Four key advantages for the U.S. in ratifying UNCLOS
With respect to the underlying objective of promoting stability in the law of the sea, four main advantages of widespread, including U.S., ratification have been identified:
- Treaties are perceived as binding. Legislators, administrators, and judges are more likely to feel bound to respect treaty obligations. … Even nonparties are more likely to be cautious about acting a manner contrary to a widely ratified Convention; if they do, they are more likely to be isolated when their claims are challenged.
- Treaty rules are written. Treaty rules are easier to identify and are often more determinate than customary law rules. Even if one argues that a customary law rule is identical to a treaty rule, that argument in and of itself is elusive and hard to prove. Even a nonlawyer reading the text of a binding treaty knows he or she is reading a binding legal rule, and can often form some appreciation of what the rule may require.
- Compulsory arbitration. Parties to the Law of the Sea Convention are bound to arbitrate or adjudicate most types of unresolved disputes regarding the interpretation or application of the Convention. This can help forestall questionable claims in the first place. Perhaps more importantly, it provides an option for responding to unilateral claims that may well be less costly than either acquiescence or confrontation. Because states are not bound to arbitrate or adjudicate disputes absent express agreement to do so, this benefit of the Convention … is dependent upon ratification.
- Long-term stability. Experience in [the twentieth] century has shown that the rules of the customary law of the sea are too easily undermined and changed by unilateral claims of coastal states. Treaty rules are hard to change unilaterally. At the same time, the Law of the Sea Convention establishes international mechanisms for ordered change that promote rather than threaten the long-term stability of the system as a whole.
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.