Russia’s Arctic Claim

For years, Russia has made claim to over one million square kilometers of the Artic. This claim was previously rejected by the United Nations, but a recent expedition into the region found that the underwater Lomonosov Ridge connects to Russia’s continential shelf (or so Russia claims). By identifying this geological link, Russia could press a claim for roughly 460,000 square miles of ocean as its territorial waters which may have a reserve of 10 billion tons of natural gas and oil.

Canada and Denmark are stepping up with an alternative claim, that the Lomonosov Ridge belongs not to the Siberian continental shelf but to the Canadian-Greenland shelf. I understand is also the position of the United Nations.

arctic-split.jpg
Maps referenced from the New York Times. Unclaimable areas under the Convention on the Law of the Sea not shown.

The US, having access to the Arctic via Alaska, would probably fare better under the Russian proposal, but so far the United States is the only interested party not to advocate any proposal. Why? The US Congress has so far delayed ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which governs all claims on territorial water, because there is a ten-year deadline for claiming new areas of the sea as territorial waters once the treaty is ratified.

Although here CA we have frequently questioned the long-term viability of Russia’s vast territory, which make it the largest country in the world, the Kremlin may be deciding that the best defense is a good offense. If accepted, Russia’s claim to the arctic would be a notable territorial gain (larger than the California/Texas territory gained by America after the Mexican-American War), and it wouldn’t cost it a penny (or a ruble).

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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14 Responses to Russia’s Arctic Claim

  1. sun bin says:

    great post.

    i m a bit confused. from the map you showed, wouldn’t the US far better under the red lines (i.e. sector centered at the pole), which is the canadian/danish proposal?

  2. ElamBend says:

    Also, the U.S. is claiming that waterways through the northern Canadian waters (the famed Northwest Passage) are international, not territorial.

  3. Rommel says:

    I agree with sun bin, it is a bit confusing. It looks as though Canada is screwing itself bigtime and giving the US a disproportionately large chunk. Perhaps I am reading it wrong?

  4. Joe says:

    The colors are just mixed up—red should be blue, and vice versa. See the original NYT maps for the correct layout.

    Also, US opposition to the Law of the Sea Convention is mainly based on the fact that it sets up a new international tribunal which some Congresscritters believe is an infringement on US “sovereignty,” whatever that means. I don’t think the ten-year deadline is particularly important, though I could be wrong.

  5. andres kahar says:

    Yes, good post.

    Just goes to show you that the grandfatherly advice about a piece of land making the man (or nation) holds.

    Who would’ve thunk that such a cold chunk of real estate could be so hot. Canada and Denmark were squabbling (albeit politely) of a bit of Arctic only a couple years ago.

    And now Russia enters the fray. Well, this latest sounds ambitious, and even expansionist. Until now, I would’ve never imagined Canada as part of Russia’s so-called Near Abroad. Seems much about this post-Cold War period is back to the future…

  6. andres kahar says:

    Yes, good post.

    Just goes to show you that the grandfatherly advice about a piece of land making the man (or nation) holds.

    Who would’ve thunk that such a cold chunk of real estate could be so hot. Canada and Denmark were squabbling (albeit politely) of a bit of Arctic only a couple years ago.

    And now Russia enters the fray. Well, this latest sounds ambitious, and even expansionist. Until now, I would’ve never imagined Canada as part of Russia’s so-called Near Abroad. Seems much about this post-Cold War period is back to the future”¦

  7. andres kahar says:

    Yes, good post.

    Just goes to show you that the grandfatherly advice about a piece of land making the man (or nation) holds.

    Who would’ve thunk that such a cold chunk of real estate could be so hot. Canada and Denmark were squabbling (albeit politely) over a bit of Arctic only a couple years ago.

    And now Russia enters the fray. Well, this latest sounds ambitious, and even expansionist. Until now, I would’ve never imagined Canada as part of Russia’s so-called Near Abroad. Seems much about this post-Cold War period is back to the future”¦

  8. sun bin says:

    Thanks Joe. that cleared things up.

    1) is there a link to the NYT article? (based on the note in the chart, it was published on October 9, 2005, it seems?)

    2) the continental shelf methodology is the same as what China used in the “East China Sea dispute with Japan”:http://sun-bin.blogspot.com/2005/11/chinas-bargaining-power-on-east-china.html#113192764219720026
    (where Japan propose the simple median regardless of continental shelf). but “by sector” is really something new to me :)

  9. Curzon says:

    I botched the maps — see the NYT link above, and note that it does not include the updated Russian claim. And yes, I think you guys are right that the US would benefit greater under the Canadian claim.

  10. IJ says:

    The ownership of the Arctic is mentioned today by the Moscow Times. Gas and Glory Fuel Race for the Pole

    According to some estimates, the Arctic region could hold up to one-quarter of the earth’s remaining untapped oil and gas reserves. Russia plans to submit a renewed claim to Arctic territory when the UN Commission [on the Limits of the Continental Shelf] meets in 2009.

    Uppermost in the current debate are the rights to the disputed Lomonosov Ridge, a thin underwater crust that crosses the Arctic Ocean over the pole and stretches from Russia to a point between Greenland and Canada. Estimates suggest that the ridge could contain somewhere in the region of 10 billion barrels of oil.

    Currently no one country has exclusive jurisdiction over the Arctic. Under a 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, five Arctic nations — Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark — each control a 200-mile (320-kilometer) economic zone beyond their actual borders. This means that no one country controls the pole.

    In 2001, the UN Commission rejected claims that the Lomonosov Ridge belonged to Russia, demanding more conclusive scientific proof. Now it seems Moscow is willing to make more money available for Arctic research, in a bid to bolster its case.

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