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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Moreover, the Convention had the backing of the kind of coalition that normally augurs success in Washington. There was certainly no doubt about the military’s support. A so-called “24-star” letter from the Joint Chiefs of Staff called on the Senate to approve the Convention. In addition, the Convention had the support of many high-level officials in the civilian agencies. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez all wrote strong letters urging the Senate to act. And, as a demonstration of high-level Administration commitment, both Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England testified in support of the Convention at a Senate hearing in September 2007. Moreover, several Reagan-era officials, including former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Ambassador Ken Adelman, argued publicly that President Reagan’s problems with the Convention had been fixed and that it was time for the United States to join. Finally, the Convention was also 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.
Since at least 1994, a strong base of support for accession to the Law of the Sea Convention in the United States has existed in the federal government, industry and civil society. It is likely that no other treaty has ever been so widely supported and yet failed to be put to a vote in the Senate for such a long duration. The Defense Department, the State Department, the Commerce Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, the oil industry, the shipping industry, and the fishing sector, as well as environmental and conservation non-governmental organizations and religious organizations all support the treaty. Additionally, both the National Commission on Oceans Policy and the Pew Oceans Commission in their recent reports strongly urged immediate action by the Senate and accession to the Convention.
Further reflecting broad bipartisan support, in a highly unusual statement in the history of U.S. treaty ratification practice, all living former Legal Advisers of the U.S. Department of State issued a joint letter on April l7, 2004 to Senators William H. Frist (then Majority Leader), Richard G. Lugar (then Chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations), and John W. Warner and Carl Levin (respectively, then Chairman and Ranking Member, Committee on Armed Services. In that letter, the eight former Legal Advisers wrote:
We are unanimous in our view that it is in the best interests of the United States that the Senate, at its earliest opportunity, grant its advice and consent to United States accession to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to United States ratification of the 1994 Implementing Agreement that modifies Part XI of the LOS Convention.
Finally, the critics brush aside the consensus among affected ocean interests and knowledgeable oceans experts in the United States in favor of their own judgment as persons who clearly lack expertise in international law or operational U.S. maritime policy. Indeed, few conventions have been so unanimously supported by knowledgeable experts and affected interests. Supporters include every president, both Democrat and Republican, who has considered the convention subsequent to the successful 1994 renegotiation of Part XI on deep seabed mining, Joint Chiefs chairman, combatant commanders and secretaries of state from the Nixon administration to today; not to mention every affected U.S. oceans interest including the oil and gas industry, fisheries, shipping and oceanic cables industries; to marine scientists and environmentalists. Most recently, the congressional U.S. Oceans Commission and the new Bush administration Oceans Interagency Task Force both unanimously recommended Senate advice and consent on the convention. As deliberations continue, senators might want to ask who they trust more for national security advice: every chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the combatant commanders of our united geographic commands and the consistent view of the Navy since the Nixon administration, or those few who admittedly are not naval, oceans or international law experts. Further, how can the totality of U.S. agencies, military departments and private sector oceans industries representatives constitute a "special interest" as charged by the critics? By what criteria are the most vocal critics not special interests?
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On October 7, 1994, President Clinton submitted UNCLOS and the IA to the Senate for advice and consent to accession and ratification, re- spectively. Despite widespread bi-partisan support, the concurrence of all the Federal agencies and departments with ocean interests, and support from the U.S. maritime industries (oil and gas, shipping, telecommunications, marine science, fishing) and environmental groups, the Convention and its Implementing Agreement have languished in the Senate for the past 20 years.
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The majority view of the SFRC and the opinion of every major ocean constituency group is that joining the convention is in America’s foreign policy interests. Debating the merits of internationalism versus unilateralism is a great U.S. tradition, but the irony is that the convention actually allows for an expansion of U.S. sovereignty: freedom of movement for a powerful navy; a legal tool for U.S. forces to combat scourges at sea, such as piracy, drug trafficking, and human smuggling; and a process for extending U.S. jurisdiction over a vast amount of ocean space equal to half the size of the Louisiana Purchase.
The United Nations has taken a lead role in managing the world's oceans. In 1994, it produced the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which defines maritime zones and serves as a "constitution for the sea." To date, 163 countries have joined in the Convention, with the United States being the only major maritime country that has not ratified the convention. According to the Foreign Policy Association's National Opinion Ballot Report, a large majority of respondents (79%) believe that the U.S. should end its holdout and officially ratify UNCLOS. Such a response may reflect a larger trend on the ballot, as 57% of balloters believe that issues such as fisheries management are best handled by the UN instead of local or regional governments.
The respondents' preference for an international approach extends outside the UN framework. As the global community debates how to handle the Arctic, which is now beginning to yield more mineral resources as the polar ice caps continue to melt, NOBR participants indicate that they would favor an international treaty to govern the use of Arctic resources. Ninety-five percent of respondents agree that the U.S. and other countries with sovereignty in the Arctic should develop an agreement "similar to the Antarctic Treaty," which bans mineral mining and reserves the region for peaceful uses such as research and tourism.
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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.