U.S. Ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea: Passive Acceptance Is Not Enough to Protect U.S. Property Interests
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There are many misconceptions as to what the signing of UNCLOS would mean for the United States and deep seabed mining. It is argued that by ratifying UNCLOS, including the Agreement, states will inevitably have to discontinue their unilateral attempts at deep seabed mining.133 However, this is unfounded as the law of the deep seabed was intentionally not settled in order to produce solid negotiations of the sort that resulted in UNCLOS.134 Most, if not all, of the potential deep seabed mining nations are dedicated to the adoption of UNCLOS and the Agreement.135 The potential deep seabed mining countries understand that there is a lack of economic viability in the present deep seabed mining industry, and "it is inconceivable that the necessary financial markets would support unilateral mining if it is contrary to the principles" of UNCLOS.
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The issue of innocent passage is raised by the concept of the territorial sea.207 In interpreting Article 21 of UNCLOS, some countries have adopted the view that they may, with due notice, create regulations and laws that restrict innocent passage through their territorial sea.208 The greatest restriction in these liberal navigation rules on innocent passage for the United States is the demand for prior notification and permission for the passage of a U.S. war vessel.209 The Convention recognizes the right of passage through the territorial seas, allowing for overflight and navigational freedom of the high seas.210 Currently, the lenient navigation rules include the immutable legal right for ships and aircrafts to travel the international straits without coastal states' interference.211 However, some UNCLOS III members may propose to amend the concept of freedom of navigation to allow the exclusion of vessels.212 As a member of UNCLOS III, the United States would be able to block such negative amendments.213 Further, if it joined UNCLOS, the United States could potentially prevent or decrease "the backsliding" by states that have previously abandoned their excessive maritime claims, yet wish to reinstitute those claims given that the United States is currently not a member.
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U.S. navigation on the high seas is affected by its non-ratification of UNCLOS III. For example, if a U.S. naval task force had to rush from the Persian Gulf to a crisis along the North Korean peninsula, it could be forced to detour 3,000 miles around Indonesia.234 Another example is the barring of U.S. tankers from the Strait of Hormuz-the strait in which most American foreign oil is shipped-by Iran.235 Finally, Russia could institute fishing trawlers off the coast of Alaska that would take millions of tons of salmon found in American waters.236 None of these things would be possible if the United States ratifies UNCLOS III. UNCLOS III may aid the United States in ensuring that the naval ships and submarines can navigate freely along the high seas, that cargo ships and tankers may navigate along the world's sea lanes, and that the United States retains control over the resources found in the deep sea.237 As long as the United States remains a nonparty, it will not be able to rely on the protections provided by UNCLOS III.
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The Convention on the Law of the Sea creates an interdependence of nations with obligations affecting all marine areas and activities.359 The effectiveness of the legal framework of this Convention truly depends upon its universal acceptance.360 Although the language of the Convention appears to obligate both parties and non-parties to the Convention, according to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the Convention does not automatically create rights or obligations for third parties.361 However, the codification of the customary international law found in UNCLOS is applicable to the entire international community. This is because the Vienna Convention allows for third states to accept the rights and obligations offered under UNCLOS in accordance of Articles 35 and 36 of the Vienna Convention.362 While most of the Convention will be applicable as customary international law, the lack of universal acceptance of the Convention will leave the legal order of UNCLOS without its full effect rendering the institutions set by the Convention powerless.
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As a military superpower, the United States could heavily rely on regulations such as the UNCLOS III to provide for military defense such as navigation and overflight, military presence, and commercial advantages.372 There is a direct correlation between the economic interests of the United States and the security provided by UNCLOS III. In order for the United States to maintain its political and economic influence, it depends on the stability of the global market.￼ ￼ The stability found in the Convention is also crucial to the exploitation of marine scientific research in drilling and fishing industries.
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Finally, there are numerous incentives for the United States to join the Convention and discontinue its exclusive reliance on customary international law.382 By becoming a member, the United States would be more credible when it invokes treaty provisions-for instance, when it is in a property "bilateral disagreement."383 As a member of UNCLOS, the United States would be able to vote for individuals that would in fact sit on the Law of the Sea Tribunal to ensure that interpretation of the Convention is favorable to U.S. policy.384 As it relates to the freedom of the high seas, the United States would be able to curtail certain proposals that would adversely affect U.S. military or navigational interests.385
The international community is on a fast track and is continuously changing directions. To maintain its economic dominance in the international community, the United States must join the Convention on the Law of the Sea.386 It is in the best economic, military, and environmental interests for the United States to join the Convention, and adherence to its guidelines would encourage others to join, resulting in more stability in the ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼laws governing the ocean.
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For most U.S. observers, however, U.S. participation in Convention institutions and meetings of States Parties can help shape the future direction of the law of the sea in ways favorable to U.S. commercial, fishing, environmental, and military interests. The law of the sea will inevitably change through a wide variety of mechanisms. Some proposals for change could be made from "within" the Convention system-perhaps by formal amendments,63 or even potentially at meetings of States Parties.64 America's taking its place as a State Party to the Convention can help promote U.S. views. For example, its participation in the work of the ISA can help assure that the Authority does not attempt to stretch its mandate to impinge on what many assert to be the freedom to harvest deep-sea-vent living organisms, which are important resources in biotechnology.65 As a State Party, the U.S. would also have more leverage with respect to the Article 311 obligation that subsequent agreements between States Parties be compatible with the66 Convention.