UNCLOS has proven itself as valuable global framework for resolving maritime conflicts
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This narrative on the importance of international law at sea is at odds with much of the conventional wisdom that characterizes the oceans as an ungoverned legal vacuum.19 The global order of the oceans springs from the architecture of the international law of the sea and of the IMO, and the new maritime security regimes fall within those frameworks. The 1982 Law of the Sea Convention was the first—and remains the foremost—international instrument for realizing collaborative approaches to maritime security. Attempts in 1930, 1958, and 1960 at developing a widely accepted multilateral framework on oceans law had either ended in utter failure or achieved only modest gains. In contrast, UNCLOS contributes directly to international peace and security, by replacing abundant conflicting maritime claims with universally agreed limits on coastal-state sovereignty and jurisdiction. The treaty is anchored in a set of navigational regimes that establish common expectations, delineating the rights and duties of flag, port, and coastal states. Even though some state parties occasionally propose rules that evidence unorthodox misreadings of the convention—such as China’s bogus security claims in the East China and Yellow seas—UNCLOS has served as a stabilizing force, a framework that protects and promotes the principal American interest in freedom of the seas. In doing so the multilateral agreement, which now has more than 155 state parties, picked the international community out of what D. P. O’Connell once described as an “intellectual morass” in which competing opinions and views served as a substitute for law. As a result, the number of controversies in the oceans has declined.