In a number of respects UNCLOS-III was an extraordinary diplomatic event. As compared to earlier conferences on the law of the sea it was truly universal, bringing together diplomats from some 150 countries representing sovereign states from all over the globe. It addressed a multiplicity of ocean uses and their interactions, and, at the same time, it established mechanisms for dispute settlement which would address conflicts over uses of the world’s oceans. The convention which emerged from this conference, together with accompanying state practice, marked a profound change in the substantive law of the sea and in the resultant framework for the management of the uses of ocean space.
UNCLOS-III provided a major opportunity for the states of the developing world to participate fully and equally, in the sense of sovereign equality, in the shaping of a very significant part of the international legal system. 1 In the past, international law was made by a relatively small number of Western states. By 1973 the face of the world community had changed substantially with the disintegration of colonial empires and the proliferation of new states in Africa and Asia. Further, the states of Latin America had governments which were assertive of their national interests, even if that assertiveness brought them into conflict with the western hemisphere’s dominant power, the United States. Understanding their lack of influence in international negotiations individually, these states sought strength collectively and, in 1964, joined together in what came to be known as the Group of 77 (G-77), a name it maintained even after its membership increased greatly beyond the original number of states. 2 At UNCLOS-III, the G-77 and various regional subgroupings sought to influence outcomes to suit their needs.
While the concept of freedom of the seas was showing itself to have some severe practical shortcomings because of its negative consequences for resource conservation, marine pollution, and the growing potential for conflict of use, the developing states, as a whole, saw the principle as deficient