Revision of U.S. ratification of UNCLOS best way to preserve freedom of navigation rights from Tue, 02/18/2014 - 03:42

Quicktabs: Arguments

Since development of customary international legal norms is disproportionately shaped by the positions and actions of the world's most politically, economically, and militarily influential nations, the traction of an emerging "securitization" norm could potentially increase as leading state proponents, such as China and India, continue to gain political, economic, and military stature. Similarly, while the actions of landlocked nations can play a role in the development of customary international law of the sea, the role of coastal nations is particularly influential in this regard. However, while crystallization ofa "securitization" norm into customary international law would clearly constitute ultimate success for a nation state "lawfare" practitioner, more realistic intermediate goals are achievable. For example, a coastal nation may successfully dissuade an expeditionary nation from challenging an excessive claim by exploiting the expeditionary nation's political vulnerability or desire to avoid military escalation. Additionally, a coastal nation may effectively undermine an adversary's legitimacy through consistently pressed, specious claims. In either case, an expeditionary nation such as the United States risks incurring additional diplomatic and political costs if it chooses to persist in contested operations. These costs can be conceptualized as "drag" on the U.S. government's ability to protect sea lines of communication, collect intelligence, conduct military hydrologic survey operations, and maintain the required force structure to accomplish these. Therefore, the opportunity costs associated with non-membership in UNCLOS can be meaningfully correlated to the vulnerabilities associated with maritime "lawfare"-operational latitude, legitimacy, and maximal effective ability to influence maritime law and policy.
[ Page 10 ]
De Tolve, Robert C. "Rock". "At What Cost? America's UNCLOS Allergy in the Time of "Lawfare" ." Naval Law Review. Vol. 61. (2012): 1-16. [ More (8 quotes) ]

These important provisions for navigational freedom are of the utmost importance in protecting global trade, one of the core mechanisms for global economic growth, and for lessening the risks of conflict involving efforts to assert jurisdiction over warships and other vessels entitled to sovereign im- munity. For “zone-locked” states, the absence of these navigational freedoms would mean losing access to the oceans as though the state were land- locked. Indeed, without the clear legal recognition of these fundaments of navigational freedom, UNCLOS would not have been possible. Sadly, however, the international community must be diligent in combating the challenges to navigational freedom that still exist. These include:

  • Aberrant and vague “area” claims such as the old “Libyan Line of Death,” the Chilean “Mar Presencial,” China’s “nine-dashed-line” and North Korea’s 50-mile security zone claim;
  • Excessive straight baseline claims;
  • Excessive claims concerning innocent passage in the territorial sea; particularly claims concerning consent or notification for warships; claims which have never been accepted as part of oceans law and which have been jointly rebutted by the United States and Russia in the Jackson Hole Statement of September 23, 1989;
  • llegal claims asserting ship construction or operation standards for transit through the territorial sea or the economic zone which have not previously been adopted through the IMO mechanism; and
  • Claims limiting full high seas navigational freedoms in the exclusive economic zone.

For the most part aberrant and vague area claims and claims beyond permissible limits for the territorial sea and economic zone seem to be slowly re- ceding as the Convention takes greater hold each and every year. The more concerning problems for the future likely relate to the “character” of each of these zonal areas in UNCLOS. We must not permit gradual encroachments to roll back the core UNCLOS compromise of extended coastal state resource rights in return for full navigational freedom in the EEZ and straits transit rights through, over, and under straits used for international navigation.

[ Page 258-259 ]

Freedom of navigation is the main reason why the George W. Bush administration announced its support for U.S. accession shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.30 The administration likely finds that the Convention's navigational and national security benefits far outweigh any costs to the U.S. joining the Convention. Military security relates to self-defense, which the Convention pre- serves,31 and to port security, which the Convention facilitates by incorporating security requirements developed through the Inter- national Maritime Organization.32 The Convention also assures rights of navigation and overflight, including transit passage through strategic straits and archipelagic sea lanes passage,33 as well as the immunity of warships.34 The U.S. insisted on strengthening rights of navigation and overflight during the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea Conference (UNCLOS III), and in making them more objective with what appears in the 1958 Territorial Sea Convention.

