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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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.
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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