April 2, 2004 | WebMemo on International Law
This key research from 2004 has been updated in several Heritage Foundation publications, including:
Congress Should Ignore Budget Requests Relating to
Why Reagan Would Still Reject the Law of the Sea Treaty
The Top Five Reasons Why Conservatives Should
Twenty-five years after President Reagan rejected it, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) remains a threat to U.S. interests. Reagan's objections to LOST have been neither addressed nor resolved. LOST is a flawed treaty that should not be ratified, much less funded prior to ratification.
Additionally, Heritage has put together a compendium of articles
and videos related to the
Law of the Sea Treaty.
The Law of the Sea Treaty ("Treaty") was conceived in 1982 by the United Nations (U.N.) as a method for governing activities on, over, and beneath the ocean's surface. It focuses primarily on navigational and transit issues. The Treaty also contains provisions on the regulation of deep-sea mining and the redistribution of wealth to underdeveloped countries--as well as sections regarding marine trade, pollution, research, and dispute resolution. The Bush Administration has expressed interest in joining the International Seabed Authority and has urged the U.S. Senate to ratify the Treaty. However, many of former President Ronald Reagan's original objections to the Treaty--while modified--still hold true today, and many of the possible national security advantages are already in place.
Under the Treaty, a 12-mile territorial sea limit and a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) are established. This sets a definitive limit on the oceanic area over which a country may claim jurisdiction. However, innocent passage--including non-wartime activities of military ships--is protected. Even without the Treaty, these boundaries, and the precedent of safe passage, are protected under multiple independent treaties, as well as traditional international maritime law. Additionally, given the United States' naval superiority, few countries would attempt to deny safe passage. However, under the Treaty, intelligenceand submarine maneuvers in territorial waters would be restricted and regulated.
Former President Reagan refused to sign the Treaty in 1982 due to its innate conflict with basic free-market principles (e.g., private property, free enterprise, and competition). Twelve years later, the Clinton Administration submitted to the U.S. Senate a revised version of the Treaty. This revised version allegedly corrected many of the original objections to the Treaty, but still failed to receive Senate ratification: Therefore, the United States' provisional participation expired in 1998. The Treaty still requires adherence to policies that regulate deep-sea mining, as well as forcing participants to adopt laws and regulations to control and prevent marine pollution. Additionally, under the Treaty, a corporation cannot bring suit, but must rely upon its country of origin to address the corporation's concerns before the U.N. agency.
Carrie E. Donovan is Production and Operations Coordinator in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.