By: Dr. Ekaterina Antsygina (Postdoctoral Researcher, The University of Hamburg) & Cornell Overfield (Research Analyst, Center for Naval Analyses)
Corresponding author: Dr. Ekaterina Antsygina, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pdf: Ekaterina Antsygina and Cornell Overfield_04102022_ the NCLOS blog_ final.pdf
Matter commented on: Problems of overlapping governance on Arctic continental shelves
The continental shelf has been the dispute par excellence in the narrative that the Arctic is an ungoverned region. The seabed of the Central Arctic Ocean is subject to overlapping “claims” by Canada, Russia, and Denmark (via Greenland), and alarming reports have suggested that competing rights over the resources might culminate in conflict between Russia and the West. This myth has been widely challenged, but another myth lives on: that the seabed beyond 200 nautical miles (M) remains ungoverned until the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) issues recommendations on the outer limits of continental shelves and the asserting states divvy up the pie. In fact, these states already can and do exercise control over the seabed areas they assert by virtue of the doctrine of inherent rights.
This coastal state prerogative creates problems at all stages before a final delineation of the shelf’s outer limits and a final delimitation of overlapping entitlements. Most importantly, where entitlements overlap and have not yet been delimited, potential users might proceed with some activities without approval from all states asserting entitlements to the relevant shelf area. Action based on unilateral decision could sharpen tensions and undercut trust among Arctic states. To minimize the risk of this pending the final delimitation of the Arctic continental shelves, Arctic states should establish a mechanism to authorize activities on overlapping entitlements beyond 200 M. This mechanism should be created as soon as possible among the United States, Canada, Denmark, and Russia (subject to changes in the geopolitical situation). On this backdrop, this blog post explores legal issues connected with activities on overlapping continental shelf entitlements in the Arctic Ocean and pre-delineation and pre-delimitation problems that the Arctic coastal States are facing.