U.S. would gain multiple advantages from formal accession to UNCLOS
While we have been able to gain certain benefits of the Convention from this approach, formal U.S. adherence to the Convention would have many advantages:
- The United States would be in a stronger position invoking a treaty’s provisions to which it is party, for instance in a bilateral disagreement where the other country does not understand or accept those provisions.
- While we have been able to rely on diplomatic and operational challenges to excessive maritime claims, it is desirable to establish additional methods of resolving conflict.
- The Convention is being implemented in various forums, both those established by the Convention and certain others (such as the International Maritime Organization). While the Convention’s institutions were not particularly active during the past decade since the Convention entered into force, they are now entering an operational phase and are elaborating and interpreting various provisions. The United States would be in a stronger position to defend its military interests and other interests in these forums if it were a party to the Convention.
- Becoming a party to the Convention would permit the United States to nominate members for both the Law of the Sea Tribunal and the Continental Shelf Commission. Having U.S. members on those bodies would help ensure that the Convention is being interpreted and applied in a manner consistent with U.S. interests.
- As a party, the United States could get the legal certainty with respect to its continental shelf claim beyond 200 miles that will facilitate activities in those areas by the U.S. oil and gas industry.
- Becoming a party to the Convention would strengthen our ability to deflect potential proposals that would be inconsistent with U.S. interests, including freedom of navigation. It is worth noting that the Convention will be open to amendments beginning next November. Beyond those affirmative reasons for joining the Convention, there are downside risks of not acceding to the Convention. U.S. mobility and access have been preserved and enjoyed over the past twenty years largely due to the Convention’s stable, widely accepted legal framework. It would be risky to assume that it is possible to preserve indefinitely the stable situation that the United States currently enjoys. Customary international law may be changed by the practice of States over time and therefore does not offer the future stability that comes with being a party to the Convention.
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.