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Feb 2009: Mounting Tensions and Melting Ice: Exploring the Legal and Political Future of the Arctic

The Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law hosted a symposium on Friday February 6, 2009, entitled “Mounting Tensions and Melting Ice: Exploring the Legal and Political Future of the Arctic.”   We will publish some of the papers in the October 2009 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law.

Symposium Description

The last ten years have been the warmest on record. Arctic sea ice during 2007 dropped to the lowest levels since measurements began in 1979. Valuable natural resources in the Arctic, including gas and oil, are becoming more accessible to exploitation.  The Northwest Passage – a highly desirable shipping route connecting Europe and Asia – is increasingly navigable during the summers. These changes have highlighted new and unresolved legal issues as the nations bordering the Arctic vie for control of these new waters and the resources that lie beneath them.

Some of these nations have submitted conflicting claims to extend their jurisdiction over the continental shelf to the United Nations Committee on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, a body of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In May 2009, the Committee will review these claims. It is unclear, however, whether this process will fully resolve these conflicts or whether bilateral, multilateral negotiations and dispute resolution will be necessary. For example, the Northwest Passage is a source of tension between Canada – which considers the Passage to be its sovereign territory – and other countries, which claim that the Passage is an international strait. The status of the Northwest Passage also has national security implications in North America. There are numerous other disputes over borders and the exploitation of natural resources. Taken together, these controversies illustrate that as the temperature rises, so do the stakes.

This symposium explored the multitude of legal and political issues created by the melting of the Arctic. The participants analyzed how to reconcile the rights and interests of competing nations and how the fragile Arctic environment and indigenous populations will be affected by the melting ice and increased activity.

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First Panel on the Continental Shelf  — Video Link

Moderator: Laurence Helfer, Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University Law School

Myron NORDQUIST, Senior Fellow, Center for National Security Law, Associate Director, Center for Oceans Law and Policy, University of Virginia Law School:  “Comment on Current Legal Issues in U.S. Arctic Ocean Continental Shelf

Vladimir JARES, Senior Law of the Sea/Ocean Affairs Official, Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea to the United Nation:  “The Continental Shelf Beyond 200 M, the Work of the Commission on the Arctic”  — PDF file with V. Jares presentation

Larry MAYER,  Director, Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, University of New Hampshire:  “Mapping in the Arctic Ocean in Support of UNCLOS Article 76”

John NOYES, Professor of Law, California Western School of Law, President, President American Branch of International Law Association:  “Dispute Settlement and the Outer Limits on the Continental Shelf”

Second Panel on the Northwest Passage — Video Link

Moderator:  Ingrid Wuerth, Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University Law School

John Norton MOORE, Director, Center for National Security Law, Director, Center for Oceans Law and Policy, University of Virginia School of Law:  “The Negotiations Leading to the Arctic Provisions in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention”

Suzanne LALONDE, Université de Montréal:  “Arctic Waters: Cooperation or Competition”

James KRASKA, Commander, Professor of International Law, Naval War College:  “Creeping Uniqueness in the Northwest Passage and the Global Order of the Oceans”

Armand de MESTRAL, Jean Monnet Chair in the Law of International Economic Integration, McGill University:  “Canada and the U.S. Can Work with Law of the Sea Article 235”

Third Panel on Social, Environmental, and Security Concerns  — Video Link

Moderator: Will Martin, Adjunct Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University Law School

Jonathan GREENBERG, Lecturer in Law Stanford Law School, Counsel, Heenan Blaikie LLP:  “Political Ecology of the Arctic”

Hans CORELL, Ambassador, Former Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Legal Counsel of the United Nations Sweden:  “The Arctic: An Opportunity to Cooperate and to Demonstrate Statesmanship”

Lawson BRIGHAM, Chair, Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment of the Arctic Council, University of Alaska Fairbanks:  “Challenges of Future Arctic Marine Transport”

Mary Beth WEST, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and Fisheries:  “Arctic Warning:  Environmental, Human, and Security Implications”


Special Thanks:

Peter C. Marshall, Jr., Executive Development Editor
Megan Benton, Executive Development Editor Select
Angelina Carmignani, Development Editor
Allison Holt, Development Editor
Tyler Hagenbuch, Development Editor Select
Rachel Jrade, Development Editor Select
Faye Johnson, Program Coordinator
Laurence Helfer, Faculty Advisor

UPDATE:   Read full text of Ambassador Hans Corell’s Symposium address calling for urgent action from the international community

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