UNCLOS will remain the basis of maritime law regardless of whether U.S. Is party to the treaty, but the U.S. can only guide its evolution as a treaty member
Opponents seem to think that if the U.S. declines to ratify the Law of the Sea, it will evaporate into the ocean mists. They seem to think that multi-lateral responsibilities in this case can be avoided if we stay out of the Convention. Unlike some treaties, such as the Kyoto Agreement and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, where U.S. non-participation renders the treaty irrelevant or inoperable, the Law of the Sea will continue to form the basis of maritime law regardless of whether the U.S. is a party. International decisions related to national claims on continental shelves beyond 200 miles from our shore, resource exploitation in the open ocean, navigation rights, and other matters will be made in the context of the treaty whether we join or not.
Consequently, the United States cannot insulate itself from the Convention merely by declining to ratify. There are 145 parties to the Convention, including every major industrialized country. The Convention is the accepted standard in international maritime law. Americans who use the ocean and interact with other nations on the ocean, including the Navy, shipping interests, and fisherman, have told me that they already have to contend with provisions of the Law of the Sea on a daily basis. They want the United States to participate in the structures of Law of the Sea to defend their interests and to make sure that other nations respect our rights and claims.