Testimony from international naval commanders affirms that U.S. absence from UNCLOS framework is undermining its ability to shape the international maritime order
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But this will change as these initiatives continue to reconfigure sea power itself. Consequently it is not surprising (but unfortunate) that the Cooperative Strategy failed to promote international law of the sea as the organizing principle and principal goal of U.S. maritime strategy. This glaring omission has been noted by numerous friends and allies, who time and again reminded the United States of the centrality of international law in their responses to the original thousand-ship-navy concept. Writing separately, naval commanders from France, Ghana, India, Portugal, and Spain all made reference to the importance of international maritime law in their comments on the thousand-ship navy published in 2006 by the Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute.41 A year later, many of the same chiefs of service were asked to respond to Admiral Michael G. Mullen’s plan for a new U.S. maritime strategy. Once again, international law was a prominent feature of their replies; the leaders of the naval forces of Brazil, Peru, Portugal, Colombia, Uruguay, Lebanon, and Spain urged the United States to ensure that maritime security is rooted in multilateral legal frameworks.42 It is especially important that the vigorous expansion of maritime partnership integration propelled by international law be maintained. The maritime domain awareness provisions of the SOLAS Convention, the counterproliferation and counterterrorism elements of the SUA 2005 protocols, and PSI, with its informal nature, and Security Council action against piracy, constitute the greatest package of multilateral maritime-security commitments since the interwar period of the 1930s. The United States led each of these efforts, but there is a widespread perception that the American “brand” has suffered since and that the diplomatic influence of its friends and allies in Europe has diminished.43 Meanwhile, that of China and Russia is expanding. The upshot is a degree of doubt about the ability of the West to shape the future direction of international maritime law toward a shared vision of the rule of law at sea. This means that we should be prepared to make even greater investments in cooperation, and the development of international maritime law and institutions, to realize the goals of the Cooperative Strategy.
U.S. failure to ratify UNCLOS raises fundamental questions regarding not only the future of legal regimes applicable to the world’s oceans, but also U.S. leadership in promoting international law and order.
Additionally, our partners lose confidence in the ability of the United States to make good on its word when we negotiate and sign treaties but don’t ultimately become party to them, especially as in the case of UNCLOS where the U.S. negotiated aggressively to win valuable concessions and won them.