Criticism of the Rome Statute stems from concerns that the United States would compromise sovereignty by allowing others to prosecute its citizens without its consent, and potentially denying them basic constitutional rights and other domestic law protections.81 Proponents of the ICC contend that U.S. arguments against ratification of the Rome Statute fail in the face of facts.82 These arguments can be extrapolated and applied to the far less controversial dispute resolution provisions of the Convention. Among the most compelling arguments against a cooperative dispute resolution mechanism are assertions that a foreign body would have jurisdiction over U.S. citizens. Under the widely accepted principles of universal jurisdiction and territoriality, the United States already relinquishes a great deal of power over the fate of its citizens on trial.83 Concerns of bias among the deciding party are also ill-founded. With respect to the International Criminal Court, there are a number of safeguards in place to guard against such fears.84 The dispute resolution provisions in the Convention do not provide for prosecutions of U.S. citizens, but largely govern disputes over economic matters.85 While there are costs as- sociated with agreeing to a dispute resolution mechanism that is not an American court, those costs are neither new nor absolute.86 Furthermore, the underlying concern with the ICC, fear of prosecution of servicemen and women,87 is not relevant in this context. In fact, the U.S. Navy and other military members support ratifi- cation of the Convention.88 Finally, as discussed earlier, the dispute resolution provisions of the Convention contain an explicit carve-out for issues that infringe upon national sovereignty, among others.89 Under those circumstances, parties to the Convention are not required to utilize any of the mechanisms enumerated, and can instead rely upon a non-binding option, thus softening the delegation aspect associated with dispute resolution.90
While the ITLOS decision may indeed be cheered in naval circles for its ringing affirmation of the sovereign immunity of warships (possibly also for military aircraft, although they are not defined in the LOS Convention, nor is their sovereign immunity addressed), it also serves as a reminder of the awkward position of the U.S. as a non-party to the LOS Convention (the Convention has been pending before the senate since 1994, but the senate has yet to give its advice and consent to accession). Accordingly, should a similar incident occur involving a U.S. Navy or Coast Guard warship, the U.S. would not be able to apply to the ITLOS for the vessel’s release. Should the U.S. become a party to the LOS Convention, it should also take note of the fact that Argentina shrewdly amended its article 298 declaration on October 26th (four days before instituting its first legal action under Annex VII of the LOS Convention) to remove its early rejection of the LOS Convention’s compulsory dispute settlement procedures with respect to “military activities by government vessels and aircraft engaged in noncommercial service.” (¶ 34). In presenting the Convention to the senate in 1994, the Clinton administration recommended that the U.S. exempt military activities from the Convention’s compulsory dispute settlement procedures. Proposed declarations by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2004 and 2007 adopted that position. This case demonstrates at least one potential drawback to such exemptions.
We would do well to remember the original justifications for including the third-party dispute settlement provisions in the Convention. These justifications - which U.S. officials articulated and supported during UNCLOS III - include promoting certainty, predictability, and stability, with respect to rules that greatly benefit the United States.105 These dispute settlement provisions can help deter illegal behavior, as well as promote the peaceful settlement of disputes. Domestic enforcement of Convention provisions can also serve this end. At the most fundamental level, the Convention furthers the rule of law in the world - the values of using agreed-upon rules and procedures to resist unilateral assertions of jurisdiction or sovereign control, resolving differences even-handedly according to established rules, and providing stable expectations for international actors. Giving full effect to provisions for third-party dispute settlement at the international and national levels would help further these values.
Refusing to fully embrace the third-party dispute settlement mechanisms of the Convention has its costs. As noted above, Article 298(3) of the Convention would prohibit the United States from judicially challenging other states' "military activities," if the United States declares itself exempt from third-party proceedings involving military activities. The same is true of other matters falling within the scope of Article 298, including the Article 298(1)(b) optional exception for enforcement activities concerning EEZ fisheries and marine scientific research. The United States supports unimpeded marine scientific research and has a distant-water fishing industry. Under the Advice and Consent Resolution, however, the United States could not invoke the Convention's provisions on compulsory procedures entailing binding decisions to protect U.S. actors who engage in those activities from interference by other coastal states.1 0 1 The record of tribunals operating under the Convention should help to assure the United States that those tribunals can help to reinforce Convention norms, to the benefit of the United States. For example, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has, in cautious fashion, reinforced the text of and the basic compromises embodied in the Convention.
