U.S. failure to ratify UNCLOS complicates U.S. naval operations in the Arctic
By remaining outside the Convention, the United States makes it more difficult for U.S. naval forces to have maximum operating flexibility in the Arctic and complicates negotiations with maritime partners for coordinated search and rescue operations in the region. The ability of U.S. naval forces to carry out their missions would be assisted if the United States were to ratify UNCLOS.
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The foundational element of any U.S. security strategy for the Arctic, including NSPD-66, is to ensure freedom of navigation. As a nation heavily dependent on shipping and maritime access, the United States has a vital national interest in supporting the most stringent enforcement of open sea lanes of communication. The most effective tool for governing and enforcing the right of free passage in international straits is the UNCLOS treaty.
The fact that the United States has not ratified the treaty is of key relevance to its efforts to ensure freedom of navigation in the Arctic and to take full advantage of the region’s economic benefits. A product of nine years of international collaboration and active U.S. participation, UNCLOS entered into force in 1994 and provides the most comprehensive framework available for governing the world’s oceans, including the Arctic. The treaty established internationally rec- ognized measures to claim sea areas and rights to territorial waters, exclusive economic zones, and extensions of national underwater continental shelves. Currently 161 countries and the European Union have joined the convention.32 While the United States has not ratified the treaty, it does view the treaty as international customary law and abides by nearly all its articles. It is unclear when the U.S. Senate will ratify the treaty, although both the Bush and the Obama administrations have sought ratification.
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FINDING: The committee has studied the implications of the failure of the United States to ratify the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) from the standpoint of potential impacts on national security in the context of a changing climate. As climate change affords increased access to the Arctic, it is envisioned that there will be new opportunities for natural resource exploration and recovery, as well as increased ship traffic of all kinds, and with that a need for broadened naval partnership and cooperation, and a framework for settling potential disputes and conflicts. By remaining outside the Convention, the United States makes it more difficult for U.S. naval forces to have maximum operating flexibility in the Arctic and complicates negotiations with maritime partners for coordinated search and rescue operations in the region. (Chapter 1)
RECOMMENDATION: The ability of U.S. naval forces to carry out their missions would be assisted if the United States were to ratify UNCLOS. Therefore, the committee recommends that the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard continue to put forward the naval forces’ view of the potential value and operational impact of UNCLOS ratification on U.S. naval operations, especially in the Arctic region. (Chapter 1)