Maritime boundary disputes create political, economic, and commercial issues. A sovereign’s nautical claims often overlap with a competing sovereign in places where there are strong economic possibilities. Places such as the Arctic Archipelago, with its vast natural resources, the South China Sea, with its resources and important trade route, and the Eastern Mediterranean, with its large natural gas reserves, are all areas that are disputed due to their economic importance. These issues become political gun powder for politicians when wooing voters.
The United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea or UNCLOS, which came into force in 1994 and has been ratified by over 165 nations, provides that a country can lay claim to maritime natural resources that are up to 200 nautical miles offshore. While UNCLOS provides some guidance, overlapping claims are hard to deal with. It is up to the sovereigns to settle these issues.
The Northern European Arctic Archipelago is claimed by at least eight nations, including Russia. Russia claims ownership to an area that is 350 miles from its shoreline. It has a number of military installations and has served host to Vladimir Putin on an official state visit. Experts believe that it contains the world’s largest source of untapped natural gas and oil. It seems to go against the UNCLOS rules.
South China Sea
It is estimated that the South China Sea holds 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. In addition, the South China Sea is an important trade route so there will be an increase in maritime traffic in the area. As a result, a number of nations, including China and Singapore, have overlapping claims to mineral rights in the region. With fierce competition, it is advisable for those nations to rectify outstanding issues and come to an agreement in respect to those mineral rights.
Though not entirely clear with respect to volume, there is certainly significant natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean. This possibility has led to maritime mineral rights border disputes between sovereigns. Israel and Lebanon are disputing mineral rights and Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece are disputing maritime mineral rights.
Experts project that the Eastern Mediterranean holds anywhere from 122 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to 227 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. In addition, there are estimates that it holds anywhere from 1.7 billion barrels of oil to 3.8 billion.
Currently, UNCLOS does not address overlapping claims. It is believed that right now, sovereigns can calm their disputes via negotiation and compromise. With new technologies for digging and extraction of natural resources, however, it remains to be seen whether the parties in dispute will agree on anything.
It might be prudent for an amendment to UNCLOS to address overlapping border claims for maritime minerals and implementing a comprehensive dispute resolution apparatus.
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