Statement of Admiral Michael G. Mullen: On the Law of the Sea Convention
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The navigation and overflight freedoms we require through customary international law are better served by being a party to the Convention that codifies those freedoms. Being a party to the Convention is even more important because the trend among some coastal states is toward limiting historical navigational and overflight freedoms. Would-be adversaries, or nations that do not support the particular missions or activities we undertake, will be less likely to dispute our lawful use of the sea and air lanes if we are parties to the Convention. We support the Convention because it protects military mobility by codifying favorable transit rights in key international straits, archipelagic waters, and waters adjacent to coastal states where our forces must be able to operate freely.
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Military operations since September 11—from Operation Enduring Freedom to Operation Iraqi Freedom to the Global War on Terrorism —have dramatically increased our global military requirements. U.S. Forces are continuously forward deployed worldwide to deter threats to our national security and are in position to respond rapidly to protect U.S. interests, either as part of a coalition or, if necessary, acting independently. U.S. military strategy envisions rapid deployment and mobility of forces overseas anytime, anywhere. A leaner, more agile force with a smaller overseas footprint places a premium on mobility and independent operational maneuver. Our mobility requirements have never been greater.
Future threats will likely emerge in places and in ways that are not yet fully clear. For these and other undefined future operational challenges, U.S. naval and air forces must take maximum advantage of the customary, established navigational rights that the Law of the Sea Convention codifies. Sustaining our overseas presence, responding to complex emergencies, prosecuting the global war on terrorism, and conducting operations far from our shores are only possible if military forces and military and civilian logistic supply ships and aircraft are able to make unencumbered use of the sea and air lines of communication. This is an enduring principle that has been in place since the founding of our country.
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Notwithstanding the fact that the navigational freedoms and transit rights we currently enjoy are embodied in customary international law, as a party to the Convention, the United States would, however, be in a stronger leadership position to assert its rights to use the oceans for navigation and overflight. For example, in making excessive claims, some coastal states contend that the navigational and overflight rights contained in the Convention are available only to those states that also accept the responsibilities set forth in the Convention by becoming parties to it. By becoming a party to the Convention we can deprive those states of this argument. This is not to suggest that countries’ attempts to restrict navigation will cease once the United States becomes a party to the Law of the Sea Convention. Coastal states make excessive claims for a variety of reasons— because they believe such claims to be in their national interest; because they feed domestics politics; and, because they believe they can enforce those claims or that other nations will, for lack of resources and capability, acquiesce in those claims. The Administration believes, however, that with the United States as a party, fewer states are likely to view such claims as sustainable. As a party, our diplomatic and operational challenges to excessive claims will carry greater weight.