Furthermore, the United States has indicated that it may broadly construe the scope of the military activities exception. The U.S. State Department takes the position "that intelligence activities at sea are military activities for purposes of the U.S. dispute settlement exclusion under the Convention and thus the binding dispute settlement procedures would not apply to U.S. intelligence activities at sea."54 The Advice and Consent Resolution also includes an understanding providing that a U.S. military vessel's collection of "military survey data" is a "military activity."55 Hypothetical situations in which U.S. views concerning the scope of "military activities" might differ from the views of international judges or arbitrators are not difficult to imagine. For example, consider a case in which a coastal state challenged the collection in its EEZ of "military survey data" by a U.S. military vessel. Would an international tribunal accept the U.S. assertion that this data collection was a "military activity"? Or would the tribunal instead characterize a dispute over such data collection as one involving coastal state restrictions on the conduct of marine scientific research? Is military deployment of a listening or security device on a coastal state's continental shelf a "military activity" (likely the U.S. view), or would this deployment fall within the scope of the coastal state's control over installations on the continental shelf (under Article 60(1)(c) of the Convention)? The self- judging U.S. "military activities" condition in the Advice and Consent Resolution suggests that the United States desires to preserve its flexibility not to participate in certain third-party proceedings, and that the United States may well regard with great skepticism any attempt to proceed with a case that the United States deems to concern military activities. U.S. State Department and Department of Defense officials, along with military leaders, have stressed the importance ofthis "military activities" condition.
Several more forceful responses to the critics of the Convention's obligatory dispute settlement provisions are in order. First, the U.S. has already accepted the Convention's dispute settlement system with respect to certain significant categories of disputes (by ratifying the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement, which incorporates the Convention's dispute settlement provisions).54 Second, one can make a strong case that third-party dispute settlement has led to decisions that strengthen the Convention's rules and will lead to many more. For example, in its merits decision in the Saiga case, the ITLOS reinforced the concept of the EEZ as a zone of limited coastal state jurisdiction, which extends neither to customs matters nor generally to all matters affecting a coastal state's "public interest."55 Third, the U.S. itself might find the Convention's dispute settlement system useful. For instance, arbitration could be threatened or pursued in order to oppose and publicly expose other states' illegal straight baseline claims.56 The Convention's dispute settlement provisions can help prevent the compromises embodied in the Convention from unraveling.
The isolationists were also concerned that U.S. corporations could be subject to the compulsory dispute resolution measures in the Convention. This highlights the limited knowledge of those who signed the letter to Senator Reid. Lawyers who practice international law prefer international arbitration or appearing before an international tribunal rather than local adjudication in a country whose legal system may not be well-established. These U.S. senators seem to believe that by bypassing UNCLOS ratification, disputes will be subject exclusively to U.S. law. This belief is incorrect, as U.S. corporations have subsidiaries worldwide that are subject to lawsuits in local jurisdictions.
Problem #4: Unnecessary Risks to National Security. Proponents of the Convention argue that it promotes U.S. security by codifying a variety of rights to navigate the world’s oceans that are valued by the Navy. While the Navy, quite appropriately, seeks the codification of these rights, it should be pointed out that a significant portion of these rights are already established by a series of four 1958 “Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea” and customary international practice.
On the other hand, the risks to national security posed by the Convention are often understated. For example, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Negotiations Policy Mark T. Esper, who testified in favor of the Convention, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in an October 21, 2003, hearing that the mandatory dispute resolution mechanism could be used by states unsympathetic to the U.S. to curtail its military operations even though such operations are supposed to be exempt from the mechanism. This is because it is unclear by the terms of the treaty what activities will be defined as military. While the Bush Administration believes that it will be up to each State Party to determine for itself what activities are military, it is uncertain enough about the issue that it is recommending the U.S. submit a declaration reserving its right to determine which activities are military. Unfortunately, it is not at all certain that a declaration will suffice to protect vital U.S. national security interests. Other states may choose to accept or ignore the declaration, or a future administration may accept the jurisdiction of a tribunal and be surprised if precedent-setting decisions go against U.S. interests. While in the future the Navy may recommend that the U.S. reject a claim of jurisdiction for a tribunal, civilian authorities both inside and outside the Department of Defense may overrule the Navy. Amending the text of the treaty may be the only certain way to protect U.S. interests against overreaching by other states regarding the mandatory dispute resolution mechanism. This is my view, in part, because I am not aware of a precedent for such a mandatory dispute settlement mechanism that could extend to such sensitive areas.
Finally, dispute settlement under customary international law can run the gamut from diplomatic intervention to economic sanctions, to arbitration, to bringing an action before the International Court of Justice. Bottom line, it is ad hoc, at best. The Convention, on the other hand, contains an elaborate dispute settlement mechanism that promotes compliance with its provisions and ensures that ocean disputes will be settled in a peaceful manner. This mechanism is both flexible, in that Parties have options as to how and in what fora they will settle their disputes, and comprehensive, in that most of the Convention’s rules can be enforced through binding dispute resolution. At the same time, however, the dispute settlement mechanism accommodates matters of vital national concern by excluding certain sensitive categories of disputes, such as fisheries management in the EEZ, from binding dispute settlement. It also allows State Parties to exclude other disputes, such as controver- sies involving military activities, from the binding dispute settlement procedures.
