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Summary of Giveaway
of 8 American Alaskan Islands
to the Russian Government
The giveaway of 8 American Alaskan islands and vast resource-rich seabeds to the Russians is underway by the U.S. State Department in the guise of an agreement on a maritime boundary between Alaska and Siberia.
In the mid-1970s countries adopted the concept of exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and fishery conservation zones extending 200 nautical miles from their coastlines. If two countries are within 400 miles of each other, they need to negotiate a division of the seabeds by a "maritime boundary". It is usually some variation of an equidistant line between the two coastlines. For the U.S. this has been necessary vis-a-vis Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Russia, among others.
The seabeds between Alaska and Siberia are enormous: hundreds of thousands of square miles. The distance between the two countries at the Bering Strait is less than three miles between Little Diomede Island (U.S./Alaska) and Big Diomede Island (Russia). The State Department with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the end of the Ford Administration unilaterally proposed to the Soviets in January 1977 an unfortunately concessionary maritime boundary line. It was based on part of a line described in the 1867 treaty between the U.S. and Russia. [See 1867 Treaty.] Generally this part of the line starts midway between Attu Island and Copper Island in the Aleutian Island, proceeds northeast for about 1000 miles to a midpoint between Little Diomede Island and Big Diomede Island, and then turns due north into the Arctic Ocean.
The problem is that this line places on the Russian side 8 American Alaskan islands along with their 200-mile seabeds. It amounts to a giveaway of not only the land territory, but also hundreds of thousands of square miles of seabeds to the Russians. (See shaded area of map below.) There is no quid pro quo for the American public or for the State of Alaska. These seabeds are rich in oil, gas, fisheries, and other resources worth billions of dollars. The oil and gas potential is measured in the billions of barrels. The fisheries are in the hundreds of millions of pounds per year, reflecting that Alaska is the number one fishing state in the nation. The strategic military significance can been seen in their location in any flight path of missiles from the Asian mainland toward North America, and in their advantageous positions for strategic defense initiative (SDI) installations.
In 1977 the Soviets eagerly accepted the concept of the proposed maritime boundary line, but no formal agreement was reached until 1990. At least 10 rounds of secret negotiations occurred through the Carter, Reagan, and Bush Administrations with no public, Congressional, or State of Alaska input sought by the State Department. According to State Department documents, for 13 years the Soviets were demanding even more seabeds along the Bering Sea part of the line. The Soviets wanted to draw the line as a "rhumb line", that is, a straight line between the two end points on a flat mercator projection map, rather than an "arc of a great circle", which is the shortest distance between two points on a sphere. The "rhumb line" version would give the Soviets another 50,000 square miles of seabeds along the 1000-mile length. Eventually, a compromise line was adopted in 1990. It also created unprecedented "Special Eastern Areas" and "Special Western Areas", which allowed each government to exercise sovereignty on the other's side of the maritime boundary line. At no time did the State Department demand to keep the 8 American Alaskan islands and resource-rich seabeds from the Soviets/Russians..
The 8 American Alaskan Islands
The eight American Alaskan islands include five in the Arctic Ocean and three in the Bering Sea. The history of the five Arctic islands present heroic achievements of American exploration in the Arctic. They could not have been acquired from the Russians in 1867, inasmuch as the Russians had not even discovered or claimed them. The three in the Bering Sea were acquired under the 1867 treaty.
Wrangell Island: At 3,000 square miles, it is by far the largest of the five (equal to Rhode Island and Delaware together). It was first landed on and formally taken into U. S. possession on August 12, 1881, by direction of Captain Calvin Leighton Hooper aboard U. S. Revenue Marine (Coast Guard) ship Thomas Corwin. Among the landing party going ashore onto Wrangell was the famed explorer John Muir. He wrote about his "notable addition...to the national domain" in his book "The Cruise of the Corwin". [See excerpts from Muir's Book.] In September 1881 USS Rodgers conducted an extensive survey of the island under Navy Lieutenant Robert M. Berry. Wrangell was named in honor of the Baltic Baron Ferdinand Petrovich von Wrangell, who had conducted Arctic forays but never sighted nor landed on the island. (Note: Another Wrangell Island exists near Juneau. It is not involved in this issue.)
