Ratifying UNCLOS key to advancing numerous U.S. interests
In the final presentation, Ambassador David A. Balton discussed how ratifying UNCLOS would advance numerous U.S. interests. First, he noted that the United States is the world’s leading maritime power. Only as a party to UNCLOS can the United States best invoke and ensure respect for its provisions on freedom of navigation. Second, the United States has the largest EEZ on the planet, as well as a continental shelf that is likely to be the envy of most other nations. Only as a part can the United States best secure our rights as a coastal state under UNCLOS. Third, only as a party to UNCLOS can the United States make best use of the treaty’s provisions on the marine environment and fisheries, or shape the rules for mining the seabed beyond the jurisdiction of any nation. Ambassador Balton agreed with Rear Admiral Kenney that the United States would benefit from being able to use UNCLOS procedures for resolving disputes, adding that becoming a party would allow the United States to nominate members of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. He also agreed that accession would allow the United States to maximize leadership on maritime issues. Further, Ambassador Balton emphasized that accession would better allow the United States to maintain the balance of interests in the law of the sea described by Professor Caron. Accession is preferable to reliance on customary international law because customary law is subject to erosion. Overall, Ambassador Balton explained that the United States secured everything it wanted in the convention, given that the related 1994 agreement on deep seabed mining satisfied our concerns with respect to those issues.
Next, Ambassador Balton discussed emerging issues that will best be handled under the UNCLOS framework. First, as the oceans warm the Arctic will become more accessible for shipping and oil and gas extraction, among other uses. All other Arctic nations are parties to UNCLOS, and the United States’ failure to join complicates negotiations and weakens our credibility in international talks. Second, Ambassador Balton emphasized the disadvantage we face as a non-party in respect of our extended continental shelf, the area of seafloor beyond 200 miles from our coasts that meet certain criteria set forth in the Convention. The United States estimates that it has an extended continental shelf approximately the size of California. Only as a party to UNCLOS can the United States best secure international recognition of the outer limits of our continental shelf.