[ Page 628-629 ]
Noyes, John. "U.S. Policy and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea." George Washington International Law Review. Vol. 39. (2007): 621-638. [ More (4 quotes) ]

Why support the Convention now? Administration officials cite a "resurgence of creeping jurisdiction" by coastal states within their EEZs.36 This resurgence threatens Convention-based navigational rights, which are at least as important today as they were during the Cold War. Alternative ways to respond to creeping coastal state jurisdiction are not satisfactory. If the U.S. continues to rely on assertions that customary international law establishes certain navigational rights, coastal states may increasingly counterclaim that emerging customary international law restricts such rights in coastal zones.37 Some coastal states may altogether deny that Convention-based navigational rights exist under customary international law. As Admiral Michael G. Mullen, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Commit- tee, "some coastal states contend that the navigational and over- flight rights contained in the Convention are available only to those states that also accept the responsibilities set forth in the Convention by becoming parties to it."38 if it joined the Convention, the U.S. would likely have less need to rely on either its Freedom of Navigation Program39 or negotiating new bilateral agreements.40 The rules in the Convention clarify issues and narrow considerably the range of possible disagreements over navigational rights. Accepting the Convention will thus be less expensive-in terms of dollars, potential confrontations or loss of good will with coastal states, and U.S. concessions on other fronts-than continuing to stand outside it.

[ Page 630 ]
Noyes, John. "U.S. Policy and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea." George Washington International Law Review. Vol. 39. (2007): 621-638. [ More (4 quotes) ]

To date, U.S. military forces have successfully protected American shipping and the homeland from sea-based attack without the benefits of the convention. Why is it imperative to join the convention now? What does the convention provide that distinguishes it from existing treaties and the customary international law upon which the United States has depended for the past five decades?

In short, the convention provides the protection of binding international law in four categories of essential navigation and overflight rights. Together, these rights ensure the strategic and operational mobility of U.S. military forces and the free flow of international commerce at sea. Joining the convention guarantees that 156 states recognize the following basic rights of U.S. military forces, commercial ships, civilian aircraft, and the foreign-flagged vessels that carry commerce vital to U.S. economic security:

  • Right of Innocent Passage. The surface transit of any ship or submarine through the territorial seas of foreign nations without prior notification or permission.
  • Right of Transit Passage. The unimpeded transit of ships, aircraft, and submerged submarines in their normal modes through and over straits used for international navigation, and the approaches to those straits.
  • Right of Archipelagic Sealanes Passage. The unimpeded transit of ships, aircraft, and submerged submarines in their normal modes through and over all normal passage routes used for international navigation of “archipelagic waters,” such as those claimed by the Philippines and Indonesia.
  • Freedom of the High Seas. The freedoms of navigation, overflight, and use of the seabed for laying undersea cables or pipes on the high seas and within the exclusive economic zone of a coastal state.
[ Page 22-23 ]

The United States might react to these coastal state navigational restrictions in four possible ways.32 First, it could acquiesce in them, a reaction that would significantly restrict navigational freedoms important to the United States. Second, the United States could continue to assert, via diplomatic channels, a customary international law right to navigation, backing up its assertions with naval exercises. Although the United States has been following this practice since 1979 under its Freedom of Navigation Program, this option is expensive. It is expensive in terms of dollars, potential confrontations, and prejudice to other U.S. interests in the coastal state.33 Furthermore, this option may not contribute to a stable legal regime, since some U.S. claims under customary international law could compete with coastal state assertions of different emerging rules of customary international law. Third, the United States could negotiate bilateral treaties to preserve U.S. navigational rights in other states' coastal zones. This option is also expensive. Small states, not interested in sailing their vessels or conducting military exercises in U.S. waters, would expect other new military, economic, or political concessions in exchange for allowing the United States to conduct military exercises or navigate in their coastal zones. Finally, the United States could accept the multilateral Law of the Sea Convention. With respect to navigation rights, this treaty provides a stable legal base from which to promote freedom of navigation rules. Its written and hard-to- change rules, though not always highly determinate, at least narrow the range of disputes over permissible and impermissible restrictions on navigation. Convention proponents have strong consequentialist arguments to support the position that the Con- vention's freedom of navigation provisions benefit the United States.

[ Page 7-8 ]
Noyes, John. "The United States, the Law of the Sea Convention, and Freedom of Navigation." Suffolk Transnational Law Review. Vol. 29. (2005-2006): 1-24. [ More (4 quotes) ]

Our Navy can better protect the United States and the American people if we join the Law of the Sea Convention.

The Law of the Sea Convention is the bedrock legal instrument for public order in the world’s oceans. It codifies, in a manner that only binding treaty law can, the navigation and overflight rights, and high seas freedoms that are essential for the global strategic mobility of our Armed Forces, including:

  • The Right of Innocent Passage, which allows ships to transit through foreign territorial seas without providing the coastal State prior notification or gaining the coastal State’s prior permission.
  • The Right of Transit Passage, which allows ships, aircraft, and submarines to transit through, over, and under straits used for international navigation and the approaches to those straits.
  • The Right of Archipelagic Sealanes Passage, which, like transit passage, allows transit by ships and aircraft through, over, and under normal passage routes in archipelagic states, such as Indonesia.
  • The right of high seas freedoms, including overflight and transit within the Exclusive Economic Zone.