As a State Party, the United States could enforce its rights and preserve its prerogatives through peaceful dispute settlement under the Convention, as well as en- courage compliance with the Convention by other State Parties.
According to the Department of State, the United States is already a party to more than 85 agreements (most of them multilateral in nature) that provide for the resolution of disputes by the International Court of Justice. More than 200 treaties – including civil air transport agreements and various types of investment treaties – provide for mandatory arbitration at the request of a party. In addition, there are a number of international organizations that include dispute resolution mechanisms, including the U.S.- Iran Claims Tribunal, and the International Civil Aviation Organization. The acceptance of arbitration in the Law of the Sea Convention is hardly a departure for the United States. Moreover, unlike most such dispute settlement provisions, the Law of the Sea Convention specifically permits the United States to not accept submission of disputes concerning military activities. This provision was insisted on by the United States in the negotiations leading to the Convention and was supported by navies a ll over the world.
The United States is already a party to more than 85 agreements (most of them multilateral in nature) that provide for the resolution of disputes by the International Court of Justice. It has also already accepted the dispute resolution mechanisms in UNCLOS by ratifying the 1995 Fish Stocks Agreement and the 2000 Convention on Central and Western Pacific Fisheries, both of which incorporate by reference the dispute settlement provisions of the Convention.
- Dispute resolution mechanism in UNCLOS no worse than already accepted principle of universal jurisdiction
- US has already accepted UNCLOS arbitration in two previous agreements but the Advice and Consent resolution serves to further qualify application
- Dispute resolution mechanisms in UNCLOS same as in other international agreements and do not threaten military
- Over 85 treaties U.S. is already a party to contain similar if not more restrictive dispute settlement provisions to UNCLOS
- Sovereignty costs of external dispute resolution in UNCLOS less ornnerous than provisions U.S. has already accepted
Acceding to UNCLOS would expose the U.S. to lawsuits on virtually any maritime activity, such as alleged pollution of the marine environment from a land-based source or through the atmosphere. Regardless of the merits, the U.S. would be forced to defend itself against every such lawsuit at great expense to U.S. taxpayers. Any judgment rendered by an UNCLOS tribunal would be final, could not be appealed, and would be enforceable in U.S. territory.
- Navy would be the target of a deluge of lawsuits under UNCLOS
- Under UNCLOS, US could be subject to arbitrary lawsuits with binding authority for international tribunals
- U.S. ability to exclude its military from arbitration is not absolute and our adversaries will use that to their advantage
- Even proponents of Law of Sea acknowledge ambiguity of 'military activities' clause could lead tribunal to rule against U.S. military
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Some opponents of UNCLOS have argued that by ratifying UNCLOS, U.S. military forces could be subject to adverse ruling by international tribunals through the dispute resolution mechanisms of the treaty. However, the U.S. defense department has reviewed the relevant law and has found no undue liability risk to U.S. forces. Furthermore, in the Senate's Advice and Consent resolution that would ratify UNCLOS, the U.S. has taken advantage of article 298(1) in UNCLOS to exempt itself from all dispute settlement.
- US advice and consent resolution regarding UNCLOS already excludes military activities from third party arbitration
- On balance the U.S should welcome the dispute resolution mechanisms in the treaty
- U.S. can issue signing statement upon ratifying UNCLOS that clarifies to interpretation of the military activities exemption
- U.S. can exempt its military activities from dispute resolution tribunals
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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.
- Dispute settlement provisions in UNCLOS contribute to advancement of maritime law and are in best interest of US
- Dispute settlement provisions in UNCLOS were advocated by US originally because they are still best way to further rule of law
- US was leading advocate of system of third party arbitration within UNCLOS because it viewed this as essential to consistent application of the law
- U.S. would not be constrained by foreign tribunal and could choose other methods of dispute resolution
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Mandatory dispute resolution mechanism could be used by states unsympathetic to the U.S. to curtail its military operations even though such operations are supposed to be exempt from the mechanism. This is because it is unclear by the terms of the treaty what activities will be defined as military.
- Risks of national security damage due to a adverse dispute settlement ruling are under appreciated
- Interpretation of "military activities" clause left up to external courts and possibly unfriendly panel
- US has always resolved maritime disputes with voluntary, bilateral diplomacy -- accession to UNCLOS would compel legally binding dispute resolution
- Should recognize that U.S. will be bigger target for ITLOS because of its status as the sole global naval superpower
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