s potential claims to the Arctic are extensive. In fact, the Danish claim that their Arctic territory may extend from Greenland up to the North Pole via the potentially oil-rich Lomonosov Ridge. Denmark’s deadline to make its submission to the Commission is November 2014.


E. The United States of America’s Lack of Claims to the Arctic

The United States of America has not made an extended continental shelf claim because, as the only industrialized nation in the world that has not ratified the LOS Convention, it lacks the right. When the LOS Convention became open for signature in 1982, many industrialized nations were unwilling to adopt it, primarily opposing provisions dealing with deep seabed mining. However, by 1994, the Agreement Implementing Part XI and its Annex had been adopted, which the Administration of President William J. Clinton asserted had rectified the unacceptable provisions. Accordingly, the Clinton Administration announced that the U.S. would sign the treaty and sent it to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent. The Senate did not recommend ratification and, over ten years later, the treaty remains unratified despite President George W. Bush’s statement urging the Senate to “act favorably on U.S. accession to the [the LOS Convention].”

About this document ...

Sunken ship