Political opposition to ratification of UNCLOS dominated by small group of conservatives
Buoyed by ideological opposition to the United Nations, a small minority of conservative opponents in the Senate have stopped it from coming to a vote, even though it will advance U.S. interests in the Arctic and around the world.
Support for ratification has been consistently bipartisan. Proponents include the current president, as well as his predecessors, presidents Bush and Clinton; the current and former secretaries of state, including Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Madeleine Albright; the current and former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the current and former commandants of the Coast Guard; major environmental groups, and many others. A relatively small number of senators have held the treaty hostage.78 Buoyed by ideological opposition to the United Nations, a small minority of opponents have stopped it from coming to a vote, even though it will advance U.S. interests in the Arctic and around the world. These senators argue that the United States does not need to be party to a treaty to enforce the rule of law. This rationale resonates with many Americans and is popular with the Tea Party but, in this case, to the great detriment of national security.
Opponents are similarly reluctant to mention the unanimous support of affected U.S. industries. To oppose the treaty on economic grounds requires opponents to say that the oil, natural gas, shipping, fishing, boat manufacturing, exporting, and telecommunications industries do not understand their own bottom lines. It requires opponents to say that this diverse set of industries is spending money and time lobbying on behalf of an outcome that will be disadvantageous to their own interests.
The vast majority of conservative Republicans would support, in prospect, a generic measure that expands the ability of American oil and natural gas companies to drill for resources in new areas, solidifies the Navy's rights to traverse the oceans, enshrines U.S. economic sovereignty over our Exclusive Economic Zone extending 200 miles off our shore, helps our ocean industries create jobs, and reduces the prospects that Russia will be successful in claiming excessive portions of the Arctic. All of these conservative-backed outcomes would result from U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention. Yet the treaty is being blocked because of ephemeral conservative concerns that boil down to a discomfort with multi-lateralism.
There are a few conservative policy makers who believe UNCLOS is an impediment to U.S. sovereignty; they do not support the U.S. joining UNCLOS.62 But they are in the minority.63 According to the University of Virginia Center for Oceans Law and Policy, the Secretary of Defense, Commandant of the Coast Guard, Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and numerous elected officials support the U.S. joining UNCLOS.64 Additionally, every president since Clinton has pushed for ratification, but the treaty has not survived the Senate, most recently in 2004.65 The ratification of UNCLOS would help the U.S. gain greater influence, sovereignty, and improve strategic vision and cooperation in the Arctic region.66 It appears there are a minority of influential members of the Senate who do not want the U.S. subject to the jurisdiction of an international tribunal (International Law of the Sea Tribunal), which accession would require.
An examination of the ideological bias of the Republican party against international treaties, including UNCLOS.[ More ]