Russia staked a claim Tuesday to a new 463,000-square-mile section of the Arctic Ocean, including the North Pole.
It based its claim to a zone three times the size of California on what it says is new evidence based on exploration that shows the continental shelf along its northern shore extends into the area. Denmark claims part of the same region, based on its relationship with Greenland, which sits on the same continental shelf.
If the U.N. Law of the Sea commission, which rules on such claims, approves Russia's, Moscow will have oversight of economic matters in the area, including fishing and energy drilling, although it will not have sovereignty. Russia submitted a similar claim in 2002, which the United Nations rejected, but its new effort includes the results of additional scientific research that has been conducted since then.
In the past, no country paid much attention to claims on the Arctic Ocean, since it was virtually inaccessible to economic exploitation. Now, as the seas have warmed, the situation has changed, not only with respect to economic possibilities but also to the long-vaunted possible Northwest and Northeast Passages, which could modify intercontinental and other sea transportation mightily.
The United States is at a severe disadvantage in influencing decisions made by the U.N. commission that arbitrates sea boundary claims. That's because Congress has not ratified the 1982 Law of the Sea treaty and has no seat at the table. Nonetheless, 167 other parties, most of them countries, have ratified the pact.
Senate Republicans have consistently blocked U.S. ratification even though senior civilian and military officials have testified before Congress in favor of it. The senators' approach might change if Santa Claus were soon proclaimed a Russian citizen.
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