UNCLOS and US Security Interests in the Asia-Pacific Region

By Locklear, Samuel J. | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

UNCLOS and US Security Interests in the Asia-Pacific Region


Locklear, Samuel J., Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III is Commander, US Pacific Command. Admiral Locklear presented the following testimony on June 14, 2012 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the United States military's perspective regarding ratification of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Committee today on this subject of strategic importance.

As the Commander of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), I join Secretary Clinton, Secretary Panetta, Chairman Dempsey, my fellow Combatant Commanders, and numerous other current and former leaders within the Department of Defense and United States Government in recommending that the United States accede to the Law of the Sea Convention. After careful reflection, I am fully confident that our accession to this Convention would advance U.S. national security interests in the PACOM area of responsibility (AOR). Specifically, the Convention sets forth and locks-in a rules-based order that protects military activities which are vital to our operations in defense of the nation, as well as our allies and partners.

As you know, the United States is refocusing on the Pacific after more than 10 years of war. As noted by Secretary Panetta, "We continue to face a challenging and complex global security environment, with multiple transnational threats including violent extremism, the destabilizing behavior of nations like Iran and North Korea, military modernization across the Asia-Pacific, and turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa." All of the foregoing challenges must be viewed against the backdrop of the world's increasing dependence on trade and commerce to and from the Asia- Pacific region.

It is critical for the United States to maintain its leadership role in the Pacific in order to best protect our vital security interests. As the Secretary of Defense stated in his testimony, a key component of our strategy is to re-energize and strengthen our network of defense and security partnerships throughout the Asia Pacific region. An area of universal interest among our allies and partners is protection of the rights and freedoms that underpin all nations' access to and uses of the world's oceans. Joining the Convention will ensure seamless integration of international legal authorities between our forces and those of our partners and will place the United States in the best possible position to continue to lead international efforts in the maritime domain.

Most important to me as the Commander of U.S. Pacific Command are the protections contained in the Convention for our navigational rights and freedoms, over-flight rights and freedoms, military activities, and our rights to transit international straits and choke points without impediment. With more than half the world's ocean area within my AOR, forces assigned to me rely on these basic rights, freedoms, and uses daily to accomplish their mission. All of the foregoing rights and freedoms are specifically protected by the Convention.

As we look into the future, our status as a non-party will increasingly disadvantage the United States. Presently, the United States is forced to rely on customary international law as the basis for asserting our rights and freedoms in the maritime domain. In situations where coastal states assert maritime claims that exceed the rights afforded to them by the Convention, USPACOM challenges such claims through a variety of means including the U.S. Freedom of Navigation program, military-to-military communications, and diplomatic protests issued through the State Department. When challenging such excessive claims through military-to- military or diplomatic exchanges, the United States typically cites customary international law and the relevant provisions of the Convention. Unfortunately, because we are not a party to the Convention, our challenges are less credible than they would otherwise be.

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