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U.S. Northern Commander Backs Begich on Law of the Sea Treaty

Gen. Renuart says ratification would not compromise U.S. sovereignty

March 11, 2010 -- The Commander of the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, agreed with Sen. Mark Begich that the Senate should move forward on ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In a question and answer exchange between Sen. Begich, a member of the committee, and Air Force Gen. Victor Renuart, Jr., Begich asked whether, given the growing importance of and attention to the Arctic, the General supported the ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty.

"Law of the Sea Treaty is something that is critical to - to give us a seat at the table - to be involved in these discussions. And we very much support ratification of that treaty as soon as we can," Gen. Renuart said.

Sen. Begich further asked whether the General believes having the United States ratify the Law of the Sea would result in giving up any of the country's sovereignty, a concern occasionally voiced by some.

"No, Sir, I don't," Gen. Renuart said. "I think United States sovereignty is something we hold very dearly, and I don't believe we would give that up."

"It's important to know the military's stance on the Law of the Sea and whether it would put us strategically at any disadvantage," Begich said after the hearing. "I was reassured to hear General Renuart say it would not put us at risk from a national defense point of view."

The United States has signed the Law of the Sea Treaty and abides by most of its terms but is among a handful of nations - including Libya, North Korea and Iran - that have not ratified the Law of the Sea.  Failure to do so would prohibit the nation from making claims to areas of continental shelf beyond our 200-mile limit.

Survey work last summer found the continental shelf above Alaska extends much further than previously thought.  The United States may be able to claim even greater areas of potentially resource rich outer continental shelf but only if we ratify the Law of the Sea, Begich said.

The discussion with Gen. Renuart came as part of the testimony on the Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request. Sen. Begich also pointed out that currently the Arctic is under the jurisdiction of three regional combatant commands: PACOM, NORTHCOM AND EUCOM. Pointing out the countries of Africa were recently consolidated under one unified command to ensure a cohesive and dedicated approach to the area, Begich said he believes a unified approach by the Department of Defense will be required for the future in the Arctic as the area grows in importance. Gen. Renuart indicated in his answers there is a continual effort to streamline command.

Calling Alaska "ground zero" for climate change, Begich has taken the lead on Arctic issues and sponsored several bills that address the needs of residents of the region from the impacts from warming temperatures, a melting polar ice pack and thawing permafrost.

To deal with these challenges and opportunities, Begich introduced seven bills dealing with Arctic issues before the U.S. Congress.  Called the Inuvikput package - after the Inupiaq word for "the place where we live" - Begich's bills are intended to address local concerns and better position our nation for the opportunities in the region.   They call for:
    • Better coordination of scientific research in the Arctic;
    • Addressing the health needs of Arctic residents and meeting the needs of communities to adapt to the affects of climate change;
    • Sharing revenues from oil and gas development with local communities;
    • Research into oil spill response in broken ice conditions;
    • A heightened diplomatic presence in the Arctic;
    • And increased investment in basic Arctic infrastructure: forward operating bases for the Coast Guard; navigation aids, communications capability, and icebreakers.
Begich's legislation to better coordinate Arctic research is moving forward in Congress and work continues on other bills in the Inuvikput package.

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