Russia is making this claim using a mechanism of LOST, which allows a state party to claim an extension to its continental shelf – and therefore extend its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – if that state can provide evidence to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (a LOST body) showing a natural extension of the shelf as part of its territory. Russia previously made a similar claim before the Commission in 2001, which the Commission did not accept at the time. Russia is now likely to make a second bid based on the data it has recently gathered.
The Proponents’ claims:
“The Russian Government is pursuing a claim under their right to do so as members of the Law of the Sea Convention. This is something that unfortunately, the United States is not in a position to do because we have yet to ratify that convention and it’s one of the reasons why we are interested and supportive of having that treaty be ratified by the U.S. Senate.” U.S. State Department Spokesman, August 2007.
- Russia’s claims are completely without technical merit. The Lomonosov Ridge is not an extension of Russia’s continental shelf. Rather, it is a separate geological formation not connected to the Russian shelf and, therefore, providing no basis for Moscow’s territorial claims. Even the Law of the Sea Treaty itself explicitly states that a country’s continental shelf “does not include the deep ocean floor with its oceanic ridges or the subsoil thereof.”
- In addition to securing exclusive rights to the Arctic seabed’s natural resources, Russia is likely trying to use its claim to provoke the United States into joining LOST – a treaty that is disadvantageous to the United States. LOST was created by the former Soviet Union and its allies in the Third World as a means of promoting supranational government mechanisms they could control at the expense of their American and other Western adversaries. LOST’s agenda of global wealth redistribution and its negative implications for American sovereignty and U.S. military and economic equities serves the Kremlin’s interests, but not those of the United States.
- Given the geological realities and the Treaty’s own terms, the willingness of the Continental Shelf Commission even to consider Russia’ claims to the Arctic seabed is indicative of a serious problem with LOST. The Commission is blatantly ignoring a clear provision of LOST – a troubling indicator of what the U.S. can expect from LOST tribunals.
- Since LOST explicitly declares that a country’s continental shelf does not include underwater ridges, the Commission’s readiness once again take up the Russian case begs the question: As so often happens in UN agencies, will political considerations influence the outcome?
The Commission currently has only two Arctic members, Russia and Norway. A simple majority vote by non-Arctic states – perhaps engineered by Russian pressure and/or bribes – could result in decisions that would be binding on all member nations. If the United States were a state party to LOST, it would likely still be outvoted –yet obliged to accept the Commission’s unsatisfactory dictates.
- In this case, the consequences of such a decision would be preposterous – even absurd: Russia would have sole economic rights to the vast natural resources of the central Arctic Ocean. This would essentially give Russia a virtual monopoly over the North Pole region.
- Acceptance of Russia’s claim would, moreover, invite other countries to make similarly ludicrous claims. If Russia can assert its ownership of a submerged mid-ocean ridge, then Iceland and the Azores would have grounds to stake claims to most of the North Atlantic’s seabeds, since those islands are an integral part of the Atlantic mid-ocean ridge. The same argument could be made by any one of the numerous island countries that are part of an undersea ridge complex.
- Importantly, the United States was able to play a role in the Commission’s non-acceptance of Russia’s first claim to the Arctic seabed back in 2001 even though it was not a party to LOST – and, therefore, not at risk of being bound by adverse Commission decisions. This episode demonstrates that, by remaining outside of the Treaty, America can retain its freedom of action (including the use of bilateral diplomacy and more constructive multilateral mechanisms, such as the Arctic Council) and still challenge such over-reaching Russian claims and win.