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Arctic Treasure

Author: John B. Bellinger III, Adjunct Senior Fellow for International and National Security Law
May 19, 2011
Foreign Policy


Last Saturday, with U.S. gas prices at record highs, President Obama announced the administration's plans to boost domestic oil and gas production by expanding drilling and exploration in U.S. coastal waters, including in the Gulf of Mexico and off of Alaska. But the president missed an important opportunity to endorse an international agreement that would codify U.S. sovereign rights to vast additional oil and gas deposits under the Arctic Ocean off of Alaska: the Law of the Sea Convention. The omission was especially puzzling after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while participating in a summit of the nine Arctic Council countries held two days previously in Nuuk, Greenland, declared U.S. ratification of the treaty "way overdue." The president should capitalize on calls by congressional Republicans and the oil and gas industry to increase domestic oil and gas production by urging the Senate to ratify the Convention this year.

The Law of the Sea Convention was negotiated in 1982 to provide a comprehensive legal framework to govern international activities in, over, and under the world's oceans. Today, 160 countries are parties. The treaty guarantees all countries the right to freedom of navigation through and over the territorial seas of coastal states. With the largest fleet in the world, the U.S. Navy -- together with our Air Force, Army, Marines, and Coast Guard -- have long urged the Senate to approve the Convention in order to codify their critical navigational rights, which are often challenged by other countries.

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