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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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.