U.S. ratification of UNCLOS will not threaten our intelligence operations
Opponents of U.S. ratification of UNCLOS have argued that U.S. intelligence operations will be complicated by UNCLOS because it will prevent U.S. submarines from gathering intelligence in territorial waters. However, these operations are already regulated by the existing 1958 convention which the U.S. ratified and expects other nations to abide by. Furthermore, the intelligence community has reviewed the treaty and concluded that it was still in U.S. interests to ratify the treaty.
Myth: The convention would interfere with the operations of our intelligence community. Having either chaired or participated in the 18-agency National Security Council interagency process that drafted the United States' negotiating instructions for the convention, we found this charge so bizarre that we recently checked with the intelligence community to see if we had missed something. The answer that came back was that they, too, were puzzled by this charge, as there was absolutely no truth to it. We are confident that there is no provision in the convention which will, if approved by the Senate, constrain the operations of our intelligence community. In this regard, the United States is already bound by the 1958 convention, and since 1983, pursuant to President Reagan's order, we have operated under the provisions of the 1982 convention, with the exception of deep seabed mining issues associated with Part XI.
"The Senate should give immediate advice and consent to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: why the critics are wrong.
." Journal of International Affairs
. Vol. 59, No. 1 (Fall/Winter 2005) [ More (18 quotes) ]
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It is also important to note that UNCLOS does not treat intelligence collection as a threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the coastal state in violation of the U.N. Charter. Article 19(2)(c) clearly distinguishes collecting intelligence from "threat or use of force," which is discussed as a separate prohibited activity in Article 19(2)(a) for ships engaged in innocent passage. This issue was resolved by the Security Council in 1960 following the shoot down of a U.S. U-2 spy plane near Sverdlovsk, Russia. An effort by the Soviet Union to have the Security Council decide that the activity of the U.S. spy plane was an act of aggression was soundly defeated seven to two (with two abstentions), thereby reaffirming the legality of peacetime intelligence collection under the U.N. Charter.47 This view is shared by most experts.4
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The question has been raised whether the Convention (in particular articles 19 and 20) prohibits intelligence activities or submerged transit in the territorial sea of other States. It does not. The Convention’s provisions on innocent passage are very similar to article 14 in the 1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, to which the United States is a party. (The 1982 Convention is in fact more favorable than the 1958 Convention both because the list of non-innocent activities is exhaustive and because it generally uses objective, rather than subjective, criteria in the listing of activities.) A ship does not, of course, enjoy the right of innocent passage if, in the case of a submarine, it navigates submerged or if, in the case of any ship, it engages in an act in the territorial sea aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defense or security of the coastal State, but such activities are not prohibited by the Convention. In this respect, the Convention makes no change in the situation that has existed for many years and under which we operate today.
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Nothing in the Convention will affect the way we currently conduct surveillance and intelligence activities at sea. Opponents to the Convention argue that the Convention’s provisions on innocent passage – Articles 19 and 20 – will prohibit or otherwise adversely affect U.S. intelligence activities in foreign territorial seas at a time when such activity is vital to our national security. I can say without hesitation that nothing could be further from the truth.
While it is true that Article 19 provides that intelligence collection within the territorial sea is inconsistent with the innocent passage regime and that Article 20 provides that submarines must navigate on the surface when engaged in innocent passage, it’s a far stretch to thus conclude that the Convention prohibits intelligence collection and requires submarines to navigate on the surface when transiting the territorial sea. Nothing in Article 19 prohibits a U.S. vessel from engaging in intelligence activities in a foreign territorial sea. If a vessel does engage in such activities, it simply cannot claim that it is engaged in innocent passage. The same rule has applied for the past seven decades. Similarly, Article 20 does not prohibit submerged transits through the territorial sea, per se. Article 20 merely repeats the rule from the 1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea, a convention to which the United States is a party. The rule concerning submerged transits from the 1958 Convention has been the consistent position of nations, including the United States, for more than 70 years and it has never been interpreted as prohibiting or otherwise restricting intelligence collection activities or submerged transits in the territorial sea. In short, if or when the need arises to collect intelligence in a foreign territorial sea, nothing in the LOS Convention will prohibit that activity.
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U.S. intelligence collection activities at sea are not constrained by the Convention. This matter was fully reviewed at closed hearings before the SSCI and SASC in 2004. At the unclassified level we can comment that those Committees concluded, after receiving testimony from DoD, CIA, and DoS, that the Convention does not affect US intelligence collection activities. Those agencies confirmed that testimony in recent correspondence to the SFRC. With regard to innocent passage, the United States already obligates itself to abide by articles 19 and 20 of the Convention, and we are already formally bound to the same obligations in the 1958 Territorial Sea Convention.
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In the mid-1980s the Soviets had drawn a system of straight baselines in the Arctic Ocean. Segment 8-9 is a twenty-six mile line that enclosed Motovsky and Kola Bays. According to the military experts writing in press and magazine accounts, on February 11, 1992, USS Baton Rouge was lurking in what it thought to be international waters when it and a Sierra-class Russian submarine collided.25 In the ensuing diplomatic dispute, the U.S. Navy claimed that the collision occurred more than twelve miles from the "normal baseline," the shoreline, which placed it well within international waters. However, Russia claimed that the U.S. submarine was operating illegally while submerged within its territorial sea as measured from their claimed straight baseline.
Years later, when another Russian submarine, Kursk, sank under mysterious circumstances in the same general area, the Russian Navy immediately claimed that it was the fault of the United States, which had intelligence gathering submarines in the area monitoring the Russian exercises.26 If the United States and Russia were both Party to the Convention, we would likely be able to resolve the legality of this particular baseline segment and avoid such potential incendiary incidents. We continue to have similar disputes concerning excessive straight baseline claims with many other countries all over the world, including China, Iran, Colombia, and Vietnam.