The Truth about the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

By Winnefeld, James A. | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Truth about the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea


Winnefeld, James A., Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr. is Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Winnefeld made the following observations as testimony before the June 14, 2012 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the United States military's perspective regarding ratification of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you this morning.

I appear here today as a career Sailor, as a former Commander of United States Northern Command, and in my current position all assignments that have informed my perspectives on the Law of the Sea Convention. It is a privilege to appear alongside so many uniquely qualified leaders, each with their own unique perspectives, to join in sharing our view that it is time for the United States to join the Law of the Sea Convention.

Joining this treaty will strengthen our posture and operations across the maritime domain, including in the Arctic, the Asia Pacific region, the Strait of Hormuz, and the global shipping lanes at the heart of our military sealift capabilities. Joining will solidify our global maritime leadership, enhance our credibility, and, as the world's foremost naval power, allow us to bring to bear the full force of our influence on maritime disputes.

We've listened closely over many years to the rationale for why we should not join, and take these concerns very seriously. Some say that joining will result in a loss of sovereignty for the United States. I believe the opposite to be true. Some say joining the convention will open U.S. Navy operations to the jurisdiction of international courts.

This is not true, as was specifically declared in the 2007 proposed Senate declarations and understandings. Many other nations who have joined have exempted their military activities from the treaty.

Some say it will require us to surrender our sovereignty over our warships.

This is erroneous. We will not let this happen, and the Convention does not require it.

Others say it will cause us to have to alter our rules of engagement. This is also false joining the Convention would not require any change whatsoever to our rules of engagement.

Still others say it means our naval activities will be restricted in or beyond areas in which we now operate. …

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