Bennett, Jeannette, and Henrietta Islands: Known together as the DeLong Islands, they were discovered and taken into U. S. possession during the famous expedition led by U. S. Navy Lieutenant George Washington DeLong in 1879-81 aboard USS Jeannette. Co-sponsored by the noted New York City Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, this brave expedition is memorialized in a major monument at the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. The crew received Congressional medals. The book "Icebound" by Leonard Guttridge, published by the Naval Institute Press, gives a thorough and gripping account. [See "Icebound" book.] The three islands were named after the newspaper publisher, his sister Jeannette, and mother Henrietta.
Herald Island: It was taken over by the U.S. in the late 1800s when the British abandoned it. It had been named after the British ship HMS Herald.
Copper Island, Sea Lion Rock, and Sea Otter Rock: These islands in the Bering Sea were acquired in 1867 from Russia. The treaty's Article I language states, "...to the meridian of one hundred and ninety-three degrees west longitude [167 east], so as to include in the territory conveyed the whole of the Aleutian islands east of that meridian." That meridian runs between Copper and Bering Islands at the westernmost end of the Aleutian islands. [See 1867 Treaty.]
Political Battle over Maritime Boundary Agreement
The entire 10 rounds of negotiations from 1977 to 1990 have been kept completely secret from the American public, even though the establishment of a boundary between the two superpowers of the Cold War warranted front page treatment. The State Department continues to today to refuse to reveal the names of the negotiators, the dates and locations of the negotiating sessions, and the actual records of the negotiations.
STATE DEPARTMENT WATCH discovered the existence of the negotiations in 1984. It began a public campaign of opposition both to the immense giveaway involved, and to the power of the State Department to adopt such a maritime boundary as an executive agreement and not as a treaty. The State Department never notified the United States Senate that it was negotiating over something that might result in a treaty, as required by law. Treaties require Senate review, and in this case would require House of Representatives implementation review because it disposes of U.S. government property. The State of Alaska was ignored. STATE DEPARTMENT WATCH aided the Alaska Legislature in passing several resolutions protesting the giveaway. In particular they challenged the unconstitutional denial of the state government's right to participate in the negotiations and to consent to the terms that affect the state's territory, property, and sovereignty. This right was firmly established by Secretary of State Daniel Webster in 1842 in the negotiations between the U. S. and Great Britain over establishing the boundary between Maine and what is now Canada, which was formalized in the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. [SeeWebster-Ashburton Treaty.] At least 50,000 protest letters from the public were delivered to the State Department. Numerous nationwide and local groups passed resolutions of opposition. [See Organization Resolutions.] The California Legislature supported Alaska's position. [See Resolutions of Alaska and CaliforniaLegislatures.] No nationwide or Alaska groups supported the proposed maritime boundary agreement.
On June 1, 1990, while Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev met with President George Bush in Washington, a "U.S.-U.S.S.R. Maritime Boundary Agreement" was signed by Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. It was presented to the public as a proposed treaty. It adopted a boundary line with the 8 American Alaskan islands on the Russian side. [See Proposed Treaty.]
Unbeknownst to either the public, Alaska, or Congress, Baker and Shevardnadze also signed on June 1, 1990, an executive agreement that stated "...pending the entry into force of that [Maritime Boundary treaty] Agreement, the two Governments agree to abide by the terms of that Agreement as of June 15, 1990." In other words, regardless of whether the proposed treaty were ever ratified by both parties and then entered into force, the exact same maritime boundary line would go into effect immediately without any review by the public, Alaska, or Congress. Somehow the State Department was asserting that an executive agreement could accomplish the exact same thing that would legally require a treaty. [See 1990 Executive Agreement.]
