U.S. participation in UNCLOS will not undermine national sovereignty
The sovereignty costs associated with the Convention are grossly overstated primarily because many of these costs have already been accepted by the United States. In addition, the U.S. stands to gain sovereignty over 4.1 million square miles of territory by acceeding to the treaty.
[ Page 365-366 ]
Ultimately, the Convention settled on an outer limit for the continental shelf of 200 miles,38 which satisfied many geographically disadvantaged states (those that do have a naturally wide shelf), but also allowed special considerations for states with naturally broad shelves by granting them a potentially deeper shelf of up to 350 miles instead of the standard 200.39 With the exception of the special considerations, Convention provisions limiting the continental shelf echoed those in the 1964 Convention on the Continental Shelf which set the limit as 200 miles and gave coastal states exclusive rights over its continental shelf.40 The United States is a party to the 1964 Convention on the Continental Shelf and thus bound by these limits.41 However, if the United States qualifies for the special considerations provided for in the Convention for states with naturally broader shelves, it has the potential to increase its continental shelf.42
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Many of these arguments have been put into perspective, however, by the actual history and operation of UNCLOS. Instead of posing a threat to national sovereignty, U.S. ratification of UNCLOS would actually enlarge U.S. power by providing a permanent seat on the ISA,58 and would be ―the greatest expansion of U.S. resource jurisdiction in the history of the nation.59 A permanent seat on the ISA would give the United States a strategic advantage, namely a ―greater ability to defeat amendments that are not in the U.S. interest, by blocking consensus or voting against such amendments.60
Concerns about abuse of power by the ISA are similarly unfounded, as the ISA operates independently from the U.N.61 and is comparable to other specialized U.N. organizations, many of which the U.S. already endorses. Further, the navigational protections for American ships on the high seas would enhance, not diminish, U.S. sovereignty.62 Some UNCLOS proponents also argue that claims to U.S. sovereignty are overstated in the context of a shared resource like the world‘s oceans.63Finally, due to the inevitability of international reliance on UNCLOS to form international maritime law and regulate maritime disputes, the United States will suffer a huge loss of power if it fails to accede to the treaty.64
Even more laughable is the charge of a conspiracy to create a world government. In reality, the convention expanded national sovereign rights more than any international agreement in history. Its central thrust entails an extension of coastal resource and economic rights in a vastly enlarged exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and continental shelf, while furthering sovereign rights and navigational freedom. On the contrary, the corridors of the law of the sea negotiations were predominantly filled with thoughts of nationalism rather than internationalism. And ironically, in their attack on the convention, the critics join extreme internationalists who have been key opponents of the treaty because it focuses on national sovereign rights.
"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) ]
[ Page 58-59 ]
The author placed great emphasis on the Truman Proclamation 2667 (1945) and the Continental Shelf Convention 1958, to which the US is party, as being sufficient to meet all the current US needs. In so doing he uses two arguments which, to our minds, are merely legalistic. Thus he said, n44 as a parser of forms of words, that the difference in context between a coastal state and a state party among separate clauses in narrative usage determines whether or not the US should ratify. This position ignores the fact that UNCLOS 1982 was negotiated by the global community in order to provide a uniform, codified system for ocean management, including the Continental Shelves, for all states. This seems to be made clear by the exceptionally clear definitions contained in it. Thus, most of the world has agreed to go along with a clear Continental Shelf statement in UNCLOS 1982. n45 While the US may, of course, go it alone outside UNCLOS 1982, there is little doubt that a generally uniform global convention reduces uncertainty and confusion for all states parties as well as it would for the US if it were a party. Acceptance would not only further the rule of law but would also be a step closer to the goal of making maritime law uniform. This elusive goal, of course, has seen some progress in the past 150 years. n46 The US can have a [*59] great deal of influence on future developments within the UNCLOS 1982 regime if it has the prima facia credential of being a party. Unfortunately, isolation only diminishes its influence. Here, there seems to be the face of a neoisolationist and parochial sovereignty thematically buried in the author's arguments against UNCLOS 1982. However, every state large or small gives up some of its sovereignty in accepting any international convention, treaty, or agreement to which it is a party. n47 Every act under customary law may have the same effect albeit less precisely measurable and not as predictable by other states. The treaties of Munster n48 and Osnabruck, n49 further embodied in the instruments from the Congress of Vienna, are the cornerstones of modern state sovereignty and statehood. However, even such treaties were never pristine and precisely geometric in concept. There never has been an ideal sovereign within an ideal state having ideal laws. Like all law, international law is a living and sociallyrooted concept making survival of the world body politic more likely. Indeed, that is the impetus for its existence. That body of law, however, can be developed, revised, discarded, changed, and superseded by the wellknown mechanisms suggested supra. This has a clear implication not addressed by the author to which we wish he had given thoughtful detail.
