Arguments against the United States becoming a party to UNCLOS are not persuasive given the evident and rising costs of remaining outside the treaty. Reservations based on the deep seabed mining regime, which was the basis for President Ronald Reagan’s rejection of the treaty in 1982, were addressed by the 1994 revisions made to UNCLOS during the Clinton Administration. Other objections are based on concerns that ratification would expose the U.S. to broad liability for environmental damage in international courts; obligate the U.S. to transfer technology; require the U.S. to transfer royalties to the International Seabed Authority and give the United Nations the ability to impose taxes on U.S. citizens; and damage U.S. national security by restricting the ability of the U.S. to conduct activities such as maritime interdiction operations and gathering maritime intelligence.
Treaties by their very nature impose some constraints as part of the process of establishing international norms and rules. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama backed the treaty and urged Senate ratification, to no avail. Supporters of UNCLOS ratification include a broad American constituency composed of the U.S. military as well as actors in the energy, shipping, fishing, shipbuilding, and communication industries, as well as environmental groups. The clear benefits of becoming a party to the treaty outweigh the potential costs. It’s well past time to leave the small group of countries that refuse to join treaty, which includes North Korea, Iran, Syria, Libya, and Venezuela, and side with the 167 countries that are UNCLOS state parties.