This fall, the United States will ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and will automatically become a member of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Once Washington occupies its seat at the negotiating table with Russia, it is likely to contest Moscow's justifications for its Arctic bid. Quite possibly, other Arctic nations will side with Washington. This may lead to a major international dispute between Russia and the West.
However, Moscow has adopted a more than philosophical attitude to the dash for Arctic riches. "Let Western countries fight. Probably they have a chance of winning. But we are already at the North Pole and have planted our flag there. We will remain the first polar explorers in history to have been at the Arctic Ocean's bottom," said Artur Chilingarov, head of the Russian expedition and deputy speaker of the State Duma (the parliament). Incidentally, he deemed it necessary to emphasize that the Russian expedition primarily pursued scientific goals.
However, few people believe that Russia's interest in the Arctic is exclusively scientific, all the more so since Russian policymakers and scientists do not deny that the results obtained by the Russian expedition will be submitted to the UN Commission. It will decide how the Arctic's borders will be drawn and who will receive boundless Arctic riches. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that the Arctic Ocean seabed contains about a quarter of the world's oil and huge deposits of diamonds, gold, platinum, tin, nickel and lead. Moreover, experts believe that by 2040 ice melt caused in the Arctic by global warming will make production and transportation of its mineral resources much easier and cheaper.Today, nobody doubts that the Arctic and its riches will be divided. But its delimitation may become one step towards a more far sweeping redivision of the globe.
Humankind is becoming more numerous with every passing year, and its industrial potential keeps growing. Our planet is becoming more and more crowded. This is why we should expect what has hitherto been considered no-man's land to be re-divided in the next ten years. The Antarctic will follow the Arctic, and the ocean floor will follow suit. Once the ice and the seabed are divided, the growing and successful nations may look to territories, which, in their view, some countries are not using effectively.
Another international dispute between Russia and the West?
Kamil Bekyashev, Professor
Now Russia is facing an important task - to convince the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf that the Lomonosov and Mendeleyev ridges are an extension of its mainland.
The shelf limits delineated by the coastal states in accordance with the Commission's recommendations are final and obligatory for all.
If a coastal state disagrees with the recommendations, it may file a revised or new claim to the Commission within a reasonable time limit.
If Russia presents the Commission with indisputable and 100% authentic evidence in support of its Arctic claims in the near future, the latter will review it for a three to five year period. Preparations for border delineation and the publication of maps will take the same amount of time.
Be this as it may, the efforts of Russian ocean explorers can already produce positive results. Their information provides the groundwork for the adoption of Russia's federal law on the Arctic and revision of the operating laws on its continental shelves and mineral resources.
But Russia's attempts to extend its continental shelf in the Arctic by a thousand and more miles may lead to the revision of Article 6 of the Convention, which determines the continental shelf's legal status. It was previously agreed that a shelf cannot be wider than 350 miles. Now Russia is trying to expand its shelf beyond the universally accepted limits.
Professor Kamil Bekyashev is the head of the international law chair at the Moscow State Law Academy
"The results of the Russian expedition to the North Pole should become the core of Russia's stance on the ownership of part of the Arctic shelf.
"As to the legal aspect of the matter, we from the outset said "that this expedition was part of the big work being carried out under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea".
The initially recoverable hydrocarbon reserves of the Arctic have been estimated at 136 billion metric tons (999.6 billion barrels) of conventional fuel, or 25% of the world's total.
Russian companies catch about 3 million crabs in the Arctic, and begin industrial fishing for salmon, whales, fur seals, capelin, cod, herring, and smelt in the next few years.
3 US Expedition
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the Coast Guard cutter Healy, which left the port of Seattle, Washington on August 6, and a team of scientists from the University of New Hampshire's Joint Hydrographic Center and the National Science Foundation would start exploring the Arctic seafloor August 17. Scientists will explore this region to understand its potential for including this area within the United States' extended continental shelf. The U.S. expedition follows a Russian Arctic trip in late July.
Mike McDowell, who took part in the recent expedition to the North Pole and went 4,000 metres below sea-level there, shared his experience with Russia Today. Find his interview at www.russiatoday.ru/guests/video/325
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