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Reactions and Overreactions to the Russian Flag on the Seabed at the North Pole

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AbstractDespite alarmist media reports and rhetoric from some who should know better, there is no cause for concern about Russian activities on the Arctic seabed. While the melting Arctic Ocean ice cover will have profound consequences for navigation, there is no reason for the resources regime of the continental shelf (including the part beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines) to be affected, and whatever happens on the seabed will have no effect on sovereignty over the land. The gimmickry of the flag-planting aside, most of the criticism of Russian activities incorrectly assumes they depart from the established international legal framework. In fact they are a good example of compliance with the framework that will have the beneficial effect of contributing to legal certainty about jurisdictional boundaries. Under the rules in Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea for establishing the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, Russia and other coastal States are not making “claims” but merely technical submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf on where the outer limits of their shelves run. The geological circumstances of the Lomonossov Ridge traversing the North Pole may well support the enclosure of at least part of it within Russia’s continental shelf, and possibly the same would apply to a submission by Denmark from the other (Greenland) end of the Ridge, which it has until 2014 to make. In practice, the distance of the central Arctic Ocean from markets, extreme conditions and high extraction costs make hydrocarbon exploitation there unlikely even at the high oil prices of mid-2008.

Affiliations: 1: School of Law, University of


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