UNCLOS protections for navigational freedoms are not unambiguous
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Nor is the treaty unambiguously favorable to transit rights. The document introduces some new limitations on navigation involving the EEZs, territorial seas, and water surrounding archipelagic states. Even seemingly innocent restrictions might have a negative impact; Alfred Rubin of Tufts University worried that the ban on “research or survey activities” could limit U.S. naval transit rights.
At other times the LOST’s language is ambiguous—regarding transit rights for sub- merged submarines, for instance—which ultimately limits the value of the treaty guarantee. Ambassador Pardo complained that the treaty “is often studiously unclear, and predictability suffers.”50 Louisiana State University law professor Gary Knight argued that “the difficulty of establishing our legal right to EEZ navigation [through other nations’ exclusive economic zones] and submerged straits passage [for submarines] would be no more difficult under an existing customary international law argument than under the convoluted text of the proposed UNCLOS.”51 In short, there is only a modest theoretical advantage for which to trade away the mining provisions.
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.