U.S. ratification of UNCLOS critical to naval soft power needed for cooperation with other navies
Although there may have been a time when the U.S. could simply declare its will and rely on the persuasive power of its global presence and naval gross tonnage to ensure cooperation, the guarantors of success in the modern maritime domain are more likely successfully coordinated coalitions and bilateral relationships. UNCLOS membership would provide a strong foundation for both.
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The continued failure to ratify LOSC will not prohibit the United States from taking action against piracy. The United States conducts counter-piracy operations today despite its reluctance to ratify LOSC. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard often execute such operations using the legal authorities granted under the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA Convention) – to which the United States is a party.15 Regardless, U.S. Navy and Coast Guard officials continually argue that LOSC adds legitimacy to counter-piracy efforts. In an era of hybrid threats in the maritime domain, this added legitimacy will make it easier for the United States to cooperate with international partners in this area.
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As an UNCLOS party, the U.S. would assume a natural leadership role, facilitating coalitions and eliciting support from nations inclined to support the legal prerequisites for military maritime mobility. The U.S. relies on this support in a variety of contexts, ranging from the International Maritime Organization and regular bilateral interactions with partners and allies, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative,100 where there is direct evidence that non-party status has inhibited U.S. counter-proliferation efforts.101" UNCLOS membership would also enhance the U.S.’ influence with other states as they continue to evaluate their own practices and legal positions.102
Although there may have been a time when the U.S. could simply declare its will and rely on the persuasive power of its global presence and naval gross tonnage to ensure cooperation, the guarantors of success in the modern maritime domain are more likely successfully coordinated coalitions and bilateral relationships.103 UNCLOS membership would provide a strong foundation for both.
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For many of the laws the Coast Guard enforces, especially those involving drug trafficking, illegal immigration, and counterterrorism, we leverage international partnerships to monitor, interdict, and prosecute those who threaten our Nation’s security. Our international partners are overwhelmingly parties to the Law of the Sea Convention. Our status as a non-party presents an unnecessary obstacle to gaining their cooperation. Accession to the Convention would most effectively cement a common cooperative framework, language, and operating procedures used in securing expeditious boarding, search, enforcement, and disposition decisions, thereby enabling on-scene personnel, cutters, and maritime patrol aircraft to pursue further mission tasking.
We also must cooperate and engage with our international partners to advance global and regional security priorities. Strengthening these relationships is crucial for sustaining our international leadership. Acceding to the Convention is an important step to achieving these goals. Frequently, the Coast Guard works internationally to train other nations’ navies. These navies more closely resemble the Coast Guard in authority and activity, uniquely positioning us to expand important maritime partnerships. The Convention serves as our guiding framework in helping these navies develop domestic law, protocols, and strategies. The Coast Guard needs the Convention to better promote United States security interests through capacity building. Building this capacity is an important force multiplier for the Coast Guard that further secures stability of the oceans, promotes efficient maritime commerce, and aids us in achieving strategic objectives regarding safety, security, and environmental protection.
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Beyond the Arctic, the committee anticipates increased HA/DR missions by U.S. naval forces as a result of projected increases in extreme climatic events. To support this potential increasing mission for humanitarian assistance to climate refugees and disaster-relief operations, allied partnerships will be essential. Hence the committee sees ratification of the Convention as an important national priority to leverage the enormous “soft power” of the treaty to share burdens and reduce the national security risks to the naval and joint forces and the nation. Becoming a party to the Convention then is clearly in the U.S. naval forces’ best interests as the Arctic opens as a fifth ocean of interest.
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In 2008, the National Defense Strategy signed by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates reinforced the main tenets of the Coopera- tive Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, issued in 2007 by the chief of naval operations and the commandants of the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard. 18 Both strategies emphasize that the prevention of war is the best way to achieve U.S. national security, and both highlight the fact that a strengthened system of alliances and partnerships is an essential component of building stability, collective security, and trust. The Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower is aptly named and uniquely relevant when considering the question of whether to join the convention. Its main points are:
- Preventing wars is as important as winning wars.
- U.S. maritime power comprises six core capabilities that emphasize preventing war and building partnerships: deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response.
- Expanded cooperative relationships with other nations will contrib- ute to the security and stability of the maritime domain to the benefit of all.
- Trust and confidence cannot be surged; they must be built over time while mutual understanding and respect are promoted.
- Global maritime partnerships provide a cooperative approach to maritime security, promoting the rule of law by countering piracy, terrorism, weapons proliferation, drug trafficking, and other illicit activities.
This strategy predicts that “increased competition for resources, coupled with scarcity, may encourage nations to exert wider claims of sovereignty over greater expanses of ocean, waterways, and natural resources—potentially resulting in conflict.”
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Certainly ratification will place the United States on firm legal standing, but more importantly, ratification will add significantly to the legitimacy of U.S. operations conducted under the framework of UNCLOS. But does obtaining legitimacy carry enough weight to warrant ratification? And would ratification increase the legitimacy of U.S. action? Absolutely. Through theory and practical application, legitimacy, like the other principles of war, has come to form the bedrock foundation by which joint operations are planned and conducted.38 Legitimacy isn’t, however, just “an other principle” of warfare that can be brushed aside when inconvenient. Instead, and rightfully so, legitimacy concerns often times drive commanders to operate within a multinational construct.39 Thus, sustaining legitimacy is, and will remain, a priority for leaders at all levels of the military and must be included in the planning and execution phases to ensure operations are viewed in a favorable light post implementation.40 Moreover, legitimacy is no longer an imperative solely for the politician or diplomat; that line has become hopelessly blurred.41 Instead, legitimacy has become “a prime example of the nexus between politics and war.”42 In other words, it sends a clear message to the world that military actions match rhetoric with respect to the rule of law.43 Furthermore, speaking to the issue of UNCLOS directly, legitimacy is the seam created when U.S. policy is to operate within international law, but not as part of it. Thus, legitimacy is not legality, although the law is certainly a component.44 Clearly U.S. Freedom of Navigation and Proliferation Security Initiatives, both underwritten by UNCLOS provisions, are at least debatably legal under current practice but still they fail to achieve widespread international approval.
