Monday, August 24, 2009

It Is Time for the United States to Join the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

Ship As many readers of this blog are probably aware, the United States is in the minority of countries that have not ratified the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Treaty (UNCLOS).  In May of this year, the Obama Administration announced that ratification of UNCLOS is among its top treaty priorities.


UNCLOS is designed to facilitate international communication, promote peaceful uses of the seas and the equitable and efficient allocation of its resources, as well as the conservation and preservation of the marine environment.  To these ends, UNCLOS sets forth international standards for fishing, deep seabed mining, navigation, access to underwater resources, and scientific cooperation.  As of this writing, there are 159 parties to UNCLOS.


UNCLOS enjoys broad bi-partisan support including both former U.S. Presidents Bush and Clinton, the U.S. military, many business interests including the mining, fishing, shipping, and telecommunications industries, and environmental groups.


Opponents of the treaty argue that joining UNCLOS will diminish U.S. sovereignty and control by reducing U.S. freedom of action and subjecting the U.S. to international bodies -- arguments that could be made about virtually any treaty and that do not address the merits of UNCLOS.  Joining UNCLOS will bring many benefits, including securing navigation and overflight rights for the U.S. military; ensuring U.S. control over natural resources in its territorial seas, exclusive economic zone (the largest in the world) and continental shelf; opening up deep seabed mining to participation by U.S. companies; increasing support for and adherence to environmental protections found in the treaty; and clarifying rules for the Arctic regions.   And while UNCLOS does create international bodies, such as the Deep Seabed Authority, at least U.S. ratification will give the United States a seat at the table when the parties make and refine the international rules governing management of the sea and its resources.  


The potential gains to be achieved by membership in UNCLOS far outweigh any possible concerns.  It is time for the United States to ratify UNCLOS.


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