UNCLOS does not apply to the USA

Over at The Diplomat, Page Wilson -- a senior lecturer in the Department of Defence and International Affairs at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, U.K. -- has written on the inclusion of five new Asian members (Japan, China, India, South Korea, and Singapore) as permanent observers to the Arctic Council, which is "a high level intergovernmental forum to provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States."  Member-states of the Arctic Council include Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the USA.

However, Wilson made the following statement:

[A]cceptance of the five new Asian observers permitted Council members to gain concrete support for their position that the Arctic is their 'backyard' and so properly subject to their sovereign claims under international law. The five Arctic littoral states -- the U.S., Canada, Russia, Denmark (via Greenland) and Norway -- maintain that most of the Arctic is covered by the law of the sea and the (UNCLOS) and thus falls within their 'sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.' In the event of completing claims amongst the 'Arctic Five,' then UNCLOS also provides a mechanism for making a final determination. On this basis, these states reject calls for an international treaty specifically for the Arctic, arguing that it is unnecessary.

While all other member states of the Arctic Council have signed and ratified UNCLOS, the USA has -- correctly -- done neither.  Thus, in contrast to Page's claims, the USA does not "maintain that most of the Arctic is covered by ... UNCLOS."  Furthermore, UNCLOS does not provide "a mechanism for making a final determination" for "completing claims amongst the 'Arctic Five'" if those claims include the United States.

Despite the Obama administration's strong push for American ratification of UNCLOS, Republican senators (notably DeMint, Lee, and Risch) effectively rebutted then-Senator Kerry's attempted promotion of the treaty last summer by accurately highlighting a backdoor clause allowing international environmental agreements (including the Kyoto Protocol and its potential successors) to be enforced upon UNCLOS signatories.

As it stands now -- and for the foreseeable future -- geopolitical observers and commentators need to be clear on the point that UNCLOS does not apply at all to any issues involving the USA within the Arctic Council.

Dr. Sierra Rayne writes regularly on environment, energy, and national security topics.  He can be found on Twitter at @rayne_sierra.