Nothing in UNCLOS will change the conduct of naval intelligence operations
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Nothing in the Convention will affect the way we currently conduct surveillance and intelligence activities at sea. Opponents to the Convention argue that the Convention’s provisions on innocent passage – Articles 19 and 20 – will prohibit or otherwise adversely affect U.S. intelligence activities in foreign territorial seas at a time when such activity is vital to our national security. I can say without hesitation that nothing could be further from the truth.
While it is true that Article 19 provides that intelligence collection within the territorial sea is inconsistent with the innocent passage regime and that Article 20 provides that submarines must navigate on the surface when engaged in innocent passage, it’s a far stretch to thus conclude that the Convention prohibits intelligence collection and requires submarines to navigate on the surface when transiting the territorial sea. Nothing in Article 19 prohibits a U.S. vessel from engaging in intelligence activities in a foreign territorial sea. If a vessel does engage in such activities, it simply cannot claim that it is engaged in innocent passage. The same rule has applied for the past seven decades. Similarly, Article 20 does not prohibit submerged transits through the territorial sea, per se. Article 20 merely repeats the rule from the 1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea, a convention to which the United States is a party. The rule concerning submerged transits from the 1958 Convention has been the consistent position of nations, including the United States, for more than 70 years and it has never been interpreted as prohibiting or otherwise restricting intelligence collection activities or submerged transits in the territorial sea. In short, if or when the need arises to collect intelligence in a foreign territorial sea, nothing in the LOS Convention will prohibit that activity.
Opponents of U.S. ratification of UNCLOS have argued that U.S. intelligence operations will be complicated by UNCLOS because it will prevent U.S. submarines from gathering intelligence in territorial waters. However, these operations are already regulated by the existing 1958 convention which the U.S. ratified and expects other nations to abide by. Furthermore, the intelligence community has reviewed the treaty and concluded that it was still in U.S. interests to ratify the treaty.