Seward's Folly brought Alaska into American hands, at the expense of Russia. Now, Russia is on the verge of a modern territorial coup. Call it the Senate's folly.
The U.S. Senate has failed to ratify -- for 25 years -- the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. That has American interests on the sidelines while 155 signatories carve up off-shore lands. It's that international treaty that Russia, according to a story today in Lloyd's List, will use when it makes a formal claim to a swath of the Arctic nearly as big as Alaska: 460,000 square miles, or about the size of Texas and California combined.
(Coincidentally, the record-low extent of ice recorded Sept. 16 this year saw 460,000 square miles more of open water than the previous record, set in 2005. Global warming is making Russia's claim possible -- and lucrative, given the supposedly rich stores of oil and natural gas that await the taking in the once-icy Arctic.)
Russia's claim is based largely on information it gathered this summer when it planted a titanium flag on the floor of the sea at the North Pole. Largely viewed as a stunt, Canada dismissed it as a 15th century tactic.
Well, Russia is now using a 21st century tactic. And though the U.S. has a claim to the Arctic because of its Alaskan territory (thanks Seward), it has no dog in this fight because it has not signed the treaty. President Bush wants the treaty signed. Most of the Senate wants the treaty signed. Every leading international and ocean policy expert and scientist and environmental group wants this treaty signed.
The stakes can't be understated. The United States has engaged in violent entanglements in volatile parts of the world to preserve it's oil supply (Alan Greenspan even suggested last week that the Iraq war would have been worth the toll just to ensure free flowing oil) so it's not hard to imagine a new Russian-American standoff over a quarter of the oil's remaining oil. That's what's locked up in the Arctic, by some estimates. That's what's now increasingly accessible, thanks to runaway global warming. That's what is more and more lucrative, if Peak Oil theorists are to be believed, and the world is truly nearing a point when oil will be seriously scarce and expensive.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up discussion -- again -- of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea next week. It's high time -- only a generation late -- that the Senate acted to give the U.S. a seat at the negotiating table before Russia can claim Senate's Folly and run off with the next generation's energy supply.
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