The Opportunity Costs of Ignoring the Law of Sea Convention in the Arctic01 January 2013
The paper begins by briefly surveying the extent to which the convention’s provisions intersect with United States interests in the Arctic. Not surprisingly, there is extensive overlap. The paper then reviews arguments that UNCLOS is irrelevant or even antithetical to achieving these important U.S. interests. After critiquing the anti-UNCLOS arguments, the paper examines the case for UNCLOS. The paper focuses in particular on U.S. interests on the Arctic seafloor, arguing that these interests are extensive and that accession would help avert a wide range of potential political, legal, and regulatory challenges from foreign governments and corporations. The possibility of such challenges creates political and legal uncertainty as long as the United States remains outside the convention and provides a bona fide disincentive for U.S.-licensed corporations to undertake the type of exploration and development activities necessary to realize a host of offshore benefits. Moreover, by staying outside UNCLOS, the United States is forfeiting an opportunity to reinforce a favorable Arctic legal regime that could face pressure from non-Arctic nations in the future. The paper concludes by recommending that the U.S. accede to UNCLOS at the soonest opportunity.