Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Senate Should Give Immediate Advice and Consent to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: Why the Critics Are Wrong

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Senate Should Give Immediate Advice and Consent to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: Why the Critics Are Wrong

Article excerpt


As national security professionals who have spent much of our lives working on oceans and security issues, we believe that Senate advice and consent to ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention is strongly in the national interest of the United States. Elsewhere we have each testified at length as to why advice and consent is urgently needed. (1) This short paper, which supplements our earlier testimony, is motivated by our mutual concern that the arguments being against the treaty are simplistic and erroneous.

Not only are the specific cases advanced against the treaty wrong, but more importantly, its critics ignore the powerful masons for U.S. compliance, including the fact that the 1982 convention supercedes the far less favorable 1958 convention that is currently in force. (2) This response will first briefly summarize a few of the broader issues ignored by the critics and will then address the erroneous arguments or "myths" that are advanced against the convention.

We respect the privilege of all Americans to disagree with their elected officials; it is only through a full exchange of views that truth emerges. Perhaps, as Churchill said, we should "not resent criticism, even when, for the sake of emphasis, it parts for the time with reality." (3) Nevertheless, the critics, some of whom are personal friends, are mistaken in their opposition to the convention and we cannot stand by idly while myths are advanced against a treaty of the utmost importance to U.S. national security.


As we have testified elsewhere, the most compelling reasons that support U.S. adherence to the Convention are rooted in restoring U.S. oceans leadership, protecting national interests and enhancing U.S. foreign policy. For example, if the convention is ratified, the United States will be in a stronger position to respond to illegal oceans claims such as the harassment of the USNS Bowditch survey vessel by the People's Republic of China (PRC). The United States will also be able to advance more rapidly with offshore oil and gas development beyond 200 nautical miles (approximately 15 percent of our continental shelf), require U.S. approval for the transfer of seabed revenues and reclaim the prime deep seabed mining sites it has abandoned. Further, adhering to the convention will finally give the United States an opportunity to officially declare its views as to the correct operation of convention provisions. This will end over a decade of self-imposed silence despite efforts by extremist opponents to roll back the gains achieved in the convention.

The critics show no understanding of the United States' continuing role as a global protector of navigational freedom. Yet a core issue at stake is the control of unilateral coastal state claims against U.S. shipping, both military and commercial. In this respect, the convention is the most important and historic achievement in the safeguarding of these interests. For example, the new provisions for the protection of straits transit and archipelagic sea lanes passage, as well as the improved provisions for innocent passage in territorial seas, are of utmost importance to U.S. naval mobility. The progressive advancements that the U.S. negotiating team achieved to this end are completely missed by the critics; by second guessing U.S. naval experts, it seems they would rather snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Paradoxically, by opposing the convention, the critics reinforce the views of Third World nations that the United States defeated in negotiations. We must also never forget that thousands of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen, who volunteer to go in harm's way, depend on the navigation and over-flight provisions guaranteed in the convention. As General Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently stated, "The Convention remains a top national security priority. …

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