Continental shelf claims in the Arctic:
Will legal procedure survive the growing uncertainty?
Timo Koivurova, Juha Käpylä & Harri Mikkola
The Finnish Institute of International Affairs
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The Arctic Ocean seabed is expected to contain substantial
natural resource reserves, which states seek to lay claim to. The once
influential idea that this could lead to a scramble for the Arctic and
inter-state conflict has generally been considered unlikely.
Until now, the Arctic Ocean coastal states have followed
rule-based procedures to settle their overlapping claims in the Arctic Ocean.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides a legal
framework for the delineation of the outer limits of the continental shelf.
Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway have submitted, or are in the process of
submitting, their claims to the relevant United Nations body, the Commission on
the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
Despite the growing tension between Russia and other Arctic
Ocean coastal states, it is likely that the continental shelf claims will be
settled in an orderly fashion. This is mostly due to the fact that the UNCLOS
treaty works for the benefit of the coastal states.
However, adverse political dynamics may challenge the status
of, and adherence to, the relevant legal processes in the Arctic. Most of these
are related to uncertainty over Russia. Consequently, the possibility of
unilateral and illegal action cannot be completely ruled out.