Innocent Passage, Transit Passage, and Archipelagic Sealanes Passage are the crown jewels of navigation and overflight. These rights are vital not just to our Navy, but also to our Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. They make it possible to move vast quantities of war materiel through the Straits of Gibraltar, Singapore, Malacca, and Hormuz and into the Arabian Gulf to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in Iraq. These rights permit us to move our submarine fleet through choke points to conduct all missions. They permit the United States Air Force to conduct global missions without requirement to overfly foreign national airspace. And they ensure the uninterrupted flow of commerce to and from our shores.

[ Page 3-4 ]

National security interests were paramount in crafting the final text of the Convention, so it is unsurprising the treaty framework promotes regional stability, optimizes maritime strategic mobility, and yields other national security benefits. At home, the Convention supports strong flag and port state security measures and ensures the exercise of sovereignty in the territorial sea. The Convention also provides the most effective means to exercise U.S. leadership to shape the management and development of law of the sea. Abroad, the Convention facilitates combined operations with coalition partners through subscription to a common rule set, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The suggestion by some critics that the Convention represents a progressive confrontation of U.S. national security interests has turned historical analysis on its head, as the Convention in fact secured the essential oceans interests of the maritime powers. Senator Richard Lugar called the criticism of these “amateur admirals”15 factually and historically incorrect, and focusing on spurious concerns over vague losses of U.S. sovereignty.16 During the negotiations, the United States closely coordinated with the other major maritime powers— the Soviet Union, Japan, the United Kingdom and France—to accommodate high seas freedoms.17 These states, and particularly the superpowers, demonstrated a repeated willingness to go against their usual clients and allies in favor of positions supported by the maritime powers. The politics of the negotiations reflected national interest as a function of geography, rather than superpower politics or North-South differences. The cornerstone of this coordination was achievement of the provisions protecting freedom of navigation. In the end, essentially all of the maritime security benefits of the Convention are rooted in preserving maximum freedom of the seas.

[ Page 547 ]

One of our most important objectives in seeking a universally ratified Law of the Sea Convention is to put a stop to the erosion of high seas freedoms in coastal areas that characterized the development of customary international law in the twentieth century. There is no reason to believe this erosion will not continue in the absence of a treaty restraint. In my opinion, the most plausible way to block the gradual erosion of high seas freedoms in the exclusive economic zone, and its eventual transformation into something much more like a territorial sea, is a widely ratified Law of the Sea Convention to which the United States is party, and with respect to which the voice and practice of the United States are prominent authoritative evidence of what the Convention means.

For operational planners, the essential question is not what we think our rights are, but what foreign governments think. We need the greatest possible influence over the perception of foreign governments regarding the source, legitimacy, and content of their obligations to respect our high seas freedoms, especially in their exclusive economic zones. We achieve that best by becoming party to the Convention. The alternatives are likely to be both less effective and more costly.

Oxman, Bernard H. "Statement of Bernard H. Oxman: Oversight hearing to examine the "United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea" ." Testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, March 24, 2004. [ More (9 quotes) ]

The National Strategy for Maritime Security (NSMS) identifies freedom of the seas as a “top national priority.”26 Naval forces depend upon global strategic mobility and tactical maneuverability to conduct the spectrum of sea-air-land operations in pursuit of the national interest, and these operations include:

  • operating the most survivable component of nuclear deterrence, ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs);27
  • conventional global strike;28
  • air and missile defense;29
  • information operations;30
  • sea and land direct attack with missiles, naval gunfire and aircraft;
  • crisis and disaster response, such as tsunami relief;31
  • maritime homeland security;32
  • amphibious and expeditionary operations in littoral areas;33
  • insertion of special operations forces (SOF) for missions such as counterinsurgency and counterterrorism;34
  • constabulary functions and maritime security operations (MSOs) such as counterdrug operations35 and piracy repression;”36
  • counter proliferation operations such as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and the Protocols to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA);37
  • exercise of the right of approach, approach and visit, maritime interception operations (MIO) and visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS);
  • naval control and protection of shipping (NCAPS);38 exercise of sea lines of communication (SLOCs) through the global supply chain and strategic supply;
  • sea control;39 anti-access and sea denial strategies such as mining; civil-military affairs;40
  • security cooperation and peacekeeping;41 and forward presence.42

In addition to securing the homeland, the exercise of these military activities ensures and relies on U.S. command of the global commons, which means the United States is readily able to insert power anywhere throughout the globe.43 The Chief of Naval Oper- ations has said assuring access to the oceans and preserving the freedom to conduct naval operations is directly related to deterring war, or, if necessary, winning it.44

[ Page 549-50 ]