Ratifying UNCLOS is critical to restore U.S. moral authority and leadership on maritime affairs
Ratifying UNCLOS would bolster American moral authority and legitimacy on international maritime issues at an important time. Doing so would eliminate one of Beijing’s justifications for rejecting the July 12 international Arbitral Tribunal ruling against China’s claims in the South China Sea—that the U.S. is hypocritical since it is not a party to the treaty. Frankly, it also confounds America’s allies that the U.S. calls for all nations to uphold the values, principles, and rules-based order that has produced security, stability, and prosperity for all, but refuses to ratify UNCLOS. The Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, noted the cost to America’s reputation in a House Armed Services Committee hearing last February: “I think that in the 21st century our moral standing is affected by the fact that we are not a signatory to UNCLOS.”
Becoming a treaty member would help advance U.S. interests in promoting multilateral cooperation on a range of issues globally. For example, it would aid in building coalition partnerships in the Global War on Terrorism and the Proliferation Security Initiative, and help support multinational efforts to combat piracy.
U.S. ratification of UNCLOS would boost its leadership standing in a couple of ways. First, by acceeding to the treaty, the U.S. would immediately be able to participate in the discussion around the future of the treaty and participate in maritime forums that it had previously been locked out of. Secondly, by ratifying the treaty, the U.S. would improve its soft power by showing more of a willingness to cooperate multilaterally.