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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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.
Myth 1: “We don't need no stinkin' UNCLOS! " as customary international law will protect important U.S. interests.
Not so. The Convention provides clear legal rules in a written, comprehensive treaty, as opposed to sometimes fuzzy customary international law that is easily challenged by unilateral claims and altered by countries' practices over time. The United States was one of only four countries to vote against the Convention in 1982 and continues to be aligned with such non-signatories as North Korea, relying on a curious mixture of customary law and unofficial adherence to UNCLOS provisions. We can't have it both ways, especially as we seek international partnership in other critical areas of national concern-such as the I.OOO-ship navy and a variety of international governance regimes for the good order and security of the maritime commons.
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Admiral Harry Ulrich, Commander, US Naval Forces Europe, espouses a relatively simple formula for the global war on terrorism: have more partners than your ad- versaries have. The reasons are elementary. The struggle against disorder knows no flag. Waging that struggle has become a team sport. Vice Admiral Morgan has been the leading voice for the 1,000-ship multinational navy/Global Maritime Partner- ship, a concept designed to attract the kind of partners Admiral Ulrich seeks. Does the Global Maritime Partnership (and the Global Fleet Station initiative70) need a unifying global maritime strategy that promises to respect the rules of interna- tional law? Many of the potential 1,000-ship-navy partners think so.71
In their response to the November 2005 “1,000 Ship Navy” article by Admirals Morgan and Martoglio,72 the naval commanders of France, Ghana, India, Portugal and Spain all referred to the rule of law or legal considerations.73 The French com- mander, for example, observed that any 1,000-ship-navy operations must be “in full compliance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea . . . .” Portugal ex- pressly referred to the “rule of law,” and India asked whether the 1,000-ship con- cept should be established under the aegis of the United Nations. Admiral Soto of the Spanish Navy observed that “[t]ogether we must find a legal solution to pre- serving the natural flow of friendly maritime trade while denying freedom of action to those criminals who attempt to use the maritime space for illegal activities.” It seems clear that respect for international law has the potential to unite or fracture the embryonic 1,000-ship navy.
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One year later, many of those same foreign CNOs were asked to respond to Admiral Mullen’s plan for a new US maritime strategy.74 Once again, interna- tional law figured prominently in several of the responses. The Commandant of the Brazilian Navy urged that the new strategy “be guided by principles sanctioned by international law,” a viewed shared by the Secretary General of the Peruvian Navy and the Portuguese Navy Chief of Staff. Their counterpart in Colombia emphasized the need for an “international legal mechanism of cooper- ation.” Uruguay’s reply was also directly on point: “Multilateral cooperation among navies is legitimate activity when it is based on the law.” The Commander of the Lebanese Navy cited the 1982 LOS Convention and cautioned against the United States acting alone, while the new Chief of Staff for the Spanish Navy highlighted the need for the US Navy “to operate alongside its allies in accordance with international law.” The Australian Maritime Doctrine elegantly and forcefully captures the central importance of law and legitimacy for one of America’s most respected partners:
Australia’s use of armed force must be subject to the test of legitimacy, in that the Government must have the capacity to demonstrate to the Parliament and the electorate that there is adequate moral and legal justification for its actions . . . . [T]his adherence to legitimacy and the democratic nature of the Australian nation state is a particular strength. It is a historical fact that liberal democracies have been more successful in the development and operation of maritime forces than other forms of government, principally because the intensity and complexity of the sustained effort required for these capabilities places heavy demands upon a nation’s systems of state credit, its technological and industrial infrastructure, and its educated population. Sophisticated combat forces, in other words, depend directly upon the support of the people for their continued existence.75
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In Working with Other Nations, a U.S. Navy strategy white-paper, Navy strategists suggest that multi-lateral, combined naval operations with friendly nations is the preferable way to further political, economic, and se- curity objectives in an economically and politically interdependent world.261 United States national security continues to require forward naval presence to ensure that information, capital, raw material, and manufactured goods flow freely across borders and oceans.262 One way to secure forward naval presence in foreign EEZs without contention and confrontation is by "establishing relations with security partners in peacetime before the onset of a crisis."263 A useful legal tool in support of this strategy is to create consensus on the law through multi-lateral cooperation and agreement.264
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Becoming a Party to the Law of the Sea Convention directly supports our National Strategy for Maritime Security. As the President noted in the opening pages of the Strategy: “We must maintain a military without peer – yet our strength is not founded on force of arms alone. It also rests on economic prosperity and a vibrant democracy. And it rests on strong alliances, friendships, and international institutions, which enable us to promote freedom, prosperity, and peace in common purpose with others.” That simple truth has been the foundation for some of our most significant national security initiatives, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative. As the leader of a community of nations that are Parties to the Convention, more than 150 in total, the United States will be better positioned to work with foreign air forces, navies, and coast guards to address jointly the full spectrum of 21st Century security challenges.
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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.