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 North Pole.
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 foreign nations.
Yet, the U.S. State Department wants to turn the whole matter over to the United Nations.
State Department 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, actually 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.
Henson’s 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. can do.
Russians Give Credit to America
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 claims.
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 More Ships
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.
UNCLOS regulates “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” bill.
Nothing less than U.S. sovereignty is at stake.