Fight Over The North Pole
The North Pole is Ours, Not Russia's
By Cliff Kincaid | August 4, 2007
Rather than rely on U.S. military might, including Navy and Coast Guard ships, in order to safeguard U.S. rights in the Arctic, the State Department wants to depend on a 21-member U.N. commission dominated by countries who cannot be counted on to defend our interests.
Date: 8/10/2007 7:46:29 PM ( 7 y ) ... viewed 936 times
The sensational headlines
say, “Russian Arctic Team Reaches North Pole.” But the U.S. was there
first―back in the early 1900s. America, not Russia, has a valid claim to the
The controversy is not
about a block of ice. Because arctic sea ice is melting, opening up new
passageways for ships, there is an opportunity to explore for natural
resources absolutely vital to the U.S. economy. Exploiting the seabed for
oil and gas and other resources could help free us from dependence on
Yet, the U.S. State
Department wants to turn the whole matter over to the United Nations.
officials, led by Condoleezza Rice’s top lawyer, John B. Bellinger III, are
telling the press that the U.S. should immediately ratify the U.N.
Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in order to contest Russia’s claim
to the seabed under the North Pole. They seem to have forgotten that the
U.S. Navy’s first nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, passed under the
North Pole on August 3, 1958, and its second Commanding Officer, Commander
William R. Anderson, claimed the region “For the world, our country, and the
Navy.” He wrote the book, First Under the North Pole, about the
secret mission called “Operation Sunshine.” President Eisenhower sent the
message, “Congratulations on a magnificent achievement. Well done.”
While the Russians are
claiming to have traveled to the Arctic Ocean floor at the North Pole in a
submarine and planted their flag on August 2, the Nautilus reached the
geographic North Pole almost 50 years ago. A second submarine, the Skate,
surfaced at the Pole.
Before the Nautilus, of
course, two American explorers, Dr. Frederick Cook and Robert E. Peary, a
U.S. Navy commander, led missions that reportedly reached the Pole in 1908
and 1909. On the Peary mission, it was his aide, Matthew Henson, a black
explorer, who planted the American flag in the ice. A
website in his honor refers to
him as the co-discoverer of the North Pole and a U.S. postage stamp
recognized their achievement.
important role in
this mission was recognized by President Reagan, who granted a petition to
move Henson’s remains to Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
In 1996, a Navy ship, the USNS Henson, was named for him and he remains a
role model for and hero to African-American young people.
At a Matthew Henson
Remembrance Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on November 21, 1998,
Rear Admiral Jerry Ellis, the Oceanographer of the Navy, described Henson as
“the man who stood first at the world’s northernmost point of land, who held
the American flag at 86 degrees, 6 minutes north, who suffered the hardships
of that frightful march to the North Pole, when dogs were used for food, and
sledges burned for fuel.”
So why isn’t the State
Department reasserting American sovereignty over the region? It’s because
Bellinger, and so many other State Department lawyers, are committed to
“international law” and treaties which regulate and restrict what the U.S.
Russians Give Credit
There is still a dispute
over who got there first, and how close they actually came to the Pole, but
Russell W. Gibbons of the Frederick Cook Society notes that Soviet/Russian
encyclopedias and authorities give Cook credit for discovering the Pole. The
website of the Cook Society features
a quotation from Dr. V.S. Koryakin, Polar historian of the Russian Academy
of Sciences, as saying in 1993, “There is no ground to question the validity
of Dr. Cook’s assertion that he reached the North Pole.”
So the Russians have
conceded that an American was there first!
The current controversy
has been prompted by the Russians planting a flag on the ocean floor under
the Pole and claiming the area under UNCLOS. The press has been full of
sensational stories about how this big show will supposedly enable the
Russians to exploit the oil and gas said to lie under the Arctic Ocean and
how the United States, which has not ratified UNCLOS, will be left out of
the race for the black gold. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the
Russian moves are part of a plan under UNCLOS to claim the territory.
State Department legal
adviser John B. Bellinger III was quoted by USA Today’s Barbara Slavin as
saying that the Senate needs to ratify UNCLOS so the U.S. can submit a claim
to the arctic seabed up to 600 miles off the coast of Alaska. He noted the
U.S. doesn’t have a seat on the U.N. commission that establishes such
The paper neglected to
point out that the
Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which Bellinger is
referring to, has 21 members, including Russia and China, and can not be
counted on to rule in our favor.
