U.S. unwillingness to ratify UNCLOS even while attempting to enforce its rules undermines its ability to remain maritime leader
The United States strictly adheres to the provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention. We understand the value of upholding international law. By establishing universal standards for global issues, we give diplomacy a better chance of succeeding and help ensure that a large country like China won’t simply steamroll smaller neighbors when disagreements arise. Ordinarily, the United States would be in a good position to urge governments to stick to their obligations and abide by the Tribunal’s decision.
Except we’re not party to the Law of the Sea Convention. By our own choosing, we are shut out of the process. Despite the fact that the United States champions freedom of navigation and the international rule of law, our Navy carries out those policies around the world and has long supported joining the Convention, and the Convention has won broad bipartisan support, a handful of Republican Senators have undercut America’s ability to stand up for our own values and interests. This is particularly troubling at a time when one of the pivotal international concerns of the 21st century is coming to a head.
American leaders will continue to support the Tribunal and encourage governments to abide by its decision. But we can and should be doing more, to include ratifying the Convention itself. The stakes are simply too high for the United States to take itself out of the lineup. China is working to deepen divisions and consolidate its power in Asia. If China gets its way, it will derail efforts to establish a rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific, worsen a potentially dangerous situation in the South China Sea, and undermine America’s ability to ensure maritime stability around the world.
U.S. failure to ratify UNCLOS raises fundamental questions regarding not only the future of legal regimes applicable to the world’s oceans, but also U.S. leadership in promoting international law and order.
Additionally, our partners lose confidence in the ability of the United States to make good on its word when we negotiate and sign treaties but don’t ultimately become party to them, especially as in the case of UNCLOS where the U.S. negotiated aggressively to win valuable concessions and won them.