Polar Star, an aging US Coast Guard icebreaker. Photo courtesy of US Coast Guard
Polar Star, an aging US Coast Guard icebreaker. Photo courtesy of US Coast Guard

US Coast Guard chief Adm. Paul Zukunft warned on Tuesday that his service’s presence in the Arctic may not be enough to ward off Chinese and Russian encroachment unless the US signs the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

But the story by USNI News quoted the Coast Guard commandant as saying that even if the US signed the treaty now, it might be too late.

The convention, which the US has avoided signing for years, would allow Washington to extend America’s Exclusive Economic Zone to its Arctic continental shelf.

Zuknuft alluded to the Xue Long, a Chinese research icebreaker, in his talk at the event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the US Naval Institute.

Despite US attempts to shore up its claims to this territory, “the Snow Dragon, or otherwise known as the Xue Long, is on her way up to the Arctic from China, and they routinely stop and do research in our extended continental shelf — they’ve established a pattern there,” Zuknuft said. “So if and when we ratify the Law of the Sea Convention, I would expect those who have ratified will protest and say, well that’s part of the global commons, and we, China, have always operated there.”

USNI News quoted Zuknuft as saying that the Arctic sea floor contains 13% of the world’s oil reserves, a third of its natural gas reserves, and a trillion dollars worth of rare earth minerals that cannot be accessed now but could be in the near future.

Zuknuft told a Congressional subcommittee earlier this year that the US may need icebreakers armed with surface-to-air missiles to defend “sovereign” resources uncovered by the melting ice against Russia and China.

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