Time to Ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty US Sailors, Civilian and Military, Need Guaranteed Freedom of Movement in International Waters

Article excerpt

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 deep-seabed mining. 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 this commerce. 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 overflight. 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. …


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