Tom Casey, deputy State
Department spokesman, said that the U.S. would have to respond―but only
through the U.N. treaty process. He said, “...the Russian Government is
pursuing a claim under their right to do so as members of the Law of the Sea
Convention. This is something that unfortunately, the United States is not
in a position to do because we have yet to ratify that convention and it’s
one of the reasons why we are interested and supportive of having that
treaty be ratified by the U.S. Senate.”
More Lawyers, Not
So rather than rely on
U.S. military might, including Navy and Coast Guard ships, in order to
safeguard U.S. rights in the Arctic, the State Department wants to depend on
a 21-member U.N. commission dominated by countries who cannot be counted on
to defend our interests.
There used to be a time
when U.S. ships were the law OF the sea. But now, because of the decline in
Navy ships from 594 under President Reagan to only 276 today, the State
Department wants to depend on a U.N. treaty to give us the rights we
previously exercised on our own behalf.
This was admitted by Susan
Biniaz, an Assistant Legal Adviser in the U.S. Department of State, who told
an American Enterprise Institute panel discussion on July 17 that “We don’t
have the capacity to be challenging every maritime claim throughout the
world solely through the use of naval power. And [we] certainly can’t use
the Navy to meet all the economic interests.”
This means the State
Department will “challenge” Russia’s claim to the North Pole through UNCLOS.
It would be nice if our
State Department lawyers had some knowledge of history and American claims
to the region. Unfortunately, our media are similarly ignorant.
My survey of press
coverage of this controversy turned up only one story, distributed by the
Associated Press, which mentioned the Cook and Peary missions to the Pole
back in the early 1900s.
But rather than claim the
entire area―based on the Cook, Peary/Henson and Nautilus expeditions―the
State Department wants to dicker with the Russians, Chinese and others
through a U.N. Commission.
Rather than build more
ships, the State Department plans to hire more lawyers to make our case
before the foreign judges at the International Tribunal for the Law of the
Sea. It has 21 judges from such countries as Russia, China, and France.
“military” and “peaceful” activities on the high seas and restricts
industrial activity on land that could contribute to pollution in the
oceans. It calls the oceans the “common heritage of mankind,” a Marxist
concept that takes away the right of nation-states to exploit the resources
for their own benefit. It gives countries their own natural resources within
200 miles of their coast and allows them to claim more only if they can
prove their continental shelf extends further into the sea. The Russians are
insisting there is an underwater ridge that extends from the Siberian shelf
below the Pole.
Russian claims in this
area are so flimsy that they were rejected before―by the U.N. itself. The
proceedings of the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf
demonstrate that Russian claims about the outer limits of the continental
shelf in the Arctic and Pacific oceans were considered during a series of
meetings in 2002 and they were told to make “revised” submissions. That is,
the Russian case was weak.
The proceedings also show
that the U.S., despite not having ratified the treaty, provided information,
along with Canada, Denmark, Japan, and Norway, rebutting the Russian claims.
So we already have the “seat at the table” that treaty proponents say we can
only get through ratification.
Because of the melting
ice, U.S. and other ships can now navigate what is called the Northwest
Passage. The U.S. made an arrangement with Canada for these rights and the
U.N. did not need to become involved. What’s more, there already exists an
Arctic Council of 8
countries, including Russia, which exists to resolve disputes.
It would be tragic if the
recent Russian mission, which was clearly a stunt, prompts the Senate to
ratify a treaty whose effect would be to diminish and even discredit the
work of the courageous American explorers and military personnel who truly
discovered the Pole and claimed it for America.
Viewed in the context of
history, which the State Department conveniently forgets, UNCLOS is a
vehicle for giving away what is rightfully ours.
Senator Joseph Biden,
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reportedly plans a
hearing on the treaty in September. The pact could be sent to the Senate
floor for ratification shortly thereafter.
If the U.S. State
Department will not speak up for America, who will?
The Congress is waiting to
hear from the same people who defeated the so-called “immigration reform”
Nothing less than U.S.
sovereignty is at stake.
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