Multiple national security rationales for ratifying UNCLOS
For starters, our entire naval strategy is predicated on the global reach of American sea power and ensuring unencumbered maritime trade upon which 90 percent of all commerce depends. The Law of the Sea enshrines the concept of the freedom of navigation upon which our maritime forces rely and it ensures the rights of innocent passage for our ships and submarines on the high seas and through the territorial seas of foreign nations without prior notification or permission. It also protects unimpeded transit through international straits such as Hormuz or the waters between Taiwan and China as well as archipelagoes like Indonesia. And, while enjoying these freedoms, our warships enjoy complete immunity. The United States is the world’s preeminent naval power and its combatant vessels and merchant marine benefit from open navigation.
In terms of strategic doctrine, as long as it remains outside the convention, the United States is restricted from fully implementing the first-ever national Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, jointly published by the chief of naval operations and the commandants of the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps. This announced policy seeks to build maritime partnerships for combating critical emerging threats such as piracy, nuclear proliferation and drug smuggling based on the principles we helped establish in the convention.
We face real pushback from our allies in these efforts who rightly question why we refuse to legally sign on to the rules we helped write. The United States puts its sailors in unneeded jeopardy when carrying out the Freedom of Navigation program to contest Law of the Sea abuses such as China’s “creeping sovereignty” in the Pacific. Further, we undermine our moral authority as a nation that benefits from an organized international system and makes establishing the rule of law a central tenet of our foreign policy.
Ratification of UNCLOS would bolster U.S. national security in numerous ways, including: protecting all six core freedom of navigation rights, protect maritime interdiction rights, and supporting efforts to combat piracy.