Monday, August 13, 2007

US Joins Arctic Land Grab?

By Cernig

Well no. Thanks to the Bush administration's policy of denying reality for so long, the US is still woefully behind the curve on one of the most important geopolitical developments of the 21st century. As prospects of Arctic ice melt have raised possibilities for trade via far shorter and soon ice-free Northern routes as well as opened up chances for mineral exploitation worth untold billions, the US has sat on its faith-based thumb. Meanwhile, nations like Russia, Canada and Denmark have been stealing a march on the world's only superpower.

The US actually could have a pretty good claim to some of those revealed riches, if it wanted to.
A U.S. Coast Guard cutter is headed to the Arctic this week on a mapping mission to determine whether part of this area can be considered U.S. territory, after recent polar forays by Russia and Canada.

The four-week cruise of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy starts Friday and aims to map the sea floor on the northern Chukchi Cap, an underwater plateau that extends from Alaska's North Slope some 500 miles northward.

...So why are the countries with Arctic coastlines all heading northward now?

Under the U.N. Law of the Sea treaty, every coastal state that has the potential to claim some part of the Arctic's undersea mineral wealth must make a claim to the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The United States is not now a party to the sea treaty, but Mayer and Andy Armstrong, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, held out hope that Washington might join.

Armstrong, who will also be aboard the U.S. cutter, acknowledged that this cruise will "map the location of features that would have a role in the U.S. extension of the continental shelf."
The scientists acknowledge that any such role would be fortuitous, however, as the cruise has been planned for three years and is not a response to other nations' forays Northwards. Of course, Republican hawks can't back any attempt to annex the seabed without admitting it will only become useful if they are wrong about climate change. But why are Democratic hawks sitting this one out?

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