The State Department continued the deception through the hearing on the proposed treaty at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee presided over by Senator Joseph Biden Jr. on June 13, 1991. It completely failed to mention the existence of the executive agreement. STATE DEPARTMENT WATCH was the only group allowed to testify against the proposed treaty at the hearing. The existence of the executive agreement did not show up in the President's Transmittal to Congress, the Committee Report, or the debate on the Senate floor where it passed on September 26, 1991. The proposed treaty has never been ratified by the Soviet/Russian side, and thus has not "entered into force" to this day.
An important distinction between a treaty and an executive agreement is that a treaty is the supreme law of the land (over all state law too), while an executive agreement is not superior to any conflicting state law. An executive agreement can be rescinded by either side.
In March 1997 the Russian Duma (legislature) voted overwhelmingly to void the executive agreement, demanding more fishing area in the Bering Sea equal to 300 million pounds of fish to be taken from American fishing fleets. The Russian president has not voided the executive agreement as yet. In response to the Russian initiative, the State Department has actively conducted secret negotiations with the Russians over these concessions. [See News Articles on Russian Demands.]
In the State Department Secretary of State Colin Powell has overall control of this giveaway policy. It is implemented by the Legal Adviser William H. Taft IV, the Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Elizabeth Jones, and the Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental Scientific Affairs John F. Turner. On May 20, 2003, due to the national publicity on the giveaway, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs posted on the State Department's website "Fact Sheet" on "Status of Wrangel [sic] and Other Arctic Islands." [Wrangell Island is spelled with two l's.] It contained at least four major errors. [See "Fact Sheet".]
It is the opinion of STATE DEPARTMENT WATCH that the State Department's stance is in obvious opposition to the American public interest and that the giveaway of American/Alaska territory and vast resource-rich seabeds is a new form of unlegislated "foreign aid". The public does not receive any identifiable quid pro quo.
Recommended Corrective Actions
1. Congress should pass legislation memorializing the policy that maritime boundaries can be established only by treaty, and that if a maritime boundary affects a state's territory, sovereignty, jurisdiction, or property interests, then the state must participate in the negotiations and consent to the terms that affect the state. 2. Congress should hold hearings to require the State Department to reveal (a) any and all actions, directives, and personnel involved in implementing its maritime boundary executive agreement, and (b) any actions, directives, and personnel involved in recognizing Russian control or sovereignty over Wrangell, Herald, Bennett, Jeannette, Henrietta, or Copper Islands or Sea Otter Rock or Sea Lion Rock. 3. The State Department should expand on the "Fact Sheet" on "Status of Wrangell [sic] and Other Arctic Islands" to prove its assertions, and to revise its shortcomings. 4. The State of Alaska should sue the federal government to enforce its rights. 5. All other states should express their support for the State of Alaska. If the State Department is allowed to give away part of a state to a foreign power and to establish a boundary between that state and a foreign country without that state's participation or consent, then all states are in peril of losing their important federal status. 6. The Department of the Interior should evaluate the oil, gas, and other mineral potential, and the Department of Commerce should evaluate the fishery potential for the seabeds in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean under consideration, so that the value to the American public can play an appropriate place in negotiations with the Russians. 7. The Department of State should renounce the executive agreement that Secretary of State James A. Baker III signed. It should renegotiate a maritime boundary which reflects that the American bargaining position that has improved substantially since 1990 vis-a-vis the Russian government.
8. The Senate should renounce any vote on the proposed treaty, inasmuch as it was not given a full and candid presentation by the State Department and was never informed by the State Department from 1977-1990 of the negotiations so that Senate could exercise its "advice" authority under the "advice and consent" clause of the Constitution.
9. Prosecutions should commence against all officials who have participated in this giveaway, including all civil and criminal offenses of state and federal law.