The Top Five Reasons Why Conservatives Should Oppose the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea
The authors offer five reasons why the Law of the Sea treaty "remains a threat to American interests."
President Reagan rejected the Law of the Sea Convention in 1982 and cited several major deficiencies, none of which have been remedied. Reagan was concerned that the U.S., though a major naval power, would have little influence at the International Seabed Authority that the convention created. Although the Authority is supposed to make decisions by consensus, nothing prevents the rest of the “international community” from consistently voting against the United States, as regularly occurs in similar U.N. bodies, such as the General Assembly. In addition, President Reagan was troubled by the fact that the International Seabed Authority has the power to amend the convention without U.S. consent. That concern has also not been remedied in the intervening years.
International institutions created by multilateral treaties spawn unaccountable international bureaucracies, which in turn inevitably infringe upon U.S. sovereignty. The convention creates a bureaucracy known as the International Seabed Authority Secretariat. Like all international bureaucracies, the Secre- tariat has a strong incentive to enhance its own authority at the expense of state sovereignty. When international bureaucracies are unaccountable, they—like all unaccountable institutions—seek to insulate themselves from scrutiny and thus become prone to corruption. The International Seabed Authority is vulnerable to the same corrupt practices that have riddled the U.N. for years. The United Nations Oil-for-Food scandal, in which the Iraqi government benefited from a system of bribes and kickbacks involving billions of dollars and 2,000 companies in nearly 70 countries, is a prime example. Despite ample evidence of the U.N.’s systemic weaknesses and vulnerability to corruption, the U.N. General Assembly has resisted efforts to adopt serious transparency and accountability reforms.
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Under the convention, the United States assumes a number of obligations at odds with its military practices and national security interests, including a commitment not to collect intelligence. The U.S. would sign away its ability to collect intelligence vital for American security within the “territorial waters” of any other country (Article 19). Further- more, U.S. submarines would be required to travel on the surface and show their flags while sailing within territorial waters (Article 20). This would apply, for example, to U.S. submarines maneuvering in Iranian or North Korean territorial waters; they would be required to sail on the surface with their flags waving.
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The U.S. enjoys navigation rights by customary international practice. The fact that the U.S. is not a convention member does not mean that other states will begin to demand notification by U.S. ships entering their waters or airspace. Indeed, the U.S. is not a signatory to the convention today and yet has freedom of the seas because current participants are required to grant the U.S. navigation rights afforded by customary international practice. In addition, these states have reciprocal interests in navigation rights that will discourage them from making such demands on American ships in the future.