Even without ratification, UNCLOS has already achieved binding customary international law status in the US
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Perhaps the most dangerous threat to American sovereignty in the Arctic is the enforceability of UNCLOS as part of American law, either as positive treaty based domestic law or customary international law. While the reach of the Convention may be debated under both headings to some extent, it cannot help but affect the United States' Arctic designs.
Although still pending ratification, at times UNCLOS may be assigned virtually the same legal status as if it were a properly ratified treaty, albeit in a roundabout and piecemeal fashion. If President Reagan's culling UNCLOS for acceptable provisions bound the United States to a majority of the Convention's provisions, then President Clinton committed the United States to the remainder, including the amended Part XI mining regime, by signing the Convention in 1994 in spite of an obstinate Senate.
The court in United States v. Royal Caribbean Cruises bore this out, holding that UNCLOS "carried the weight of law from the date of its submission by ... President [Clinton] to the Senate."n348 In finding that the Convention applied to an oil spill within U.S. waters, the court reasoned that the United States was obliged to honor the agreement to which the executive branch has tentatively made the United States a party, and that the submission of the treaty alone to the Senate was indicative of the America's "ultimate intention" to be bound by the Convention.n349 Following this line of reasoning, albeit to somewhat of an illogical extreme, the Supremacy Clause would place UNCLOS atop the hierarchy of domestic laws in spite of nonratification.
Even acknowledging the suspect reasoning of this theory, emphasis still will fall to customary practice to determine the extent of U.S. presence in the Arctic, which could well lead to unsatisfying results. Indeed, America's ambiguous relationship to UNCLOS has done little to affect the Convention's operation, its actions actually facilitating its application as binding customary law.
"Implications of Global Warming on State Sovereignty and Arctic Resources under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: How the Arctic is no Longer Communis Omnium Naturali Jure
." Richmond Journal of Global Law & Business
. Vol. 8. (Winter 2008): 195-248. [ More (12 quotes) ]