U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened the first ever joint meeting of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and the Arctic Council by announcing that both she and President Barack Obama are determined to finally ratify the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention. Clinton stated that saving the Arctic “starts with the Law of the Sea Convention, which President (Barack) Obama and I are committed to ratifying, to give the United States and our partners the clarity we need to work together smoothly and effectively in the Arctic region.” (full speech here, with video)
Clinton held up the Antarctic Treaty System as a model for the Arctic, saying,
“The genius of the Antarctic Treaty lies in its relevance today. It was written to meet the challenges of an earlier time, but it and its related instruments remain a key tool in our efforts to address an urgent threat of this time, climate change.”
The ATS prohibits the militarization of Antarctica. Clinton duly noted its success, saying that the region “is one of the few places on earth where there has never been war.” International scientific cooperation on the continent has been a key reason for the treaty’s success, since research has become a common interest for all involved parties.
Clinton discussed U.S. priorities and concerns in the Arctic in broad terms. She remarked,
“We should be looking to strengthen peace and security, and support sustainable economic development, and protect the environment.
The warming of the Arctic has profound implications for global commerce, with the opening of new shipping routes. It raises the possibility of new energy exploration, which will, of course, have additional impacts on our environment. And Arctic warming has already serious consequences for the indigenous communities that have made their homes there for many generations.”
Secretary Clinton also took part in a bilateral meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon. The two discussed their commitment to undertaking a joint U.S.-Canadian survey of the continental shelf in the western Arctic ocean this fall. The survey will allow the two countries to decisively state where their borders lie, as the U.N. Law of the Sea bases the validity of territorial claims on extensions of the continental shelf.
Cannon stated, “The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea explicitly recognizes Canada’s sovereign rights over its continental shelf, and sets out a process for coastal states, like Canada, to secure international recognition for the precise limits of its continental shelf. And that is precisely what we’re doing.”
However, Clinton and Cannon did not reach an understanding on the contentious issue of the Northwest Passage, which is still frozen but will likely open up in the coming years. Canada sees it as a sovereign passage, which would allow it to regulate shipping and levy taxes. The U.S., though, sees it as international waters. Cannon observed, “The status of the file is basically to continue to agree to disagree.” But in the meantime, the two countries will focus on areas of mutual agreement in the Northwest Passage, such as search-and-rescue capabilities and pollution prevention.
“Polar meeting mulls melting, warming” (New York Times)
“Obama committed to resolving Arctic disputes: Clinton” (Montreal Gazette)