“This is such an important issue for the long-term economic health and well-being of the Arctic as well as, obviously, for Alaska,” Begich said. “It’s such a huge piece of the equation for what’s going to happen in the Arctic.”
The Law of the Sea Treaty, developed under the auspices of the United Nations, lays out each nation’s territorial waters and the exclusive economic zone each country can claim out to 200 miles into the ocean. It also has provisions to claim mineral resources on continental shelf areas past 200 miles.
To claim these resources under the treaty, the agreement must first be ratified. The United States is the only Arctic nation that has not ratified the treaty.
At a discussion of the Coast Guard Arctic Domain Awareness flight program earlier this year, commanding officer for Air Station Kodiak Capt. William Deal said resources in the Arctic have become a thorny international issue.
“There’s a lot of area out there that’s greatly disputed and has potential for a great deal of natural resources,” Deal said. “The U. S. Geological Survey has estimated that about a quarter of the earth’s undiscovered petroleum reserves are in the Arctic, as well as a whole bunch of other minerals that a lot of countries have a great deal of interest in harvesting.
“As the ice starts to retreat we are going to see a whole lot more activity,” Deal said.
Begich said it was his goal that discussions at the committee level would create a chance to push the treaty ratification forward.
Other U.S. senators such as James Inhofe, R-Okla., have objected to ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty on the grounds that it would hamper military operations and give power to an international agency that would settle disputes and levy taxes.
“I think there are a just a few members who just believe that somehow we give up sovereignty if we sign this treaty,” Begich said. “The fact is we’re not going to give up our sovereignty.”
Instead, it’s irresponsible for the U.S. not to be a party to the Law of the Sea, Begich said. He pointed to other pariah states such as North Korea and Iran who have also not ratified the treaty.
Lisa Murkowski, Alaska’s other U.S. senator, is also a strong advocate for ratification of the treaty. She recently discussed its ratification with Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey along with other Arctic policies during his first visit to Alaska.
Contact Mirror writer Wes Hanna at email@example.com.