Dispute resolution mechanisms in UNCLOS do not threaten U.S. military action
Some opponents of UNCLOS have argued that by ratifying UNCLOS, U.S. military forces could be subject to adverse ruling by international tribunals through the dispute resolution mechanisms of the treaty. However, the U.S. defense department has reviewed the relevant law and has found no undue liability risk to U.S. forces. Furthermore, in the Senate's Advice and Consent resolution that would ratify UNCLOS, the U.S. has taken advantage of article 298(1) in UNCLOS to exempt itself from all dispute settlement.
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The negotiating history on the Convention is clear on this point. In 1976, Ecuador attempted to turn the “peaceful purposes” provisions into an arms control obligation. They got nowhere. In response to the argument by Ecuador in 1976, the U.S. replied:
“The term ‘peaceful purposes’ did not, of course, preclude military activities generally. The United States has consistently held that the conduct of military activities for peaceful purposes was in full accord with the Charter of the United Nations and with the principles of international law. Any specific limitation on military activities would require the negotiation of a detailed arms control agreement.”
See 66-68th plenary sessions in 1976. In 1985, the Secretary General of the United Nations reported that, “military activities which are consistent with the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations, in particular Article 2, paragraph 4, and Article 52, are not prohibited by the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
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Myth #8: Had the United States been subject to the Law of the Sea Treaty, President Kennedy could not have quarantined Cuba with the U.S. Navy, President Ford could not have used the Navy to rescue the Mayaguez, and President Reagan could not have sent a Navy carrier force to defy Qaddafi of Libya in the Gulf.
This is completely untrue. All the above operations were conducted in accordance with international law.
- President Kennedy established a quarantine around Cuba under the authorities of the UN Charter (Article 51 on self-defense and Article 52 on regional security arrangements) and the Rio Treaty (which established the Organization of American States (OAS)). On October 23, 1962, OAS voted to approve a U.S.-sponsored quarantine of Cuba.
- President Ford’s use of military force to rescue the Mayaguez and its crew was a lawful use of force in self defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.
- President Reagan deployed an aircraft carrier task force into the Gulf of Sidra to challenge Libya’s unlawful claim that the Gulf was Libyan internal waters. During U.S. freedom of navigation operations in the Gulf, United States Navy aircraft engaged Libyan aircraft in self-defense in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter.
The Convention does not in any manner whatsoever restrict, condition or infringe upon our inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the UN Charter. Nor does it affect our rights under the law of armed conflict.
The Law of the Sea Convention does not constrain or limit the President's options to defend our country; it enhances them by codifying navigation rights and freedoms that are essential for the global mobility of our armed forces and the sustainment of our combat troops.
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Furthermore, the United States has indicated that it may broadly construe the scope of the military activities exception. The U.S. State Department takes the position "that intelligence activities at sea are military activities for purposes of the U.S. dispute settlement exclusion under the Convention and thus the binding dispute settlement procedures would not apply to U.S. intelligence activities at sea."54 The Advice and Consent Resolution also includes an understanding providing that a U.S. military vessel's collection of "military survey data" is a "military activity."55 Hypothetical situations in which U.S. views concerning the scope of "military activities" might differ from the views of international judges or arbitrators are not difficult to imagine. For example, consider a case in which a coastal state challenged the collection in its EEZ of "military survey data" by a U.S. military vessel. Would an international tribunal accept the U.S. assertion that this data collection was a "military activity"? Or would the tribunal instead characterize a dispute over such data collection as one involving coastal state restrictions on the conduct of marine scientific research? Is military deployment of a listening or security device on a coastal state's continental shelf a "military activity" (likely the U.S. view), or would this deployment fall within the scope of the coastal state's control over installations on the continental shelf (under Article 60(1)(c) of the Convention)? The self- judging U.S. "military activities" condition in the Advice and Consent Resolution suggests that the United States desires to preserve its flexibility not to participate in certain third-party proceedings, and that the United States may well regard with great skepticism any attempt to proceed with a case that the United States deems to concern military activities. U.S. State Department and Department of Defense officials, along with military leaders, have stressed the importance ofthis "military activities" condition.
"The United States and the Law of the Sea Convention: U.S. Views on the Settlement of International Law Disputes in International Tribunals and U.S. Courts
." The Publicist
. Vol. 1. (2009): 27-52. [ More (9 quotes) ]