Odd Man Out
Will U.S. finally accede to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea?
By DAISY R. KHALIFA, Special Correspondent
Law of the Sea Limbo
can do because there’s no protocol
that they can feel comfortable
[with], that gives them the opportunity to pursue commercial interests.”
The Navy League of the United
States, in the May 2004 issue of
Seapower, went on record in support
of the Convention on the Law of the
Sea, and that stance has not changed.
The treaty was last considered by
the 110th Congress in May 2007,
when President George W. Bush
issued a statement urging the Senate
to approve U.S. accession to the
convention. A roster of high-level
supporters testified in a hearing
before the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, among them the deputy
secretary of state, the deputy secretary of defense and the
vice chief of naval operations. In a second hearing, oil,
gas, shipping and telecommunications industry representatives also voiced support for the convention.
The Senate panel voted 17-4 in favor of the convention. But, just as in 2004 when the committee voted
19-0 in favor of the measure, it was not followed by a
vote of the full Senate, where it must be approved by a
two-thirds majority, or 67 votes.
Under Senate rules, a treaty that is voted out of committee favorably but not voted upon by the Senate is
returned to the committee at the end of that two-year session of Congress, thus starting the process all over again.
Since 1982, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the
Sea has established a legal framework for governing
the world’s oceans, seas and straits. The convention
stemmed from more than 40 years of global diplomatic efforts devoted to unraveling the numerous complex
ocean claims made by many nations.
For larger industrial nations, it is an important treaty
that addresses national security and global commercial
interests with its guarantees of navigational rights and
A decision on U.S. participation in the U.N. Convention on the Law
of the Sea has stalled in the Senate since 2004, despite strong
support from government leaders, senior military officers,
researchers and environmentalists.
■ During confirmation hearings, then-nominee for Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton said ratification of the treaty would be a priority.
■ Critics maintain the treaty will hinder U.S. intelligence activities
and threaten U.S. sovereignty.
■ Proponents argue the treaty promotes navigational freedoms that
will bolster U.S. security and provide protocols for pursuing commercial interests in the Arctic and along the continental shelf.
Hopes are high for U.S. proponents of the U.N.
Convention on the Law of the Sea that it will
finally move forward in the 111th Congress.
Though the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has
voted in favor of the convention, also called the Law of
the Sea Treaty, on two occasions in the past five years,
it has not been brought to a vote by the full Senate. But
there are signals that that may change under the new
administration of President Barack Obama.
During confirmation hearings in January, Sen. Lisa
Murkowski, R-Ala., asked Secretary of State-designate
Hillary Clinton if ratification of the Law of the Sea
Treaty was a priority.
“Yes, it will be. And it will be because it is long overdue,” Clinton responded. “The Law of the Sea Treaty is
supported by the joint chiefs of staff, environmental,
energy and business interests. I have spoken with some
of our naval leaders, and they consider themselves to
be somewhat disadvantaged by our not having become
a party to the Law of the Sea.
“Our industrial interest, particularly with seabed mining, just shut up,” she continued. “There’s nothing they