Academic journal article Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

International Security and International Law in the Northwest Passage

Academic journal article Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

International Security and International Law in the Northwest Passage

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Concern over the loss of sea ice has renewed discussions over the legal status of the Arctic and subarctic transcontinental maritime route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, referred to as the "Northwest Passage." Over the past thirty years, Canada has maintained that the waters of the Passage are some combination of internal waters or territorial seas. Applying the rules of international law, as reflected in the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, suggests that the Passage is a strait used for international navigation. Expressing concerns over maritime safety and security, recognition of northern sovereignty, and protection of the fragile Arctic environment, Ottawa has sought to exercise greater authority over the Passage. This Article suggests that Canada can best achieve widespread global support for managing its maritime Arctic by acknowledging that the Passage constitutes an international strait and working through the International Maritime Organization to develop a comprehensive package of internationally accepted regulations.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  I. THE STRATEGIC VISTA OF THE ARCTIC
     A. War in the Arctic?

 II. ARCTIC COMPETITION
     A. Factors Driving Tension
     B. Russia: Responsible or Revanchist?
     C. Canada: Progressive or Paranoid?

III. THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE
     A. Law of the Sea

 IV. CONCLUSION: OTTAWA SHOULD LEVERAGE THE
     INTERNATIONAL MARITIME ORGANIZATION

I. THE STRATEGIC VISTA OF THE ARCTIC

Seventy percent of the globe is covered by the single, interconnected "world ocean." (1) Eighty percent of the world's population lives within 200 miles of a coastline. (2) Ninety percent of international trade travels by sea. (3) Much of the commerce, many of the people and resources, and much of the conflict on the planet occurs in the coastal zone. (4) Consequently, the diplomatic and legal framework for ocean governance is of direct concern to the maintenance of a stable world system. These figures are especially compelling for the states of North America, which are connected to the world primarily by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The harsh climate of the High North and the ice cap over the Arctic Ocean has deterred most transcontinental traffic from using the northern waters as an approach into the shores of Canada and the United States. (5)

While three vast oceans--the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic--have shielded North America in the past, in recent decades globalization has brought increasing numbers and diversity of shipping into Atlantic and Pacific ports. (6) Climate change may transform the Arctic Ocean into yet a third waterway for transcontinental traffic into North America. The result is that the northern tier will become open to the benefits and exposed to the potential costs of worldwide commerce. The greatest impact to date of the prospect of increased shipping in the North American Arctic has been the disruption of Canada's sense of security.

      Over the past thirty years, the annual average sea-ice extent has
   decreased about eight percent, or nearly one million square
   kilometers--an area larger than all of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark
   combined. The extent of sea ice has declined more dramatically in
   summer than the annual average, with the loss amounting to 15-20
   percent of late-summer ice coverage. Moreover, a consensus is
   building that the melting trend is accelerating, as Arctic
   temperatures have increased over the last few decades. Winter
   temperatures in Alaska and Western Canada, for example, are
   3-4[degrees]C higher over the past fifty-years, and there is
   an expectation that larger increases will be projected. (7)

The five Global Climate Models (GCMs) utilized in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) project a decline in winter maximum extent ice over the next 100 years. (8) Scientists believe these changes are one major reason for dramatic environmental events, such as the recent detachment of a sixty-six-square-kilometer giant ice shelf from Ellesmere Island, which is located about 800 kilometers from the North Pole. …

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