Should the U.S. Ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea?

COMMENTARY Global Politics

Should the U.S. Ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea?

Jun 13th, 2022 1 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Steven Groves

Margaret Thatcher Fellow

Steven works to protect and preserve American sovereignty, self-governance, and independence.
The USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), center, conducts maneuvering exercises with Finnish navy ships in the Baltic Sea on May 16, 2022. Mass Comms. Specialist Jesse Schwab / U.S. Navy

Key Takeaways

It's simply unnecessary for the United States to ratify UNCLOS to protect its maritime rights.

Even if U.S. membership in UNCLOS could magically curb China's maritime transgressions, ratification comes with significant costs.

No treaty known to man can guarantee America's rights and freedoms. UNCLOS is no exception.

The question of whether the United States should ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea is for the U.S. Senate to answer, and it has declined to join the treaty for nearly three decades. And yet the United States and its Navy have somehow managed to survive without UNCLOS membership.

How? Because the United States is the premiere naval force on the planet. To be sure, the United States adheres to UNCLOS's myriad provisions regarding navigational freedoms and maritime boundaries. The United States also leads the world in curbing excessive claims made by other nations through its Freedom of Navigation Program.

It's simply unnecessary for the United States to ratify UNCLOS to protect its maritime rights.

But the proponents of UNCLOS ratification have a new buzzword—China! China! China! Apparently, U.S. ratification of UNCLOS is essential to deter Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. That assertion is fact-free.

China—an UNCLOS member—has proven time and again that it has zero respect for the treaty. In 2016, Beijing famously lost a major UNCLOS arbitration case to the Philippines regarding China's chronic treaty violations in the South China Sea. Did China respect the arbitral tribunal's decision and reform its behavior? Of course not. Nor will it, regardless of U.S. ratification.

That's just not how treaties work. The United States and China are both members of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but that doesn't stop China from putting its ethnic minority Uyghur citizens into “political education centers.” Likewise, China will not suddenly respect maritime law if the United States ratifies UNCLOS.

Even if U.S. membership in UNCLOS could magically curb China's maritime transgressions, ratification comes with significant costs.

U.S. membership in UNCLOS would expose the nation to international lawsuits, including specious suits attempting to fleece the United States for its alleged contributions to global climate change. Environmental activists, law professors and even some nations have long explored suing the United States in an UNCLOS tribunal to advance the climate change agenda.

Also, joining UNCLOS would require the United States to pay royalties from oil and gas production on its “extended continental shelf” to an international body in Jamaica for redistribution to other countries. Ratification would amount to an open-ended commitment to forgo an incalculable amount of royalty revenue for no appreciable benefit.

No treaty known to man can guarantee America's rights and freedoms. UNCLOS is no exception.

This piece originally appeared in the CQ Researcher