Coast guard operations impaired by U.S. non-party status to UNCLOS
Next, Rear Admiral Frederick J. Kenney presented the importance of UNCLOS to the U.S. Coast Guard. He emphasized that on a daily basis the Coast Guard’s operational officers rely on the freedom of navigation that UNCLOS attempts to preserve. The Coast Guard is the only U.S. surface presence in many parts of the world, and this widespread presence allows the Coast Guard to respond quickly to international incidents. For example, a Coast Guard cutter was the first U.S. presence in Georgia after Russian troops entered the country in 2008.
Because the United States is not a party to the Convention, however, Rear Admiral Kenney explained that the United States cannot use its dispute resolution mechanisms for resolving conflicting claims to ocean territory. In one important dispute, the United States and Canada disagree about whether Passamaquoddy Bay is part of Canada’s internal waters and thus whether Canada can block passage of commercial shipping through the bay to East Port, Maine. If plans for a liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal in East Port move forward, Rear Admiral Kenney predicts this dispute will intensify without any clear means of resolution.
Rear Admiral Kenney drew on his personal experience as a negotiator to discuss the difficulties the United States faces in negotiating other treaties because it is not a party to UNCLOS. As the primary regulator of U.S. shipping, the Coast Guard participates in treaty negotiations with the International Maritime Organization (IMO). However, the IMO’s primary treaties are inextricably linked to UNCLOS, and Rear Admiral Kenney opined that the United States loses credibility in IMO negotiations because it is not a party to UNCLOS. Further, Rear Admiral Kenney suggested that bilateral agreements regarding drug enforcement would be easier to negotiate if the United States were a member of UNCLOS because they would be able to incorporate UNCLOS’ enforcement mechanisms.