Consensus of experts advocate for U.S. ratification of UNCLOS
A broad, bipartisan consensus supports U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention, and has consistently argued on its behalf for the past 30 years. This coalition includes high-level officials from the past six administrations and backing by all Presidents since Clinton. It also includes a range of senior defense officials including every Chief of Naval Operations. The Convention has also been strongly supported by every major ocean industry, including shipping, fishing, oil and natural gas, drilling contractors, ship builders, and telecommunications companies, and representatives of the oil and gas, shipping, and telecommunications industries testified in favor of the Convention before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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From the negotiating history to the present, freedom of the seas has been the principle U.S. national interest in the treaty. In early 2007, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Stephen B. Hadley wrote to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “the Convention supports navigational rights critical to military operations and essential to the formulation and implementation of the President’s National Security Strategy, as well as the National Strategy for Maritime Security.”67 On May 15, 2007, President Bush declared, “Joining [the Law of the Sea Con- vention] will serve the national security interests of the United States, including the maritime mobility of our armed forces world- wide.”68 Shortly thereafter, on June 26, 2007, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which includes the Chairman and the Service Chiefs, all signed a letter to the Senate in support of the Convention.69
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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.
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The debate over whether to ratify has been characterized as one between “interests with varying degrees of political and eco- nomic power.”221 Historically, the competing interests have been domestic private industries, such as petroleum, fishing, and hard minerals, government arms, such as the military and defense department, and also scientific communities.222
Today, the Convention enjoys widespread support from virtually all groups that have an interest on the seas, including American business groups, various military defense officials and groups, environmental and public interest organizations, high level administration officials, and legal and research bodies, satisfying rationalist observers that the right influences are in favor of the Convention.223
I hope the Committee will also bear in mind that the Law of the Sea negotiations were a long-term bipartisan effort to further American interests that engaged high level attention in successive Administrations and distinguished members of both Houses of Congress. President Nixon had the vision to launch the negotiations and establish our basic long-term strategy and objectives. President Ford solidified important trends in the negotiations by endorsing fisheries legislation modeled on the emerging texts of the Convention. President Carter attempted to induce the developing countries to take a more realistic approach to deep seabed mining by endorsing unilateral legislation on the subject. President Reagan determined both to insist that our problems with the deep seabed mining regime be resolved and to embrace the provisions of the Convention regarding traditional uses of the oceans as the basis of U.S. policy. President George H.W. Bush seized the right moment to launch informal negotiations designed to resolve the problems identified by President Reagan. President Clinton’s Administration carried that effort through to a successful conclusion. And now the Administration of President George W. Bush has expressed its support for Senate approval of the Convention and the 1994 Implementing Agreement.
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Additionally, two commissions, the National Commission on Oceans Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission, have argued in the strongest possible terms for U.S. ratification. The first, chaired by former-CNO Admiral James Watkins, in its 20 September 2004 report, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, unanimously recommended adoption and concluded: “Time is of the essence if the United States is to maintain its leadership role in ocean and coastal activities.” The presidential response to the report reflected the ongoing support of the executive branch—and especially the current administration—that “As a matter of national security, economic self-interest, and international leadership, the Bush administration is strongly committed to U.S. accession to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”3
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In order to have a legitimate say in the dividing of the newly available Arctic resources, one approach is that the United States should ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as soon as possible.56 Almost all opposition to the convention can be attributed to old-guard politics and irrational distrust of international organizations like the United Nations. According to J. D. Watkins and L. E. Panetta, “The Law of the Sea Treaty has a diverse and bipartisan group of experienced national backers, including military leaders, environmentalists, ocean industries, think tanks and political figures who recognize and support the pressing need to sign this treaty.”57 By ratifying the treaty, the United States would not only be able to further its own goals in relation to the Arctic Scramble, but also take on a leadership role in international negotiations. Failure to do so may result in a loss of claimable Arctic territory and the resultant strategic resources.
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Both within Democratic and Republican presidential administrations, U.S. govern- ment officials, industry group representatives, and senior officers of the armed forces have forcefully and persuasively testified as to the merits of the LOS Convention for the United States.5 The Treaty is strongly in the American national interest: promoting the require- ments of a global security presence, providing a framework for preservation of maritime mobility and maneuverability, creating a system for facilitating transnational trade and promoting economic prosperity, and creating a regime of binding dispute resolution and conflict avoidance that is a cornerstone for building a stable legal order for the oceans. Indeed, a comprehensive case for U.S. accession already has been made most eloquently by Ambassador John Norton Moore and retired Rear Admiral William L. Schachte in a paper that has been widely distributed on Capitol Hill.6
Executives in the energy, telecommunications and shipping industries understand how the convention will make us more prosperous. Military commanders understand how the convention will make us more secure, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly support the treaty. Some detractors of the treaty have unfairly (and inaccurately) suggested that our most senior admirals and generals support the Law of the Sea due to the persistence of a cadre of Navy lawyers. In fact, our military leaders are savvy, independent thinkers who are accustomed to gathering the facts and exercising decisive judgment. Moreover, Navy lawyers are foremost naval officers wearing the uniform and embedded into military units in peacetime and combat. Sharing two professions, the profession of arms and the profession of law, this is not a silkstocking club of suits, but advisers who train and deploy with the force, providing advice on the projection of sea power on the water and ashore.
The other factor that is different this time as the Senate considers ratification is the overwhelming support of U.S. business. Manufacturers along with oil, telecommunications, and shipping companies, and every other sector of the economy with a stake in access to sea lines of communication and undersea resources support ratification of the convention. Both the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have voiced their support. Senator Kerry is taking advantage of this support from U.S. businesses by including their representatives in upcoming hearings.
In a rare show of solidarity, American labor and the environmental community have joined hands in supporting accession. The AFL-CIO and the Seafarers International Union of North America both sent letters to the administration in the last year expressing support. A group of nine environmental conservation groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Ocean Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund, sent a letter to Secretary Clinton in October voicing support for ratification.
The Law of the Sea has been ratified by 162 countries, including every other member of the UN Security Council and every other industrialized nation on the planet. It undergirds the modern international order in the maritime domain, an order built by the United States and its allies. It is the only comprehensive treaty recognized worldwide that lays out the rules for vessels on the high seas. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, recognizing its value, operate under its guidelines even in the absence of ratification.
The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy has taken a strong interest in the international implications of ocean policy since the inception of our work. Our 16 Commissioners were appointed by the President - 12 from a list of nominees submitted by the leadership of Congress - and represent a broad spectrum of ocean interests. The Oceans Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-256) specifically charged our Commission with developing recommendations on a range of ocean issues, including recommendations for a national ocean policy that "...will preserve the role of the United States as a leader in ocean and coastal activities."
With this charge in mind, the Commission took up the issue of accession to the LOS Convention at an early stage. At its second meeting in November, 2001, the Commissioners heard testimony from Members of Congress, federal agencies, trade associations, conservation organizations, the scientific community and coastal states. We heard compelling testimony from many diverse perspectives - all in support of ratification of the LOS Convention. After reviewing these statements and related information, our Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution in support of United States accession to the LOS Convention. The fact that this resolution was our Commission's first policy pronouncement speaks to the real sense of urgency and importance attached to this issue by my colleagues on the Commission.
The Maritime Law Association of the United States, joined fully by the American Bar Association, emphatically urges the Biden Administration and the Senate to take immediate action to ratify both the Rotterdam Rules and UNCLOS and allow the U.S. to best address current and future global maritime issues.
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