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The Continental Shelf Beyond 200 Nautical Miles: The Work of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and the Arctic

Posted by on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 in Articles, Vol. 42 No. 4, Volume 42.

As policymakers, academia, and the media have paid increased attention to the Arctic region, there is more evidence of a certain lack of knowledge concerning the applicable international law.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of December 10, 1982—adopted in 1982 and in force since November 16, 1994—provides both a legal framework within which all activities in oceans and seas must be carried out and, as far as the seabed of the Arctic Ocean international law is concerned, answers to questions related to its legal status and applicable regulations.

If a coastal State wishes to delineate its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured, it has to submit relevant data and information to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, an expert body established under the Convention. The Commission issues recommendations, and the limits based on the recommendations of that Commission are final and binding.

In the Arctic region, only two coastal States so far have made submissions to the Commission—the Russian Federation and Norway. The Commission issued recommendations to both; in the case of the Central Arctic Ocean, it recommended that the Russian Federation make a revised submission.

Due to the fact that the other three coastal States of the Arctic Ocean—Canada, Denmark, and the United States—have yet to make their submissions (the United States is still not party to the Convention), and taking into account the workload of the Commission, the delineation of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles and related delimitation of maritime boundaries between States will take many years to finalize.

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