A Seat at the Table
Arguments intensify for U.S. to join U.N. Law of the Sea Convention
By DAISY R. KHALIFA, Special Correspondent
On the Sidelines
the country gains the legal authority
to sponsor U.S. companies eager to
secure rights to oil and gas reserves,
and to leverage investments upwards of $2 billion for mining deep
seabeds for valuable metals and rare
earth elements. More than 40 countries have begun the process of
securing their own continental shelf
rights, according to State Department data.
“Chinese, Indian and Russian
companies are exploring deep
seabeds for rare earth elements and
valuable metals, but the United
States cannot sponsor our companies to do the same,” Secretary of
Adopted 30 years ago, the U.N. Convention on the
Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, set forth a comprehensive
framework relating to traditional uses of the oceans, seas
and straits. After objections raised in 1982 by then-President Ronald Reagan to modify provisions of the
Convention related to deep seabed mining and technology transfer, negotiations of an agreement for these provisions were finalized in 1994, paving the way for a sufficient number of countries to ratify the Convention, as
modified, to bring it into force.
Today, the European Union and 161 nations are party
to the Convention, including almost all of the traditional
allies of the United States.
The United States signed the 1994 agreement, but
has yet to join the Convention. In 2004 and 2007, the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor of
accession to the Convention, but on both occasions it
was not followed by action in the full Senate, where a
The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, adopted 30 years
ago this year, set forth a comprehensive framework relating to
traditional uses of the oceans, seas and straits.
; Provisions regarding deep seabed mining and technology transfer were finalized in 1994, putting the Convention into effect.
; The European Union and 161 nations are parties to the
Convention, including almost all of the traditional allies of the
; The United States is the only major maritime power that has
not acceded to the Convention.
Afull Senate vote on the U.N. Convention on the Law of Sea is once again a possibility in Washington in
the 112th Congress, but with an added twist: more vocal
interest from industry for the United States to sign on.
Adding to that, major nonprofit organizations are
working side by side with powerful interest groups
whose collective aim is to generate a campaign to underscore support on Capitol Hill for the Convention by representatives of corporate giants such as Lockheed
Martin, Verizon and AT&T, as well as those of the Navy,
State and Defense Departments, Coast Guard and
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
At issue, in light of China’s emergence as an economic
power, technology leader and a nation with a defined
oceans strategy, and the activity of Russia and others in
the Arctic region, are serious concerns that the United
States is falling behind by not securing its sovereign
rights to the vast resources of its continental shelf beyond
200 miles from shore — and to explore for more around
the world — matters that encompass economic losses as
well as national security threats.
Proponents, largely within industry, are anxious to see
the United States accede to the Convention. In doing so,