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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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) ]
Will accession subject the U.S. military to the jurisdiction of international courts? Again, the answer is no. The Convention specifically permits nations to exempt from international dispute resolution, “disputes concerning military activities, including military activities by government vessels and aircraft.” State Parties individually determine what constitute “military activities.” Current and former leadership within the U.S. government have given repeated assurances that the United States would take full advantage of this clause in its accession documents to exempt U.S. military activities and protect them from the jurisdiction of international courts and tribunals. In fact, this is specifically outlined in this Committee’s Draft Resolution of Advice and Consent of 2007 and continues to be supported by the current Administration.
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A final focus of opponents’ criticisms is the Convention’s dispute settlement provisions. While reasonable people can differ over whether third- party dispute settlement is, on balance, a “pro” or a “con,” I believe that these particular provisions are useful, well-tailored, and in no event a reason to jettison the Convention. The United States affirmatively sought dispute settlement procedures in the Convention to encourage compliance and to promote the resolution of disputes by peaceful means. We sought and achieved procedures that are flexible in terms of forum. For example, the Convention allows a Party to choose arbitral tribunals and does not require any disputes to go to the International Court of Justice. Its procedures are also flexible, allowing a Party to choose to exclude certain types of disputes, such as those concerning military activities. In this regard, some have questioned whether it is up to the United States – or a tribunal – to determine what constitutes a U.S. “military activity” under the Convention. We propose to include a declaration in the Senate’s resolution of advice and consent making clear that each Party has the exclusive right to determine what constitutes its “military activity.” And I can assure you that there is no legal scenario under which we would be bound by a tribunal decision at odds with a U.S. determination of military activities.