"Commentary in Reply to “Is it Time for the United States to Join the Law of the Sea Convention”
." Journal of Maritime Law & Commerce
. Vol. 42, No. 1 (January 2011): 49-70. [ More (6 quotes) ]
[ Page 86-87 ]
No wonder everyone from the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (along with every living secretary of state) has argued that the United States should ratify unclos. It is far past time for the Senate to follow their advice. Skeptical Senate Republicans have stood in the way of ratification, arguing that the treaty would place limits on U.S. sovereignty. But that argument is a red herring, since the United States already follows all of the treaty’s guidelines anyway, and ratifying it would in fact give Washington new rights and greater influence. There are probably enough votes from moderate Republicans for the treaty to pass, if the president decided to make ratification a priority.
[Question] How do the panelists respond to the objection that UNCLOS would infringe on U.S. sovereignty? Professor Caron answered that, if anything, UNCLOS represents a tremendous effort to preserve sovereignty in oceans, and expressed that he does not understand the argument that UNCLOS somehow diminishes sovereignty. Ambassador Balton agreed, adding that it is important to try and understand the objections to UNCLOS. He countered the notion the United States can depend on the Navy to assert sovereignty over the ocean, explaining that the Navy is a major advocate of UNCLOS because it is more effective and efficient to use the rule of law rather than military force. Commander Kraska also noted that most materiel moves by non-naval vessels, so it is important to have a regime that prevents other countries from blocking those materiel shipments.
Many other claims are simply misplaced. There is no transfer of sovereignty or wealth to the International Seabed Authority.
We have never claimed sovereignty over the seabeds beyond the continental shelf, and have consistently taken the position that any such claim would be unlawful. This is made abundantly clear by our own Deep Seabed Hard Minerals Act. We neither have nor assert jurisdiction over the activities of foreign states and their nationals on the deep seabeds.
Nothing that could rationally be called sovereignty was conferred on the Seabed Authority. The powers of the Seabed Authority are very carefully defined and circumscribed, and are controlled by a Council on which we will have a permanent seat and a veto over regulations. Private companies have the right to apply for and receive long-term exclusive rights to mine sites on a first-come, first-served basis and have legal title to the minerals they extract. All parties to the Convention are obliged to respect those mining rights and recognize that legal title.
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Myth: The United States is giving up sovereignty to a new international authority that will control the oceans.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The United States does not give up an ounce of sovereignty in this Convention. Rather, the Convention solidifies a truly massive increase in resource and economic jurisdiction of the United States, not only to 200 nautical miles off our coasts, but to a broad continental margin in many areas even beyond that. The new International Seabed Authority created by this Convention, which, as noted, has existed for a decade and will continue to exist regardless of United States actions, deals solely with the mineral resources of the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction. That is an area in which we not only have no sovereignty but also in which we and the entire world have opposed extension of national sovereignty claims. Moreover, to mine the deep seabed minerals requires security of tenure for the billion dollar plus costs of such an operation. Our industry has emphatically told us that they can not mine under a 'fishing approach' in which everyone simply goes out to seize the minerals. The Authority was a necessary specialized agency, of strictly limited jurisdiction, to deal with this need for security of tenure. Quite contrary to the recent testimony of one witness before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the Seabed Authority would not have "the exclusive right to regulate what is done, by whom, when and under what circumstances in subsurface international waters and on the sea-floor."5 Rather, the Authority is a small, narrowly mandated specialized international agency that, emphatically, has no ability to control the water column and only has functional authority over the mining of the minerals of the deep seabed beyond national jurisdiction. Again, this is a necessary requirement for seabed mining, in an area beyond where any nation has sovereignty, to provide security of tenure to mine sites, without which mining will not occur6;
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In contrast, quite to the contrary of arguments advanced against the Convention by some opponents, the Convention does not remove United States sovereignty or sovereign rights over the resources of the deep seabed. Neither the United States nor any other Nation has now, or has ever had, sovereignty over the mineral resources beyond the continental margins. In fact, it has been a consistent position of the United States and other developed nations to oppose any extension of national sovereignty into this area. Indeed, it is precisely because no nation in the world controls the mineral resources of the ocean basins that the Convention has created a narrowly limited international mechanism to permit mining of these resources. For without such a regime, industry simply cannot obtain the legal rights necessary for the over billion dollar cost of a deep seabed mining operation.
Today's opponents, including Ayotte, DeMint, and Portman, focus on two issues. First, they argue, the treaty is an unacceptable encroachment on U.S. sovereignty; it empowers an international organization -- the International Seabed Authority -- to regulate commercial activity and distribute revenue from that activity. Yet sovereignty is not a problem: During the 1994 renegotiation, the United States ensured that it would have a veto over how the ISA distributes funds if it ever ratified the treaty. As written, UNCLOS would actually increase the United States' economic and resource jurisdiction. In fact, Ayotte, DeMint, and Portman's worst fears are more likely to come to pass if the United States does not ratify the treaty. If the country abdicates its leadership role in the ISA, others will be able to shape it to their own liking and to the United States' disadvantage.