Leon Panetta's five-point case for ratifying UNCLOS
Let me give you five important reasons as to why joining this Convention would provide enhanced national security.
First, as the world’s pre-eminent maritime power, and the country with one of the longest coastlines and largest extended continental shelf, we have more to gain from accession to the Convention than any other country. If we are not at the table, then who will defend our interests? Who will lead the discussion to influence the further development and interpretation of the Law of the Sea? It is only by being there to protect our rights that we would ensure that our sovereignty is not whittled away by the excessive claims and erroneous interpretations of others. It would give us the power and credibility to support and promote the peaceful resolution of disputes within a rules-based order.
Second, by joining the Convention, we can secure our navigational freedoms and global access for military and commercial ships, aircraft, and undersea fiber optic cables. As it currently stands, we are forced to assert our rights to freedom of navigation through customary international law, which can change to our detriment. Treaty law remains the firmest legal foundation upon which to base our global presence, on, above, and below the seas. By joining the Convention, we would help lock in rules favorable to freedom of navigation and our global mobility.
Third, accession would bring legal certainty to a truly massive increase in our country’s resource and economic jurisdiction, not only to 200 nautical miles off our coasts, but to a broad extended continental shelf beyond that zone.
Fourth, accession would ensure our ability to reap the benefits of the opening of the Arctic – a region of increasingly important maritime security and economic interest. We already see countries testing new shipping routes and exploring for natural resources as Arctic ice cover recedes. Joining the Convention would maximize international recognition and acceptance of our substantial extended continental shelf claims in the Arctic. As we are the only Arctic nation that is not a party to the Convention, we are at a serious disadvantage in this respect. Accession would also secure our navigation and over-flight rights throughout the Arctic, and strengthen our arguments for freedom of navigation through the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route.
Fifth, and finally, our new defense strategy emphasizes the strategically vital arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia. Becoming a party to the Convention would strengthen our position in this key area. For example, numerous countries sit astride critical trade and supply routes and propose restrictions on access for military vessels in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, and the South China Sea. The United States has long declared our interests and respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and peaceful resolution of disputes. We have demonstrated our commitment to those interests through our consistent presence and engagement in these critical maritime regions. By not acceding to the Convention, we give up the strongest legal footing for our actions. We undercut our credibility in a number of Asia-focused multilateral venues – just as we're pushing for a rules-based order in the region and the peaceful resolution of maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere. How can we argue that other nations must abide by international rules when we haven’t joined the treaty that codifies those rules?
There is a strong economic, military, and strategic case to be made for U.S. ratification of UNCLOS. Economically, the U.S. would benefit by attaining new protections for its vital maritime industries while opening up new industries and vast amounts of terroritory. The military case is just as strong with the overwhelming consensus of military leaders advocating for ratification as a way to ensure the freedom of navigation rights the U.S. depends on. Finally, ratification of UNCLOS would help the U.S.