International law has been less effective at preventing nations from making excessive claims than U.S. naval supremacy
Moreover, at a time when Washington is combating lawless terrorism, it should be evident that the only sure guarantee of free passage on the seas is the power of the U.S. Navy, combined with friendly relations with the states, few in number, that sit astride important sea lanes. Coastal nations make policy based on perceived national interest, not abstract legal norms. Remember the luckless USS Pueblo in 1968? International law did not prevent North Korea from seizing the intelligence ship; approval of the Law of the Sea Treaty would have offered the Pueblo no additional protection. America was similarly unaided by international law in its 2001 confrontation with China over our downed EP-3 surveillance plane.
Nor has signing the Law of the Sea Treaty prevented Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, North Korea, Pakistan, and others from making ocean claims deemed excessive by others. Indeed, last October Adm. Mullen warned that the benefits he believed to derive from treaty ratification did not "suggest that countries' attempts to restrict navigation will cease once the United States becomes a party to the Law of the Sea Convention."
It is not essential or even necessary for the United States to accede to UNCLOS to benefit from the certainty and stability provided by its navigational provisions. Those provisions either codify customary international law that existed well before the convention was adopted in 1982 or “refine and elaborate” navigational rights that are now almost universally accepted as binding international law.