U.S. has more to gain than lose from accession to the convention especially since in just about every maritime realm, the U.S. is already abiding by the convention
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As the nation with the world’s largest navy, an extensive coastline and a continental shelf with enormous oil and gas reserves, and substantial commercial shipping interests, the United States certainly has much more to gain than lose from joining the Law of the Sea Convention. In my view, it is most unfortunate that a small but vocal minority – armed with a series of flawed arguments – has imposed upon the United States a delay that is contrary to our interests. Nevertheless, I am convinced this will change and am confident that the United States Senate will approve the Convention in due course.
In the meantime, the United States will continue to abide by the Convention and work within its framework. Even as we remain outside the Convention, the Legal Adviser’s Office confronts law of the sea issues on a daily basis. For example, we work at the International Maritime Organization and in regional fora to protect the marine environment by elaborating rules for reducing vessel source pollution, ocean dumping, and other sources of marine pollution. We recently achieved U.S. ratification of a treaty – “MARPOL Annex VI” – aimed at limiting air pollution from ships and a protocol limiting land-based sources of marine pollution in the Caribbean Region. A global treaty on ocean dumping – the “London Protocol” -- awaits action by the full Senate. At home, we coordinate with the Department of Justice to ensure that prosecutions involving foreign flag vessels are consistent with the marine pollution chapter of the Convention, and we scrutinize legislative proposals from both the Executive Branch and the Congress to ensure that U.S. marine pollution jurisdiction is applied and enforced in accordance with law of the sea rules.
We also negotiate maritime boundary treaties with our neighbors in line with the provisions of the Convention. Most people think the United States has only two neighbors – Canada and Mexico – but by virtue of our island possessions, we actually have over thirty instances in which U.S. maritime claims overlap with those of another country. Less than half of them have been resolved. Some involve disagreements about how much effect to give to islands in determining a maritime boundary. In the case of the Beaufort Sea, Canada argues that the existing treaty establishing the land boundary between Alaska and Canada also determines the maritime boundary. Our office is also assisting a State Department-led Task Force to determine the outer limits of the U.S. continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy has recently conducted several cruises in the Arctic Ocean, including one that mapped areas of the Chukchi Borderland where the U.S. shelf may extend more than 600 miles from shore.
U.S. and international efforts to combat terrorism and proliferation have also generated law-of-the-sea-related issues. Consistent with the Convention, we fashion shipboarding agreements to promote the maritime interdiction aspects of the Proliferation Security Initiative. And we bring law of the sea equities into the elaboration of treaties on suppression of criminal acts at sea. In fact, the U.S. Senate has just given its advice and consent to ratification of two protocols that supplement the convention that addresses suppression of unlawful acts at sea – the 2005 so-called “SUA Protocol” and the 2005 “Fixed Platforms” Protocol.