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Twenty-first century global challenges demand global solutions that harness innovation to develop countermeasures and collaboration-between private and public sectors, and among global state and non-state actors-to ensure these threats are adequately addressed. International efforts to modernize and strengthen governance regimes are an important additional step, as international legal frameworks and norms put pressure on states to act in ways that support the global good. By working toward these goals in concert with other nations, U.S. leaders can help ensure the continued openness of the global commons, the literal and virtual foundations upon which international security is pursued, achieved, and protected.
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“Sea power” encompasses both naval power and maritime power. Naval power combines strategy and doctrine with warships and aircraft in order to de- ter maritime threats, win war at sea, and project power ashore. The more inclusive concept of “maritime power” applies all components of diplomatic, in- formational, military, and economic aspects of national power in the maritime domain. The expanded notion of sea power as against purely naval power is de- pendent upon the regimes created by progressive maritime law. The primary beneficiaries of this phenomenon in the United States are the Coast Guard and Marine Corps, which share a history of maritime constabulary opera- tions—positioned at the seam between peace and war and embracing the geographic dimensions of land and sea. In contrast, for decades the Navy marginalized amphibious warfare; only in the last decade has this mind-set changed. It is no coincidence, however, that while the Coast Guard and Marine Corps have become more relevant, the Navy still struggles to find its place amid a network of new regimes that enable coalition maritime constabulary operations and the building of maritime security capacity and partnership. The Cooperative Strategy of 2007 attempts to serve as a framework to fill this void, but problems of adapting to the new approach persist. Four years after in- troducing the “thousand-ship navy” concept and a year after soliciting inputs from American embassy posts, the Pentagon still has yet to implement its vi- sion for the Global Maritime Partnership.17 Furthermore, the new legal net- works and partnerships that facilitate maritime coalitions should have been central to the Cooperative Strategy; instead, the document barely mentions in- ternational law, obliquely noting that “theater security cooperation” requires, among other things, “regional frameworks for improving maritime gover- nance, and cooperation in enforcing the rule of law,” at sea.18 Although the strategy correctly suggests that “trust and cooperation cannot be surged,” it fails to promote America’s great strength in broadening the rule of law in the oceans. The lack of a specific reference to the global network of international laws that implicitly underlie the Cooperative Strategy represents a missed op- portunity to play to the core U.S. strength, focus the purpose and goals of na- tional maritime security, and reassure states skeptical of American intentions.
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Over the past two decades international maritime law has evolved from a set of rules designed to avoid naval warfare, by keeping maritime powers apart, toward a new global framework designed to facilitate maritime security cooperation, by bringing naval forces together to collaborate toward achieving common goals. The effects of this change are far-reaching—for the first time, law is a force multiplier for pursuing shared responsibilities in the maritime domain. In a departure from the past hundred years of state practice, the contem- porary focus of international maritime law now is constructive and prospective, broadening partnerships for enhancing port security, as well as coastal and in-shore safety, extending maritime domain awareness, and countering threats at sea. In contrast, the predominant influence of law on sea power from the first Hague conference in 1899, through two world wars, and continuing until the end of the Cold War, was focused on developing naval arms-control regimes, refining the laws of naval warfare, and prescribing conduct at sea to erect “firewalls” that separated opposing fleets. The maritime treaties were designed to maintain the peace or prevent the expansion of war at sea by controlling the types and numbers of warships and their weapons systems and by reducing provocative or risky behavior.
Today treaties do more than reduce friction and build confidence: contemporary international maritime agreements spread safety and security through networks or coalitions. Laws and international institutions have become catalysts for fostering coordination among states and distributed maritime forces and spreading the rule of law at sea, and as a consequence, the strategic, operational, and political “landscapes” of the oceans have decisively changed.
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Our Maritime Security Strategy is founded upon the basic truth that nations with common interests in international commerce, safety, and security can work together to address common challenges. While the Armed Forces of the United States will always enjoy the capability to unilaterally conduct military operations wherever and whenever necessary, we also know that global security depends upon a partnership of maritime nations sharing common goals and values.
Global maritime security is undergoing significant transformation today, and as the world’s foremost maritime power, the United States is both expected and required to lead that transformation. We must lead and manage a maritime security domain in which friendly navies, coast guards, and industry develop common interoperability protocols and information sharing frameworks. In turn, these arrangements must enable distributed maritime operations appropriately scaled to address the full range of 21st Century maritime security challenges, including proliferation of WMD, terrorism, piracy, and transnational criminal activities such as narcotics and human trafficking.
Joining the Law of the Sea Convention is critical to the success of our Maritime Security Strategy. By joining the Convention the United States will be able to effectively develop and lead an association of maritime partners dedicated to ensuring public order in the world’s oceans.