Empirically, China has used the technology transfer provisions under UNCLOS to acquire military technology
In 1976 GAO was requested by several Committee Chairmen to independently report on the status of negotiations as they were deeply distrustful of the official delegation reports authored by the State Department. As a result, I attended many of the negotiating sessions in New York and Geneva as an observer attached to the US delegation. I joined the U.S. delegation in 1977 and reported regularly to Congress on the state of negotiations through 1982. I was present in New York when the Reagan Administration’s good faith attempt to make the Treaty acceptable was roundly rejected by a coalition of Developing and Communist nations.
Since that time I have closely tracked the accession process and the development of the International Seabed Authority. Having long since left the General Accounting Office and transferred to the Department of Defense I became deeply involved in the Export Licensing process. In this capacity I was assigned a case whereby the People’s Republic of China was using their status as a so-called “pioneer investor” in ocean mining to justify the acquisition of strategic/export-controlled technology under the guise of prospecting for manganese nodules in the mid-Pacific. Unfortunately, the level of technology they were attempting to acquire greatly exceeded the level of capability that either the United States or our industrialized allied used in undertaking such work. The quality of the side-scanning sonar, deep-ocean bathymetric equipment, cameras, lights, remotely operated vehicles, and associated submersible technology provided them the capability to locate, reach, and destroy, or salvage early-warning and intelligence sensors vital to our national security. Additionally, such technology also imparted an offensive capability to our chief potential military adversary by enabling them to map any portion of the ocean or continental shelves to determine submarine routing schemes or underwater bastions where missile-launching or intelligence gathering submarines may operate undetected just off the U.S. coast.
Although the 1994 treaty modifications have toned down some of the most direct mandatory technology transfer requirements, the treaty still places at risk some very sensitive, and militarily useful, technology which may readily be misused by the navies of ocean mining states.