Ratification of UNCLOS is a critical test of U.S. global leadership
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The “Preeminent Global Power.” The tenth, and final, factor bearing upon the Clinton administration’s decision to sign the Agreement and recommend accession to the Convention was its desire for the nation to retain leadership in maritime affairs generally. Rear Admiral Sehachte went so far as to say that “as the preeminent global power in the 1990s and beyond, the United States is uniquely positioned to assume a more visible leadership role in achieving a widely accepted international order to regulate and safeguard the many and diverse activities and interests regarding the world’s oceans."60
The Clinton administration realized that US. refusal to accede to a Convention widely regarded as one of the most important international agreements ever negotiated would raise fundamen tal questions regarding not only the future legal regime applicable to the world's oceans but also the overall role of the United States. By actively promoting “leadership for peace” in the politically and economically important matter of rationalizing maritime laws and regulations, the United States hoped to be able to ensure itself a major role in shaping a posthegemonic global order.61 Conversely, the White House recognized that if the United States remained outside the Convention, it would not be in a position to influence the treaty’s further development and interpretation, transition, and refinement.62 More broadly, continued mute opposition seemed likely not only to jeopardize important national interests in the law of the sea but also to be seen as an implicit rejection ofthe very goal ofworld order through international law. In even less charitable eyes, it might be construed as a belief that unilateralism is a viable policy when backed by military force.63 It appeared that full participation in the Convention offered an opportunity to exercise world leadership in a context far broader than had been possible during the Cold War.
U.S. ratification of UNCLOS would boost its leadership standing in a couple of ways. First, by acceeding to the treaty, the U.S. would immediately be able to participate in the discussion around the future of the treaty and participate in maritime forums that it had previously been locked out of. Secondly, by ratifying the treaty, the U.S. would improve its soft power by showing more of a willingness to cooperate multilaterally.