Joe Miller thinks that Barack Obama is giving away seven Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea islands to Russia. Miller claims that this giveaway includes billions of barrels in oil.
You remember Joe Miller, right? Miller defeated Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski in the Republican Primary in 2010. Murkowski ran a write-in campaign in the general election and defeated both Miller and her Democratic opponent. The reason Miller lost is because he is an extremist, even for the Tea Party. Miller once used East Germany as a model for border control.
Miller is back. His position on these seven islands is an example of distortion and outright dishonesty in politics. First, here is Miller’s view:
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. But as an executive agreement, it could be reversed with the stroke of a pen by President Obama or Secretary Clinton.
The agreement was negotiated in total secrecy. The state of Alaska was not allowed to participate in the negotiations, nor was the public given any opportunity for comment. This is despite the fact the Alaska Legislature has passed resolutions of opposition – but the State Department doesn’t seem to care.
How could this be true? An American President who secretly hands over American territory the equivalent of Rhode Island and Delaware should be impeached. Yet in the process of impeaching, let’s drag in George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush because all of those Presidents have done the same thing as Obama.
This hoopla is about the 1990 USSR–USA Maritime Boundary Agreement ratified by the United States Senate in 1991. This an agreement that began being negotiated in 1977 by the Carter administration, proceeded through the Reagan administration and finally culminated in a deal with the old Soviet Union under the first Bush. The need for the agreement arose when nations began to assert a 200-mile territorial limit off their shores instead of a three-mile limit. Soviet and American territories conflicted in the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea so the need for clarification was essential.
The agreement whisked through the Senate but has languished in Moscow because the Russians feel the agreement gave away too much. The U.S. gained about 15,000 nautical miles of fishing grounds from previously disputed areas.
The agreement did not address the islands that Miller writes about: Wrangel Island, Herald Island, Bennett Island, Jeannette Island, Copper Island, Sea Lion Rock or Sea Otter Rock. The first four of these are in the Arctic Ocean. The last three are at the tips of the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea. All of them are to the west the accepted maritime border between the U.S. and Russia. All of them are either settled by Russians or under the Russian flag.
The United States does not have any claims on these islands and never has, despite Miller’s complaining. Miller appears to be parroting the position of a group called State Department Watch that also includes Henrietta Island in the Arctic Ocean. Miller seems to have forgotten that island or else thinks it is Russian.
State Department Watch claims that the U.S. is giving away 8 billion barrels of oil to the Russians. This group has even claimed that a Soviet gulag was discovered on the “American” island of Wrangel. That in itself should be enough to put this claim to rest. If it was American, the Soviets never would have used it as a gulag.
State Department Watch claims that the five Arctic Ocean islands were all discovered by Americans and belong to the United States. This is a dubious proposition even if it was true. They argue that Wrangel Island was discovered by the landing of the U.S. revenue ship Corwin, which included the naturalist John Muir. Actually, Wrangel Island was discovered in 1849 by Henry Kellett aboard the HMS Herald. In 1867, it was named by an American whaling captain after a Russian explorer.
Despite the British and American presence, neither country asserted sovereignty over Wrangel Island. In 1916, Russian Tsar Nicholas II declared Wrangel Island part of the Russian Empire. This proves the fallacy of claiming Wrangel Island or any of the other islands as American. A low-level naval officer can declare a piece of territory American or belonging to any other government for that matter. However, unless a government actively asserts the right to those claims that land is going to belong whoever is the first to occupy that territory. That is the pattern that has occurred numerous times throughout the exploration of the world. This islands are not an exception.
The Russians occupied all eight of these islands throughout the Cold War. If the U.S. really felt it had a claim, it would have used that claim to occupy these lands close to the Russian mainland for geopolitical purposes. No claim was made. The Alaskan legislature can pass claims for some of these islands, which they have as Miller notes. However, this is not in the constitutional powers of the states to assert international territorial claims.
In D. Denardo v. State of Alaska, Daniel Denardo tried to record interests in the five Arctic Ocean islands at the Nome recording office. The court ruled that Denardo’s claims were without basis because they are not being governed by Alaska and any question of sovereignty rest with the executive and legislative branches of the federal government.
A look at a map of these “disputed” islands shows that they are firmly within the territory of internationally accepted Russian boundaries. Since 1991, both the U.S. and Russian governments have agreed to accept 1990 maritime agreement over their northern borders despite the failure of Russian ratification. If this really was a giveaway of American territory, the Russians would have ratified this agreement long ago.
It is as ridiculous for Americans to claim ownership over these Russian islands as it would be for the Russians to claim ownership over some part of Alaska. International agreements, treaties and the physical occupations of these areas have resolved any questions about the political status of these lands long ago. Charges by people like Miller and State Department Watch are baseless claims by political extremists with little grasp of international law or common sense. This is further proof that Miller was completely ill prepared to be a U.S. Senator.
UPDATE: A reference to the islands being to the “east” of the maritime border has been replaced by the proper description of “west.”