Law of the Sea Treaty in trouble (again . . . still)July 16, 2012
Three Republican Senators have made public their intentions to vote “no” on any upcoming votes to ratify the long stalled United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), colloquially known as LOST (Law of the Sea Treaty) in the US. The treaty, first negotiated in 1982 and revised in 1994, has never been ratified by the US (it has been ratified & signed by over 160 nations including every other major industrial nation). Many on the US right fear that the treaty represents a loss of US sovereignty, or at least a potential threat to important sovereign rights.
I am not an expert on maritime law (nor on any law, for that matter), but I do have a good grasp of geostrategy, as well as a set of contacts in the strategic community. By a pretty significant percentage – 60/40 would be my rough guess – these people have tended to favor the treaty. If anything, support for the treaty is even a bit higher than that among naval personnel with whom I have communicated – maybe 65/35. Many of them argue that UNCLOS will make American naval operations easier, and also that it will actually constrain China much more than it will hinder the US. It’s a trade-off: while it imposes some limits on our ability to act unilaterally, it makes it much easier for us to create and maintain the multilateral network of allies in the Western Pacific that will be necessary to counter growing Chinese strength in the region. Commander Bradley May, writing for the US Naval Institute, last month offered yet another positive naval voice in favor of the treaty.
While it is not a perfect treaty, I trust the judgement of those most affected who believe it is a good one. I fear that defeating UNCLOS is a classic case of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.