Statement of Admiral Robert Papp: 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
The shipping standards negotiated at the IMO are the fabric of the port state control regime that is underpinned by the Convention. It is the Convention that sets forth the responsibilities of flag states, port states, and coastal states for shipping, and the Convention is the agreement that holds nations accountable for adhering to those responsibilities. Because of the currently anomalous situation where the United States is a party to the substantive IMO standards, but not the underlying legal framework of the Convention, our ability to ensure comprehensive global accountability demanded by the port state control framework is weakened. Acceding to the Convention would strengthen Coast Guard negotiation efforts at the IMO, where we lead in the continued development of these important international standards. Although other countries look to us for leadership, there is growing skepticism for certain U.S. negotiating positions because the United States is not a party to the Convention. Becoming party to the Convention would increase the Coast Guard’s credibility as a leader at IMO and result in greater effectiveness in ensuring that U.S. interests are reflected in the standards that are ultimately adopted. The Coast Guard needs the Convention to better promote United States safety, security, and environmental interests at the IMO.
The Convention also maximizes legal certainty for United States sovereign rights over ocean resources in the largest EEZ in the world, as well as energy and mineral and other resources on our extended continental shelf. The Convention provides the mechanism to assure international recognition of additional United States sovereign rights on an extended continental shelf. Moreover, due to overfished and depleted fish populations, effective management of migratory fish stocks and fisheries will continue to be a contentious issue for the foreseeable future. The Convention is widely accepted as the legal framework under which all international fisheries are regulated and enforced. The Convention imposes responsibilities on the coastal states to manage their fishery resources responsibly and provides a process for resolving conflicts between competing users. The Coast Guard defends United States sovereign rights by protecting our precious ocean resources from poaching, unlawful incursion, and illegal exploitation. Joining the Convention places these sovereign rights on a firmer legal foundation, bolstering the Coast Guard’s continued ability to ensure our Nation’s sovereign rights are respected.
In particular, becoming a party to the Convention will give the Coast Guard greater leverage in our efforts to eliminate illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. American fishermen are currently abiding by standards contemplated by the Convention and further detailed in the related UN Fish Stocks Agreement. They are adversely affected by foreign fishermen who illegally harvest highly migratory fish stocks. In another anomalous situation, the United States is a party to the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, which is directly related to the legal regime of the Law of the Sea Convention, even though we have not joined the underlying Convention. As a party to the Convention, we would be in a stronger position to persuade other nations to abide by the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and other modern international standards of fisheries management and thus advance our Nation’s interests in this field.
The Coast Guard needs a comprehensive legal framework that addresses activities on, over, and under the world’s oceans to further its statutory missions. We also need a solid legal framework that customary international law cannot provide as it remains subject to change based on state practice— whether at the local, regional or global level. The Convention is this certain framework. The Convention was, and still is, a resounding success for U.S. diplomacy. Acceding to the Convention will strengthen the Coast Guard’s ability to protect U.S. maritime interests. The Convention is widely accepted; there are currently 162 parties. Of the eight Arctic nations, only the U.S. is not a party to the Convention.
I can see no downside to the Coast Guard in the United States acceding to the Law of the Sea Convention. To the contrary, joining the Law of the Sea Convention will immensely enhance the Coast Guard’s ability to address emerging threats that challenge our Nation and safeguard the American people, our environment, and ocean resources that benefit all Americans.