Arctic, Legal Status of

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Arctic, Legal Status of

Establishment of territorial sovereignty over portions of the Arctic and its seabed has become increasingly attractive to many nations for military purposes or as a source of minerals. Under International Law, national claims of sovereignty over the Arctic traditionally were recognized only if accompanied by physical occupation. Consequently, two competing theories developed: (1) that no nation could achieve sovereignty over the Arctic (res nullius) and (2) that every nation shared in undivided sovereignty over the area (res communes). According to international law sovereignty is considered to be a derivative of the exercise of government functions and of notoriety over new territory. Therefore, national claims of sovereignty over portions of the Arctic that are supported by such governmental activity have become more plausible. Many such claims have rested on the sector principle, a version of the doctrine of contiguity, to define the area included in the claim. The sector principle traces longitudinal parallels from borders of countries adjacent to the Arctic Circle to the North Pole, assigning the sectors so formed to the neighboring nations. Claims resting solely on the sector principle have been denied legal force by many nations, including the United States, and it appears that only those claims of sovereignty accompanied by government control may be eventually accepted under international law.

Cross-references

Boundaries; Territory.

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