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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.