U.S. should join UNCLOS to protect four critical rights that ensure freedom of navigation
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To date, U.S. military forces have successfully protected American shipping and the homeland from sea-based attack without the benefits of the convention. Why is it imperative to join the convention now? What does the convention provide that distinguishes it from existing treaties and the customary international law upon which the United States has depended for the past five decades?
In short, the convention provides the protection of binding international law in four categories of essential navigation and overflight rights. Together, these rights ensure the strategic and operational mobility of U.S. military forces and the free flow of international commerce at sea. Joining the convention guarantees that 156 states recognize the following basic rights of U.S. military forces, commercial ships, civilian aircraft, and the foreign-flagged vessels that carry commerce vital to U.S. economic security:
- Right of Innocent Passage. The surface transit of any ship or submarine through the territorial seas of foreign nations without prior notification or permission.
- Right of Transit Passage. The unimpeded transit of ships, aircraft, and submerged submarines in their normal modes through and over straits used for international navigation, and the approaches to those straits.
- Right of Archipelagic Sealanes Passage. The unimpeded transit of ships, aircraft, and submerged submarines in their normal modes through and over all normal passage routes used for international navigation of “archipelagic waters,” such as those claimed by the Philippines and Indonesia.
- Freedom of the High Seas. The freedoms of navigation, overflight, and use of the seabed for laying undersea cables or pipes on the high seas and within the exclusive economic zone of a coastal state.