U.S. can issue signing statement upon ratifying UNCLOS that clarifies to interpretation of the military activities exemption
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The military activities exception is of obvious importance to the activities of the U.S. Armed Forces. As a result, we have examined this issue thoroughly to make certain that a tribunal cannot question whether U.S. activities are indeed “military” for purposes of that exception. Allow me to offer an example to illustrate the Administration’s concern. It is possible to imagine a scenario wherein another State Party calls upon a tribunal to decide whether or not our military surveys in that country’s EEZ or reconnaissance aircraft flying in the airspace above that country’s EEZ—both of which are military activities of paramount importance—are consistent with the Convention.
In this scenario, if a tribunal were permitted to interfere with such military activities, this would have a major impact on our military operations and U.S. national security.
In this light, the Administration closely examined the Convention, its negotiating history, and the practices of the tribunals constituted under the Convention. Based on this examination, the Administration believes that it is clear that whether an activity is “military” is for each State Party to determine for itself. Indeed, having the ability to determine what is a “military activity” involves vital national security interests that are critical to our ability to defend the Nation, protect our forces overseas, safeguard our interests abroad, and assist our friends and allies in times of need.
The Administration thus recommends that the United States submit a declaration electing to exclude all three of these categories of disputes from binding dispute settlement. With respect to the particular category of disputes concerning military activities, the Administration further recommends that the U.S. declaration make clear that its consent to accession to the Convention is conditioned upon the understanding that each Party has the exclusive right to determine which of its activities are “military activities” and that such determinations are not subject to review. We will provide the Committee with language on this point.
Some opponents of UNCLOS have argued that by ratifying UNCLOS, U.S. military forces could be subject to adverse ruling by international tribunals through the dispute resolution mechanisms of the treaty. However, the U.S. defense department has reviewed the relevant law and has found no undue liability risk to U.S. forces. Furthermore, in the Senate's Advice and Consent resolution that would ratify UNCLOS, the U.S. has taken advantage of article 298(1) in UNCLOS to exempt itself from all dispute settlement.