U.S. failure to ratify UNCLOS has not been detrimental
Many of the risk scenarios critics predicted would happen in 1982 if the U.S. failed to ratify UNCLOS have not occurred and the U.S. is no worse off 30 years later for not having ratified the treaty.
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Critics of the U.S. refusal to sign in 1982 predicted ocean chaos, but as noted earlier, not once has an American ship been denied passage. No country has had either the incentive or the ability to interfere with U.S. ship- ping, and, if one or more had, the LOST would have been of little help. In 1998 treaty supporters agitated for immediate ratification because several special exemptions for the United States were set to expire. Washington did not ratify and no one seemed to notice.
Ironically, problems cited by U.S. shippers -- creation of a “particularly sensitive sea area” off of Europe, for instance—have involved alleged misinterpretations of the treaty, not America’s lack of membership.67 And foreign shippers have attempted to use the LOST to escape application of U.S. environmental controls.68 Joining the treaty would provide no panacea.
Critics of the U.S. refusal to sign in 1982 predicted ocean chaos, but not once has an American ship been denied passage. No country has had either the incentive or the ability to interfere with U.S. shipping. And if they had, the treaty would have been of little help. In 1998 Law of the Sea Treaty supporters agitated for immediate ratification because several special exemptions for the United States were set to expire; Washington did not ratify, and no one seems to have noticed. Now Lugar worries that Washington could "forfeit our seat at the table of institutions that will make decisions about the use of the oceans." Yet last October Assistant Secretary of State John F. Turner told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that America has "had considerable success" in asserting "its oceans interests as a nonparty to the Convention."
Law of the Sea Treaty proponents talk grandly of the need to "restore U.S. leadership," but real leadership can mean saying no as well as yes. Ronald Reagan was right to torpedo the Law of the Sea Treaty two decades ago. Creating a new oceans bureaucracy is no more attractive today.