Alaskan Island “Giveaway” A Mixture Of Fact And Fiction
U.S. position should be strong but based on truth
In recent weeks, the blogosphere has been abuzz with names like Copper, Attou, and Sea Otter Rock. These refer to seven (in some reports eight) islands off the coast of Alaska, in the Bering Sea and the Artic Ocean.
Many are claiming that President Obama is preparing to unilaterally cede these islands to Russia, ostensibly as part of an ongoing agenda to erode American sovereignty in furtherance of global socialism.
The Left is responding by painting conservatives as a bunch of ideological kooks entirely out of touch with reality. As with many Internet-fueled rumors and stories, the truth lies somewhere in between what people are saying.
Once the facts are understood, however, it is clear that the United States cannot afford to just roll over and pass up an opportunity to further our national interests by peaceful and lawful means.
One widely-mentioned article stated:
“Obama’s State Department is giving away seven strategic, resource-laden Alaskan islands to the Russians…. The Russians are also to get the tens of thousands of square miles of oil-rich seabed’s surrounding the islands. The Department of Interior estimates billions of barrels of oil are at stake.”
“The State Department has undertaken the giveaway in the guise of a maritime boundary agreement between Alaska and Siberia. Astoundingly, our federal government itself drew the line to put these seven Alaskan islands on the Russian side.”
Much can be traced to http://www.statedepartmentwatch.org/GiveawaySummary.htm which is a document that actually contains a large amount of historical fact surrounded by some misleading conclusions and finger-pointing. All of the “under dispute” islands are named: Wrangell, Bennett, Jeanette, Henrietta, Copper, Sea Lion Rock, and Sea Otter Rock. But the easiest way to understand where we are at today is to follow a simple timeline.
1867. A treaty that cost the U.S. a considerable sum and became known as “Seward’s Folly” resulted in Alaska becoming U.S. territory. The boundaries were quite specific. Most of the Internet stories about the Giveaway have it right that Copper, Sea Lion Rock, and Sea Otter Rock were acquired from Russia under this treaty (which refers to Copper by name).
The others are in the Arctic Ocean, and the treaty listed as belonging to the U.S. any Russian land east of a limit defined as “a point in Behring’s Straits on the parallel of sixty-five degrees thirty minutes north latitude, at its intersection by the meridian which passes midway between the islands of Krusenstern of Ignalook, and the island of Ratmanoff, or Noonarbook, and proceeds due north without limitation, into the same Frozen Ocean.” A spin of the globe clearly shows that the other “disputed” islands are well west of that boundary… but they hadn’t been discovered yet.
1879-1881. Several American expeditions land on the northernmost islands, name them, and claim them for the U.S. under the ancient right of discovery since they were the first to actually land. However, it is only fair to point out that even though they were unknown, the U.S. accepted that the area belonged to Russia under the 1867 treaty. But there’s a problem with that. Suppose that in 1450 Spain and Japan, unaware that North America existed, signed a treaty agreeing Japan owned that area of ocean?
The Cold War. Our thus far considered westernmost Aleutian island, Attou (the one east of Copper and also named in the 1867 treaty), becomes of supreme strategic importance as polar missile and submarine routes rise to the top of the threat board.
1970s. The concept of the 200-mile zone comes into being. Due to tussles over fisheries rights and just how far out can we tell other countries to stay out of “our” seas, major countries agreed that everyone is entitled to 200 miles, and after that, the ocean are free to all. But what if two countries are closer than that to one another? In that case, the countries involved have to work out a maritime boundary agreement.
1977. Following years of secret negotiations, Henry Kissinger proposes to the Russians that we use the original treaty ownership lines as the maritime boundary lines as well. (Much later, the secret nature of the negotiations becomes known, and Alaskans are infuriated… it’s THEIR shoreline, and they were never even consulted! Resolutions are passed in Alaska and California.)
1979. The Russians accept the concept as a concept. But negotiations continue as the Russians want EVEN MORE.
1990. The U.S. Senate formally ratifies a compromise treaty that still leaves the Giveaway islands in Russian hands. President Bush signs it. The Russians, however, are in turmoil as Communism collapses. They never formally ratify the treaty.
Today. With the increased global focus on offshore drilling, and localized disputes regarding the commercially rich fishery of the Bering Sea, a formalized maritime agreement between the U.S. and Russia, legally enacted by both countries, is more necessary than ever.
Should we abide by our original 1867 and 1990 agreements and say what’s done is done, as the Obama administration is prepared to do?
Should we give the Russians MORE, which is why they want to negotiate? (It should be noted that THEY approached US about renegotiation, so should we want to go to the bargaining table, they’re in no position to refuse.)
Regardless of actual ownership, THERE IS NO FORMAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN BOTH COUNTRIES SOLIDIFYING MARITIME RIGHTS!
Since rights aren’t ownership, there is NO reason we have to continue with Kissinger’s idea of using the original ownership treaty for those rights.
Next, Russia’s failure to ratify the 1990 agreement for almost a quarter-century makes it totally fair for us to abandon that agreement at any time.
Finally, the U.S. failure to consult Alaska is a violation of federalism sufficient to reexamine the process in and of itself. The secret nature of Kissinger’s negotiations only compounds that fact.
In short, our national interests are best served by worrying not so much about who owns these rocks, but by who gets to exploit the riches of the sea and seabed surrounding them.