UNCLOS contains numerous provisions that would restrain U.S. military action
The Law of the Sea Treaty’s compulsory dispute resolution requirements and procedures are particularly problematic when taken together with a number of obligations the accord entails that are at odds with our military practices and national interests. These include commitments that:
- Reserve the oceans exclusively for “peaceful purposes” (Article 88): The United States routinely uses the world’s oceans for military purposes, including waging war against our enemies.
- Require states to refrain from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” (Article 301): As the world’s preeminent maritime nation, America must project power from the sea and does so with some regularity. Some would describe such power projection as contrary to “the territorial integrity or political independence” of states (most recently, for example, attacks from naval forces against the Taliban’s Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq).
- Proscribe the use of territorial waters to collect intelligence and conduct other operations (Article 19): For many decades, intelligence vital for American security has been collected on, below and above the oceans – including, in some cases, those considered to be “territorial waters.”
- Oblige submarines to travel on the surface and show their flags in territorial waters (Article 20). The effectiveness and perhaps the very survival of our submarines would be compromised were they to have to operate on the surface in close-in waters where they can only go with the greatest of stealth.
- Bar any maritime research except that conducted for peaceful purposes and require the coastal state’s permission for that performed in territorial waters (Article 240). Classified oceans research, including some conducted covertly, is indispensable to the U.S. Navy’s mission.
In statements in support of LOST, the United States military makes clear that it has no intention of ending such activities, and insists that it will not have to do so since “military activities” are exempted from the Treaty’s dispute resolution mechanisms. Unfortunately, this position both defies common sense and hard experience with international accords: These articles are wholly without effect if they do not apply to the military and it is predictable that America’s foes will use every opportunity afforded by LOST to ensure they do.
Mandatory dispute resolution mechanism could be used by states unsympathetic to the U.S. to curtail its military operations even though such operations are supposed to be exempt from the mechanism. This is because it is unclear by the terms of the treaty what activities will be defined as military.