Russia made a formal claim to a vast stretch of Arctic territory on Tuesday before the United Nations committee that oversees sea boundaries. The move is, in itself, neither surprising nor threatening.
As the Arctic rapidly thaws and surrenders access to its awesome wealth of energy and precious minerals, it is inevitable that nations in the far north will stake claims over huge exclusive economic zones beyond their northern shores, while powers like the European Union or China will demand a say in how the riches and shipping routes are apportioned.
What is imperative is that the process take place cooperatively, as the Arctic states demonstrated when they recently approved a temporary ban on Arctic fishing.
Russia’s bid was a resubmission of an earlier claim — which was rejected by the United Nations in 2002 for insufficient evidence — that the continental shelf abutting its land mass extends far into the Arctic Ocean and therefore allows it to claim an exclusive economic zone over that part of the ocean.
Other states whose territories abut the Arctic — the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway — are also pursuing claims, some of which may prove to overlap. The process of sorting these out could take many years. The U.N. commission on the limits of the continental shelf, formed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is not expected to take up the Russian claim until 2016, and it cannot rule on conflicting claims.
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