U.S. credibility in the Asia Pacific region is dependent on its ratification of UNCLOS
The credibility of the United States in the Asia Pacific is at stake on a decision whether to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). While there are other compelling arguments for ratification, none is as urgent as the requirement for the United States to solidify its commitment to the rule of international law, including in the Asia Pacific. This is particularly true in regard to one of the world’s most important foreign policy and security challenges: resolving disputes in the South China Sea.
This week, the Obama administration went all in on UNCLOS and sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of ratification. The ball is now in the Senate’s court.
A decision to anchor the United States in UNCLOS is one that cannot be delayed. The president has wisely refocused the country on Asia to advance U.S. interests, from economic recovery and growth to regional peace and security to developing new sources of innovation. Countries around the Asia Pacific are assessing whether the United States has the political will, the pocketbook, and the commitment to further institutionalize its presence in the region. UNCLOS ratification is necessary to answer those important questions in the affirmative.
U.S. capability to influence China would be strengthened by a reassertion of the American leadership role over the development of international law of the sea. Since UNCLOS is the basis of modern international law of the sea, the U.S. should ratify the Convention in order to more effectively exercise this leadership from within the ranks, not just from outside them.