Alaska’s Senators Murkowski and Begich Both Complain that there is “Stubborn Opposition” in US Senate to Law of the Sea Treaty

Photo Credit: L.C. Smith and S.R. Stephenson, PNASAt a meeting in Washington last week, top U.S. Arctic officials at the Coast Guard, Navy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other agencies acknowledged that the U.S. lags behind other nations in dealing with the rapidly changing Arctic environment. The agencies are facing serious deficiencies in the ability to map the sea floor and develop enforceable environmental policies, as well as construct onshore infrastructure that would be used for search and rescue and oil recovery operations…There is also a big void in diplomacy, and how the U.S. will deal with other countries on issues involving the Arctic.

The U.S. has not ratified the United Nations agreement that irons out how countries make claims to offshore Arctic resources. That’s despite the agreement having the overwhelming support of the military and both political parties.

Ratification of the treaty, which is known as the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS, has been a top priority for national security officials for several years, but it remains stalled in the Senate due to a handful of senators’ concerns that it would compromise U.S. sovereignty…

[US Navy Oceanographer Rear Admiral Jonathan] White and others said the U.S. needs to ratify UNCLOS by 2015, when the U.S. takes over the rotating two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Otherwise, he said, the country will speak with a weaker voice as Council president, since the U.S. is the only Arctic Council member nation that has not ratified the treaty. Such a scenario would be “sort of like driving a bus without a driver’s license,” he said.

Senator Murkowski, and fellow Alaskan, Sen. Mark Begich (D), who also addressed the conference, said they hope to try again to get the treaty through the Senate in the coming year, but that there is still some stubborn Senate opposition to it.

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