Statement of Admiral Patrick M. Walsh: Accession to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and Ratification of the 1994 Agreement Amending Part XI of the Law of the Sea Convention
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The Convention also allows us to exercise high seas freedoms in foreign exclusive economic zones, including conducting military activities without coastal state interference. And this is important---the single most contentious issue in oceans law and policy today is the attempt by some foreign coastal States to treat the exclusive economic zone – or EEZ — like a territorial sea. The Convention makes clear that coastal States enjoy resource rights within the EEZ, but they do not enjoy and may not assert full sovereignty within the EEZ.
Because we are not a Party to the Law of the Sea Convention today, we must assert that our navigation and overflight rights and high seas freedoms are based upon customary international law. However, that approach plays directly into the hands of those foreign coastal States that want to move beyond the Convention. They too cite customary international law as the basis for their developing claims of coastal State sovereignty in the EEZ and in international straits.
We need to lock in the navigation and overflight rights and high seas freedoms contained in the Convention while we can. Then, acting from within the Convention, we can exercise effective leadership, and in conjunction with our freedom of navigation program, ensure that those rights and freedoms are not whittled away by foreign States.
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On this specific point, it is worth looking at the example of the President’s Proliferation Security Initiative, or PSI. PSI began in May 2003, when 10 like- minded countries joined the United States to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials. Those 11 countries endorsed a series of PSI founding principles, including two essential principles from an operational perspective: One, that all States have broad domestic authorities to act against proliferators and, two, that acting cooperatively, they can use those authorities and international law---including the Law of the Sea Convention--- to prevent proliferation. The Law of the Sea Convention recognizes numerous legal bases for taking action against vessels suspected of engaging in proliferation activities, including port State control measures, flag State authority, and the right of warships to approach and visit commercial vessels.
In just four years, PSI has expanded from its original 11 partner-nations to almost 90, and we have had specific operational successes in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction under PSI. However, our failure to be a Party to the Law of the Sea Convention is limiting further expansion of PSI. Critically important democratic Pacific countries have indicated a desire to support our counter-proliferation efforts, but they tell us that so long as we are not a Party to the Law of the Sea Convention, they will not be able to convince their legislatures to endorse PSI. How, they ask us, can they convince their legislatures that PSI interdiction activities will only occur in accordance with international law including the Law of the Sea Convention, when the leading PSI nation, the United States, refuses to become a party to the Convention?
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Our Maritime Security Strategy is founded upon the basic truth that nations with common interests in international commerce, safety, and security can work together to address common challenges. While the Armed Forces of the United States will always enjoy the capability to unilaterally conduct military operations wherever and whenever necessary, we also know that global security depends upon a partnership of maritime nations sharing common goals and values.
Global maritime security is undergoing significant transformation today, and as the world’s foremost maritime power, the United States is both expected and required to lead that transformation. We must lead and manage a maritime security domain in which friendly navies, coast guards, and industry develop common interoperability protocols and information sharing frameworks. In turn, these arrangements must enable distributed maritime operations appropriately scaled to address the full range of 21st Century maritime security challenges, including proliferation of WMD, terrorism, piracy, and transnational criminal activities such as narcotics and human trafficking.
Joining the Law of the Sea Convention is critical to the success of our Maritime Security Strategy. By joining the Convention the United States will be able to effectively develop and lead an association of maritime partners dedicated to ensuring public order in the world’s oceans.
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Our Navy can better protect the United States and the American people if we join the Law of the Sea Convention.
The Law of the Sea Convention is the bedrock legal instrument for public order in the world’s oceans. It codifies, in a manner that only binding treaty law can, the navigation and overflight rights, and high seas freedoms that are essential for the global strategic mobility of our Armed Forces, including:
- The Right of Innocent Passage, which allows ships to transit through foreign territorial seas without providing the coastal State prior notification or gaining the coastal State’s prior permission.
- The Right of Transit Passage, which allows ships, aircraft, and submarines to transit through, over, and under straits used for international navigation and the approaches to those straits.
- The Right of Archipelagic Sealanes Passage, which, like transit passage, allows transit by ships and aircraft through, over, and under normal passage routes in archipelagic states, such as Indonesia.
- The right of high seas freedoms, including overflight and transit within the Exclusive Economic Zone.
Innocent Passage, Transit Passage, and Archipelagic Sealanes Passage are the crown jewels of navigation and overflight. These rights are vital not just to our Navy, but also to our Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. They make it possible to move vast quantities of war materiel through the Straits of Gibraltar, Singapore, Malacca, and Hormuz and into the Arabian Gulf to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in Iraq. These rights permit us to move our submarine fleet through choke points to conduct all missions. They permit the United States Air Force to conduct global missions without requirement to overfly foreign national airspace. And they ensure the uninterrupted flow of commerce to and from our shores.