On balance, policy benefits of ratifying UNCLOS far outweigh any disadvantages
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Evaluating the pros and cons of U.S. accession to the Law of the Sea Convention is complicated, because, unlike multilateral treaties that address a single, relatively narrow topic, the Convention concerns a wide range of issues. Nevertheless, many provisions of the Convention appear to favor U.S. businesses and the U.S. military, segments of society that the Bush Administration supports. For example, the U.S. oil industry, which possesses the technology to drill at great depths under the ocean, favors U.S. accession.21 The Convention establishes a mechanism for setting the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 miles from baselines, which would result in oil companies gaining the security that comes with defined limits for drilling claims.22 Most significantly, the Convention provides, in the U.S. view, minimal restrictions on the passage of military vessels through straits and other coastal zones and permits such vessels to conduct military surveys and exercises in the 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of other states.23 In 2004, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, labeled U.S. accession to the Convention a "top national security priority," reflecting the view that the Convention's provisions relating to navigation and military exercises are essential to U.S. security.24 In addition, the commercial shipping industry, as well as the U.S. military, benefits from the Convention's freedom of navigation provisions.
Convention proponents also maintain that "undesirable" features of the Convention can be and have been minimized. The Reagan Administration refused to sign the Convention in the early 1980s, arguing that its deep-seabed-mining regime was excessively anti-competitive and did not give the United States decision-making authority commensurate with its power.25 The changes to Part XI made by the 1994 Agreement satisfied President Reagan's objections to the Convention's original regime.26 Another U.S. concern-that U.S. military activities might be subject to review by an international tribunal under the Convention's dispute settlement procedures-could be eliminated by opting for a Convention-authorized jurisdictional exception.27 According to Convention proponents, the policy benefits of U.S. accession far outweigh any potential negative consequences.
There is a strong economic, military, and strategic case to be made for U.S. ratification of UNCLOS. Economically, the U.S. would benefit by attaining new protections for its vital maritime industries while opening up new industries and vast amounts of terroritory. The military case is just as strong with the overwhelming consensus of military leaders advocating for ratification as a way to ensure the freedom of navigation rights the U.S. depends on. Finally, ratification of UNCLOS would help the U.S.