Brooklyn Journal of International Law

First Page



As Arctic ice coverage recedes in the face of rising global temperatures, the Arctic Ocean is rapidly becoming a promising frontier over which coastal nations vie. Even as indigenous peoples reckon with ecological catastrophe, the promise of ice-free summers is drawing global shipping giants to invest in sea routes over the northern coasts of Canada and Russia. Hydrocarbon extraction and deep-sea mining interests are clamoring to develop newly accessible regions of the high north, and fishing trawlers are chasing increasingly elusive fisheries further north with the warming Arctic waters. Against this backdrop, tourists on diesel-hungry cruise ships are rushing to the region to catch site of ancient ecosystems that may not endure much longer. Coastal states, meanwhile, are positioning themselves to protect their economic, military, and cultural interests in the region while freezing out the ambitions of their southern neighbors. The frenetic rush to develop the region has put great strain on prevailing interpretations of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and clashes between coastal sovereignty and international access threaten to plunge the region into conflict. This Note will consider disputes over continental shelf sovereignty as well as over surface shipping rights. Soft power institutions have fostered a certain level of cooperation between coastal states, but the region, to protect its environment and the people reliant thereupon, needs a more robust and Arctic-specific legal infrastructure. This Note will call for a polycentric model of Arctic governance that recognizes the needs of all the region’s stakeholders, from Inuit fishermen to southern shipping powers, while fostering coordinated and resilient development above the Arctic Circle.