Balancing US Interests in the UN Law of the Sea Convention

By Lindsay Aylesworth

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions has gathered leading experts on the UN Law of the Sea Convention to provide guidance in the ongoing debate over whether the U.S. should accede to the Convention. Rather than provide a complete summary of the Convention’s provisions, we highlight in this short paper three important considerations.

First, emerging territorial disputes over expanding Arctic waters, most recently highlighted by efforts by Russia to establish claims to mineral resources under the North Pole, will be resolved within the Convention framework by Convention signatories.
Second, concerns about the role of international tribunals in making decisions that affect U.S. military, economic and environmental protection interests have been addressed through changes made at the request of the United States.
Third, the United States would benefit from Convention provisions which help member nations balance the need to navigate freely for security and commerce with its need to protect its vast coastal natural resources.

Overall we find:

•    Arctic melting is creating a vast rush by several nations, including Russia, to claim navigation and resource rights around the North Pole.  Claims and disputes over these resources will be resolved under the Convention framework.  The best opportunity for the U.S. to achieve standing to make and counter such claims is through joining the Convention.
•    Major points of contention raised by the Reagan administration, related to sea bed mining, technology transfers to developing nations and representation on key committees have been resolved in the United States’ favor through negotiated changes to the Convention.
•    The Convention provides dispute settlement tribunals and arbitration panels.  The United States would have control over the type of dispute settlement body cases involving U.S. interests were brought before and would have significant input into the selection of the arbitrators on those bodies.
•    The Convention recognizes the competing interests of navigational freedom (for military and commerce) and coastal resource protection (for fisheries, oil and minerals and environmental resources) and attempts to balance them.  Perhaps no nation has more at stake in striking this balance than the United States which has both the largest claimed Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the largest blue water navy.
•    Support for accession to the Convention is surprisingly broad, including the Navy and Coast Guard, maritime industries, the White House, and private public partnerships such as the Joint Ocean Commissions Initiative.  At the same time, opposition to the Convention has narrowed to an ideological position based primarily on mistrust of UN-based treaties.

To read the full article:

Balancing US Interests in the UN Law of the Sea Convention

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