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Alaska editorial: Law of the Sea- US should approve treaty

Posted: May 24, 2012 - 12:00am

This editorial first ran in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

The U.S. Senate is again poised to take up the proposed Law of the Sea treaty, which has languished for 30 years. It remains a missing piece in the puzzle of future Arctic development.

The treaty has been approved by 161 nations and all of the world’s industrialized countries and those that have Arctic territory — with the exception of the United States.

The treaty, which is supported by Alaska’s U.S. senators, enjoys broad bipartisan support in the U.S., as well as from industry, environmental and military leaders, but its approval has been blocked by those who claim it would relinquish U.S. sovereignty.

On the contrary, this treaty would give the United States more power to exercise maritime rights and responsibilities. Without this legal framework, our ability to lead in the development of future international rules regarding the oceans will be next to nil.

“Not since we acquired the lands of the American West and Alaska have we had such an opportunity to expand U.S. sovereignty,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a recent speech to the Atlantic Council of the United States.

The expansion is crucial for Alaska because of the prospect that declining sea ice will lead to great resource development in the decades ahead by many nations. With both increased risks and opportunities off the Alaska coast, our state has more to gain with the approval of this measure and more to lose with its rejection than most other states.

Approval of the treaty would allow the U.S. to claim jurisdiction to the continental shelf beyond the 200-mile limit, an area twice the size of California.

Without becoming a party to this agreement, there will be no international recognition of any such effort by the U.S., which puts our nation and our state at a great disadvantage.

We agree with Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich that U.S. approval of the treaty, which took effect in 1994 after it was approved by 60 nations, is a crucial part of creating a sound Arctic policy for the United States.

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