Spoken Statement on Law of the Sea Convention before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

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As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Washington, D.C., Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chairman Kerry, Senator Lugar, distinguished members. I want to thank you for the opportunity to be the first Secretary of Defense to testify in support of United States accession to the Law of the Sea Convention. I have been involved in ocean issues most of my career and I strongly believe that accession to this treaty is absolutely essential not only to our economic interests and our diplomatic interests but I'm here to say that it's extremely important to our national security interests as well. I join a lot of the military voices of the past and present that have spoken so strongly in support of this treaty. The fundamental point is clear: if the United States is to assert its historical role as a global maritime power, and we have, without question, the strongest Navy in the world, but if we're going to continue to assert our role as a maritime power, it's essential that we accede to this important Convention. Being here with Secretary Clinton and Chairman Dempsey "their presence alone is a testament to the conviction of our diplomatic and military leadership that this Convention is absolutely essential to strengthening our position around the world.

Let me outline some of the critical arguments with regards to U.S. national security and why it's time to move forward with this issue. First of all, as the world's strongest pre-eminent maritime power, we are a country with one of the longest coastlines and largest extended continental shelves in the world, we have more to gain from approving the Convention than almost any other country. There are 161 countries that have approved. We are the only industrial power that has failed to do that, and as a result, we don't have a seat at the table.

If we are sitting at this international table of nations, we can defend our interests, we can defend our claims, we can lead the discussion in trying to influence those treaty bodies that develop and interpret the Law of the Sea. We are not there. And as a result, they're the ones who are developing the interpretation of this very important treaty.

In that way, we would ensure that our rights are not whittled away by the excessive claims and erroneous interpretations of others. It would give us the power and authority to support and promote the peaceful resolution of disputes within a rules-based order.

Second, we would secure our navigational freedoms and global access for military and commercial ships, aircraft, and undersea fiber optic cables. Treaty law remains the firmest legal foundation upon which to base our global presence, as the Secretary has pointed out, and it's true on, above, and below the seas. By joining the Convention, we would help lock-in rules that are favorable to our freedom of navigation and our global mobility.

Third, accession would help secure a truly massive increase in our country's resource and economic jurisdiction, not only to 200 nautical miles off our coasts, but to a broad extended continental shelf beyond that zone adding almost another third to our nation in terms of jurisdiction.

Fourth, accession would ensure our ability to reap the benefits "again, as the Secretary has pointed out" of the opening of the Arctic. Joining the Convention would maximize international recognition and acceptance of our substantial extended continental shelf claims in the Arctic, and "as again the Secretary pointed out" we are the only Arctic nation that is not a party to this Convention.

More importantly from our navigation and military point of view, accession would also secure our freedom of navigation and our over-flight rights throughout the Arctic, and it would strengthen the freedom of navigation arguments with respect to the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage. And finally, let me say that we at the Defense Department have gone through an effort to develop a defense strategy not only for now but into the future as well. …