Judicial and Arbitral Proceedings and the Outer Limits of the Continental Shelf

This Article explores when international third-party dispute settlement forums may hear cases concerning the outer limits of a continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from baselines.  The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea articulated determinate rules for establishing those limits and created an institution—the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf—to make recommendations concerning them.  Limits set by coastal states “on the basis of” such recommendations “shall be final and binding.”  Yet the Law of the Sea Convention’s third-party dispute settlement system may also apply to outer limits questions concerning the Arctic Ocean and other oceans.

International courts and tribunals are likely to play only limited roles in reviewing a coastal state’s compliance with the substantive and procedural requirements of the Law of the Sea Convention related to the outer limits of its continental shelf.  Rules about jurisdiction and standing, and the need to accord appropriate deference to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, will restrict the cases that may be pursued.   Although third-party tribunals might issue occasional advisory opinions or rulings in contentious interstate cases, helping to settle disputes or promote consistent and accurate application of the law, alternative mechanisms will often have to further these goals.

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