May 23, 2012

Law of the Sea 101: The National Security Imperative

Later this morning the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will examine the national security and strategic imperatives for ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC). Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey are scheduled to testify. (View the live webcast here starting at 10 AM.)

In preparation for today’s hearing, below is a primer on what I see as the national security rationale for ratifying LOSC. As I have written before here on the blog and in a recent policy brief on Security at Sea, ratifying the convention will serve a range of national security interests. For example:

  • Ratification would lock in critical navigational rights and other customary practices that are codified in the treaty and, perhaps more importantly, give the United States a seat at the table to rebuff attempts by rising maritime powers to redefine or reinterpret practices that have been so beneficial to the global economy and U.S. national interests, such as the right of military vessels to exercise innocent passage through a coastal state’s territorial waters.
  • Ratification would allow the United States to lay sovereign claim to the potentially trillion dollars of deep-sea oil, natural gas and mineral resources on our extended continental shelf – an area beyond our current 200-nautical mile jurisdiction – through an internationally recognized claim to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Accessing these resources is ever more important in promoting U.S. domestic energy and minerals production and all the benefits that would accrue to U.S. economic and national security.
  • Finally, ratification will put the United States in a position of strengthen and restore its maritime leadership in strategic regions around the globe, including the Arctic and the South China Sea. Being party to the treaty would allow the United States to secure its right to resources in the Arctic, take part in crucial conversations at the Arctic Council and rebuff attempts by other powers to infringe on U.S. interests. Ratifying the treaty would also give the U.S. more credibility with allies over the dispute in the South China Sea by encouraging those in the region to abide by the treaty’s laws and seek resolution through the convention’s recognized legal framework. As Secretary Panetta put it recently, “How can we argue that other nations must abide by international rules, when we haven’t officially accepted those rules.”  

To learn more, check out our recent study, Security at Sea: The Case for Ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention.

For additional resources, visit The American Sovereignty Campaign