The Convention on the Law of the Sea
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) supports implementation of the National Security Strategy, provides legal certainty in the world's largest maneuver space, and preserves essential navigation and overflight rights. Over one hundred and sixty nations and the European Union are Party to the Convention – but not the United States, the world's leading maritime nation.
Becoming a Party to the Law of the Sea Convention would help to preserve the Navy's ability to move forces on, over, and under the world's oceans, whenever and wherever needed, and is an important asset in the modern maritime environment.
The Convention is in the national interest of the United States because it establishes stable maritime zones, including a maximum outer limit for territorial seas; codifies innocent passage, transit passage, and archipelagic sea lanes passage rights; works against "jurisdictional creep" by preventing coastal nations from expanding their own maritime zones; and reaffirms sovereign immunity of warships, auxiliaries and government aircraft.
Specifically, the Convention recognizes and preserves for our ships and aircraft the freedom to conduct:
- Innocent passage in territorial waters.
- Transit passage through international straits (surface, air and subsurface), including the approaches to those straits.
- Unrestricted military activities in high seas.
- Military surveys.
- Approach and visit of vessels suspected of engaging in piracy and stateless vessels.
Economically, accession to the Convention would support our national interests by enhancing the ability of the US to assert its sovereign rights over the resources of one of the largest continental shelves in the world. Further, it is the Law of the Sea Convention that first established the concept of a maritime Exclusive Economic Zone out to 200 nautical miles, and recognized the rights of coastal states to conserve and manage the natural resources in this Zone.
Background / History
President Ronald Reagan supported the Convention, but objected to certain deep seabed mining provisions. After reviewing an early draft of the Convention he vowed to continue to participate in further Convention negotiations to address deficiencies in the Convention's deep seabed mining provisions.
In March 1983 President Reagan issued a statement indicating that he remained dissatisfied with the deep seabed mining provisions but proclaimed the U.S. would recognize all other provisions of the Convention relating to traditional uses of the oceans.
President Reagan's Secretary of State and key advisor regarding the Convention negotiations, Mr. George Shultz, now supports accession to the Convention and states the 1994 Agreement adequately addressed President Reagan's deep seabed mining concerns.
There has been bipartisan presidential support for joining the Convention since the 1994 Agreement resolved the objections raised by President Reagan in 1983.