U.S. rejection of international agreements like UNCLOS only emboldens our adversaries to challenge our leadership
U.S. presidents do not create and shape multilateral structures because they believe in global governance as an abstract philosophy. They do so because they want to advance the strategic and national security interests of the United States, which, for more than 65 years, have been tied up in the preservation and strengthening of a rules-based international order. These structures are not always perfect. When they are flawed, the tough process of ratification makes sure that problems are addressed. Unfortunately, however, doctrinal statements against the very idea of participation in multilateral organizations and agreements are now routinely undermining U.S. leadership overseas. This may have been an indulgence the United States could afford in the "unipolar" 1990s, but faced with a power transition in Asia, it is a strategic blunder that only emboldens those who long for the end of the U.S.-led international order.
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.