National Security Implications in the Global War on Terrorism of the United States Accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), announced by President Bush on May 31, 2003, is an international effort promoting the global interdiction of shipments of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their delivery systems worldwide.25 On September 4, 2003, the eleven participating nations released a statement in Paris outlining PSI's initiatives.26 The aim of PSI is to create an enhanced approach to preventing proliferation of WMD.27 In order to ensure congruence with other bodies of law, PSI specifically states that it will be implemented as is consistent with national law and international law.28 All of the PSI partners, with the exception of the United States, are already parties to UNCLOS.29Journal of International Affairs. Vol. 59, No. 1 (Fall/Winter 2005) [ More (18 quotes) ] This fact demonstrates that state national security interests under the PSI are not put in jeopardy by becoming a party to UNCLOS. Indeed, John Bolton, former United States ambassador to the United Nations, argued that UNCLOS will not impede the goals of the PSI in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, stating: "Ifthe Senate were to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty and the president were to make the treaty [...] it would not have any negative impact whatsoever on PSI."30 "The Senate should give immediate advice and consent to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: why the critics are wrong.."
Nevertheless, opponents of UNCLOS find that United States accession to the treaty would directly contradict the goals of PSI.31 Specifically, opponents assert that if the United States does not become a party to the Convention, it will be free from any constraints in relation to ocean law, and thus, better suited to pursue the goals of PSI.32 This argument, however, is weakened by the fact that the United States is already a party to the 1958 Convention on the Law of the Sea, subjecting it to many of the same provisions articulated in the current iteration of UNCLOS.33 While the 1982 Convention modified many elements of the 1958 Convention, several key provisions remained in place, including many governing activities in territorial seas, continguous zones, and the high seas. Additionally, because UNCLOS is largely rooted in customary law, opponents of UNCLOS assert that the United States is already subject to many of its provisions implicitly.34 In the absence of a treaty, the United States must rely on and abide by customary law, which is defined by the pattern and practice of states. Since so many nations are already a party to UNCLOS, their practices largely influence the body of customary law on which the United States must rely if it does not ratify UNCLOS.
UNCLOS promotes the United States' freedom of navigation rights in at least three ways.39 First, the Convention limits coastal States' territorial seas to twelve nautical miles.40 Second, UNCLOS affords innocent passage of ships and aircraft through other countries' territorial seas and archipelagoes, as well as through straits used for international navigation.41 Finally, the Convention sets forth maximum navigational rights and freedoms for ships and aircraft in exclusive economic zones.42 In regards to the United States' non-party status, proponents of UNCLOS argue that while these rights may exist in customary law, joining the Convention would put these provisions on firmer legal footing, as rights embodied in a treaty are more fixed than those in customary law.43Suffolk Transnational Law Review. Vol. 29. (2005-2006): 1-24. [ More (4 quotes) ] "The United States, the Law of the Sea Convention, and Freedom of Navigation."
Proponents of UNCLOS assert that the treaty does not significantly impact the way the United States military conducts MIOs.53 During peacetime, UNCLOS permits the following: the boarding of vessels that are flying the flag of the boarding state, the boarding of vessels that consent to boarding, the boarding of vessels that are entering coastal state ports, and the boarding of stateless vessels.54 During wartime or armed conflict, UNCLOS allows boardings in self-defense if under attack or threat of attack and in accordance with other established maritime law and laws of armed conflict.55 These provisions are sufficient for the United States to continue to carryout MIO missions as currently employed.
Submarine forces are a key tool in waging the Global War on Terrorism and their unimpeded use is of crucial significance.58 The use of submarine forces provides a unique tactical advantage because of a submarine's ability to monitor a potential enemy undetected for a long duration.59 The ability to transit the ocean beneath the surface is therefore critical to a submarine's ability to maintain the advantage of covertness.60
The impact of UNCLOS on submarine operations hinges on interpretation of Article 20 of the treaty.61 Gordon England, former Secretary of the Navy, has stated that UNCLOS does not restrict or prohibit submarine activities.62 UNCLOS specifically guarantees the right to conduct transits through international straits in "normal modes", which may include submerged transit in the case of submarines. Nevertheless, the Convention mandates that ships refrain from acts that are "prejudicial," including submerged transit in territorial waters; failure to meet this obligation results in a vessel's loss of innocent passage status.63 But, UNCLOS does not explicitly prohibit submerged transit in territorial seas altogether, especially in international straits.64 This notion is echoed by Deputy Secretary of Defense, John Negroponte, who has stated that UNCLOS "does not prohibit or impair [. . submarine activities in anyway."65Statement of John D. Negroponte: On Accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and Ratification of the 1994 Agreement regarding Part XI of the Convention ." Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, September 27, 2007. [ More (13 quotes) ]"
The 2002 National Security Strategy states that the United States' success in the Global War on Terrorism depends on the destruction and disruption of terrorist organizations by "Identify[ing] and destroying the threat before it reaches our borders."69 Clearly, the United States' ability to conduct intelligence activities effectively is crucial to the prevention of future terrorist activities.70 Thus, Article 19 of UNCLOS, which appears to have ramifications for intelligence activity is highly significant.71
The impact of UNCLOS on intelligence gathering activities hinges on the interpretation of Article 19(2)(c), namely what constitutes innocent passage through coastal states' territorial waters.72 According to proponents of UNCLOS, the Convention will not significantly impact the United States' intelligence gathering activities.73 Proponents will admit that intelligence gathering does not qualify for an innocent activity under Article 19(2)(c) and therefore does not entitle the vessel conducting intelligence activities to the benefits of innocent passage.74 But they note that intelligence activities are not specifically prohibited or regulated by the Convention.75
From a national security standpoint, arguments against the United States becoming a party to UNCLOS are simply not compelling in the face of overwhelming military support for ratification.88 Becoming a party to UNCLOS will help build coalition partnerships in the Global War on Terrorism and the Proliferation Security Initiative.89 Moreover, the United States Navy's ability to respond to potential crises is critically linked to the freedom of navigation rights guaranteed by UNCLOS.90 Finally, neither large-scale military operations nor a single warship's inherent right to self- defense will be significantly impacted by becoming a party to UNCLOS.91 Indeed, the United States has declared that nothing in the UNCLOS impairs the inherent right to self-defense or rights during armed conflict, including any Convention provisions referring to "peaceful conflict" or "peaceful purposes."
Admiral Clark's statement indicates that becoming a party to UNCLOS will help solidify United States rights that now exist only in customary international law.95 Opponents of UNCLOS claim that the United States should not become a party because the United States already enjoys the benefits of UNCLOS through customary law and, therefore, should not unnecessarily incur the treaty's burdens.96 however, ignores the fact that customary law can change and can also be influenced by how parties to UNCLOS decide to interpret its provisions.97 If the United States is not a party, it will have no say as to how the law develops.98 By becoming a party to UNCLOS, the United States will be able to ensure that the law of sea develops in congruence with its national security and other interests.99