Concerns over jurisdiction of UNCLOS tribunals are overstated for three reasons
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The United States has considerable power to determine how accession to Convention would affect its national interests. This is primarily a function of the many years of negotiations getting the treaty to its 1994 form. More recent specific guidance provided by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on conditions for U.S. accession to the treaty are laid out in a lengthy resolution identifying very specific declarations, understandings, and conditions that ensure protection of U.S. interests.10 The conditions address a wide array of issues including representation on treaty decision-making bodies, ability to enforce U.S. environmental law, and rights to free navigation, as well as harmonization of the treaty with specific aspects of U.S. law. A particular concern to many in the United States is the specter of foreign courts making decisions about navigation and resource protection activities that ultimately affect U.S. interests. This concern could be said to be overstated for three reasons. First, accession to the Convention will allow the U.S. to have a say in the election of members of the Tribunal and to select members of arbitration panels making decisions. Second, and more important, is the fact that the U.S., as part of its accession (or any time thereafter), has the legal right to request the type of body it wants decisions concerning U.S. interests to be made by. The choices the United States would have include:
- A hearing before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), a standing tribunal of 21 judges, each from a different nation, that serve nine year terms. The earliest the U.S. could get a seated judge would be in late 2008, when seven seats open.
- A hearing before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a UN court of 15 judges appointed by the General Assembly and Security Council. The U.S. currently has one sitting judge.
- A special arbitral tribunal under “Annex VIII” made up of environmental, marine science, navigation and fisheries experts of which the U.S. would pick two of the five arbitrators.
- A hearing before an “Annex VII” arbitration panel composed of five members of which the U.S. would be allowed to choose one and be involved in the appointment of at least three others.
The U.S. has already indicated its decision to adjudicate conflicts under the last two options, using the third option for fisheries, environmental and navigational disputes, and the fourth option for other disputes, meaning that all decisions concerning U.S. interests would go to a small arbitral body whose members are selected with U.S. input. Finally, nations may opt out of any of the above adjudication procedures when the issue debated concerns such issues as scientific research, boundary disputes, military activities and setting of limits in natural resource extraction within a nation’s EEZ.
Balancing U.S. Interests in the UN Law of the Sea Convention
. Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Duke University: Durham, NC, October 2007 (8p). [ More (4 quotes) ]
The costs associated with the dispute resolution provisions in UNCLOS are similar to those the United States is already subject to under the principles of universal jurisdiction and territoriality and numerous other agreements the U.S. has already ratified. Furthermore, the Convention provides the United States with an escape from mandatory dispute resolution which the U.S. has already invoked in its signing statements to ensure that the U.S. military will not be threatened by UNCLOS tribunals.