U.S. cannot remain a free-rider forever, will have to become a party to UNCLOS to ensure benefits
Although the first several years of the Convention’s life were fairly quiet, its provisions are now being actively applied, interpreted, and developed. The Convention’s institutions are up and running, and we -- the country with the most to gain and lose on law of the sea issues -- are sitting on the sidelines. For example, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (which is the technical body charged with addressing the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles) has received nine submissions and has made recommendations on two of them, without the participation of a U.S. commissioner. Recommendations made in that body could well create precedents, positive and negative, on the future outer limit of the U.S. shelf. We need to be on the inside to protect our interests. Moreover, in fora outside the Convention, the provisions of the Convention are also being actively applied. Our position as a non-Party puts us in a far weaker position to advance U.S. interests than should be the case for our country.
We also need to join now to lock in, as a matter of treaty law, the very favorable provisions we achieved in negotiating the Convention. It would be risky to assume that we can preserve ad infinitum the situation upon which the United States currently relies. As noted, there is increasing pressure from coastal States to augment their authority in a manner that would alter the balance of interests struck in the Convention. We should secure these favorable treaty rights while we have the chance.