IN October 1994, President Clinton submitted the 1982 United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to the United States
Senate for its advice and consent. In his transmittal letter, the
president noted: "Since the 1960s, the basic US strategy has been
to conclude a comprehensive treaty on the law of the sea which will
be respected by all countries."
Forwarding the convention, along with the companion agreement
modifying Part XI, represented a firm commitment by the
administration to keep this treaty the cornerstone of US oceans
policy. For the past 18 months, this important treaty has been
stuck in Congress.
My operational background as a former squadron and ship
commander, and most recently as an amphibious ready- group
commander and chief of staff for a carrier battle group, convinces
me that any further delay in accession to the convention damages
our international credibility and dramatically complicates the
security equation for those of us who operate naval forces at sea.
The US now has an unprecedented window of opportunity to realize
a vital strategic goal of US oceans policy - the international
acceptance of a comprehensive codification of the law of the sea,
which preserves traditional freedoms of navigation and overflight
essential to our national defense and economic well-being.
Two factors have created a unique and valuable window of
opportunity for the emergence of an internationally accepted law of
the sea. First, despite the broad participation and international
consensus that led to the 1982 convention (signed by 158 nations),
fundamental philosophic and economic divisions thwarted a
universally acceptable oceans regime. The ideological, political,
and economic issues that drove the US to reject the convention,
however, have now been swept away by the dramatic changes in the
global arena since 1982.
Second, intensive negotiations resulted in a July 1994 agreement
that substantially changes the convention's Part XI, the section
concerning deep- seabed mining, to which the US and most Western
nations objected. The amended convention gives the US at least as
much - and perhaps more - than it originally sought in the area of
A treaty we need
This convention is no longer a treaty that we could not live
with. It is one that we should not try to live without. From a
national-security perspective, in particular, there are compelling
reasons for the US to accede to the treaty.
First, the changing global-security environment places an
increasing premium on freedom of the seas and maritime flexibility.
Seaborne commerce today exceeds 3.5 billion tons annually and
accounts for more than 80 percent of international trade. More than
95 percent of US import and export trade is transported by sea.
Almost 50 percent of US petroleum products are imported, and more
than 20 percent of our gross national product is traded overseas.
Recent agreements under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
and the North American Free Trade Agreement promise to intensify
As the world's leading maritime power and de facto leader of the
global maritime coalition, the US must advocate strongly the
ability of all nations' ships and aircraft to move freely on, over,
and under the sea anywhere as an internationally recognized legal
right. The convention guarantees this mobility and flexibility by
reaffirming and codifying traditional freedoms of navigation and
Second, without international respect for the freedoms of
navigation and overflight set forth in the convention, US and
allied military forces may arrive too late to make a difference.
For example, if prevented from transiting through the Melaccan
Straits a naval carrier battle group transiting from Yokosuka,
Japan, to Bahrain would have to reroute around Australia. …