Law of the Sea Treaty
What is Law of the Sea?
The Convention on the Law of the Sea is an international treaty that sets environmental and commercial terms for use of the world's oceans. It protects the ocean from environmental degradation, establishes guidelines for businesses that depend on the sea for resources, defines maritime zones, and preserves freedom of navigation. 161 nations have signed and ratified this treaty. The United States is virtually alone among industrialized nations in not having done so, though the U.S. has voluntarily abided by the terms of the treaty since 1983.
Why Should the United States Ratify this Treaty Now?
We're Stuck on the Sidelines
With 160 nations on board, the treaty is being implemented and decisions are being made that affect American interests even as the U.S. absents itself. The U.S. should ratify this treaty and secure itself a seat at the table to help promote the responsible use of the world's oceans and set the oceanic rules of the road. The United States cannot currently participate in ongoing treaty revisions or key commissions -- including one that decides commercial claims in the extensive U.S. outer continental shelf.
The World's Oceans are in Crisis
Action is needed now to bolster protections for vulnerable coral reefs and marine animals, including dolphins, whales, sea turtles, skates, and rays. Action is also needed to mitigate against oil pollution and the encroachment of invasive species, overexploitation of marine resources, and destruction of marine habitats.
Other Countries are Rushing to Take Advantage
Recent data on the melting of the Arctic ice cap has businesses and other governments rushing to claim rights to virgin oceanic territory and natural resources. In August 2007, Russia planted its national flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole. The Canadians and Danes are staking claims in the Arctic as well. Only nations who are party to the Convention can make such claims -- or challenge the claims of others. Joining the convention would give the U.S. a seat at the table in negotiating how these resources will be preserved and used.
We're Impotent to Challenge Other Countries' Claims
While the U.S. is voluntarily abiding by the terms of the treaty, we are now impotent to take action when other nations do not. Joining the treaty would give the U.S. the right to call on other nations to live up to their responsibilities, including requiring coastal states to preserve marine life in their territorial waters.
We Should Work with Other Countries
Ratification would be a good way to show that the U.S. is willing to work with other countries in solving global problems. It would show a commitment to international partnerships which are not only crucial to U.S. efforts to meet its security challenges, but also to rehabilitating the U.S. international image. Right now, the U.S. is in the same league as Libya, Iran, Syria, and North Korea in having signed but not ratified this treaty.
Ratification Would Vastly Expand U.S. Territory
Ratification would bring 4.1 million square miles of ocean under U.S. jurisdiction -- an area larger than the continental United States.
Ratification Would Promote Energy Independence
The U.S. obtains 28 percent of its natural gas and almost as much of its oil production from the ocean's outer continental shelf -- an area that would be vastly expanded by ratification of this treaty.
Ratification Would Advance U.S. Military Objectives
Accession to the Convention would be a boon to the United States military, especially in the context of the war on terror. Ratification would ensure rights to navigate on and fly freely over the sea; thus, the U.S. Navy is among the strongest advocates for endorsing the Law of the Sea Treaty.
The U.S. Should Lead in Creating a Stable International Regime for the Oceans
As the world's strongest maritime power and leader of global maritime commerce, the United States has a compelling national interest in maintaining a stable international regime for the oceans. Accession would powerfully and publicly reiterate the United States' commitment to the rule of law as the basis of policy and action on the high seas.
Who Supports Ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty?
Virtually all major environmental groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Scripps and Woods Hole oceanographic institutes.
All major U.S. ocean industry groups,including the American Sport Fishing Association; the National Fisheries Institute; the oil and offshore drilling industries, including Chevron and Marathon Oil; undersea cable providers, including AT&T; and the World Shipping Council.
All major players in the U.S. government,including former Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. It is supported by all United States military branches and 16 former Cabinet Secretaries from both political parties.
- Former President George W. Bush: "Joining (the Law of the Sea Convention) will serve the national security interests of the United States, including the maritime mobility of our armed forces worldwide. It will secure U.S. sovereign rights over extensive marine areas, including the valuable natural resources they contain…promote U.S. interests in the environmental health of the oceans," and "give the United States a seat at the table when the rights that are vital to our interests are debated and interpreted."
- Vice President Joseph Biden: "Do we join a treaty that establishes a framework to advance the rule of law on the oceans, that is clearly in our military, economic, and environmental interests, and that has broad acceptance among the major maritime powers? Or do we remain on the outside, to the detriment of our national interests? I strongly believe that we should become a party to the Convention, and that any risks it poses are far outweighed by the benefits."
- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN): "The Senate this year has an opportunity to plug a large hole in our national security structure by approving the Law of the Sea Treaty."
- General Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "The Convention remains a top national security priority…It supports efforts in the War on Terrorism by providing much-needed stability and operational maneuver space, codifying essential navigational and overflight freedoms."
- The Environmental Community: "The Natural Resources Defense Council, The World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Oceana, The Wildlife Conservation Society, The National Environmental Trust, Defenders of Wildlife, The Ocean Conservancy, Deep Search International, Deep Ocean Exploration and Research Inc., IUCN-US, and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute together represent more than one million members, supporters and activists concerned with the conservation of marine resources both here in the United States and on the high seas. We believe prompt U.S. accession to the Convention is essential to the ability of the United States to exercise leadership in key upcoming debates and decisions on international fisheries policy, biodiversity conservation, and appropriate management of rapidly expanding human activity on the high seas."