Concepts of the Legal Status of the Arctic

in Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law Online
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Recently the Arctic has become a highly contested area between a number of countries.2 Rising prices and increased trade flows in Eurasia and North America have made the North Passages a potentially attractive alternative to the established trade routes. Available research suggests that the Arctic contains huge deposits of natural gas, oil, minerals, fish and other resources. Besides, the Arctic is a polar region and its sensitive environment is of great value for the international community.

The de facto Arctic Ocean regime is not fully based on the de jure norms of the law of the sea. Gaps in the international and regional agreements on shipping, scientific research, protection of the Arctic environment; the lack of comprehensive protection for this region compared to the equally remote, though uninhabited Antarctic region; the need to incorporate principles of sustainability and innovative features recognizing the nature of society and economy in the Arctic, all point to a need to update the existing Arctic legal regime.

There is a need to establish a unified international regulation in the Arctic. This may entail either acknowledgement and enforcement of the existing law of the sea norms in the Arctic, or adoption of a separate comprehensive legal document on the Arctic Ocean.

In this regard the problem of excessive generation of concepts on the legal status of the Arctic is worth mentioning. There have been five concepts so far: the historic title concept, the sector approach concept, the ice formations status concept, the concept of the Arctic States’ exceptional rights, and the concept of an international regime for the Arctic. All of them (except for the last one just recently proposed) are interrelated in a way, or have been established on the basis of each other.

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