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Why UNCLOS Matters

Posted by Karen Traeger on Apr 07 2015
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By:  Jack Hipkins

Despite the arguments of a select group of conservative senators, ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is in the best interests of the United States.

The UNCLOS came into effect on 16th November 1994 as the result of three UN Conference’s on the Law of the Sea.  The convention establishes common rules and regulations governing the uses of the oceans and their resources, and creates a framework to define different nations rights and duties in regards to the oceans.

UNCLOS has 157 signatories and 167 nations are parties to the convention, and yet it has only been ratified by 60 nations. Although the US is party to the Convention and has signed it, it has yet to ratify it due to concentrated efforts of conservative politicians. When the Convention first emerged in the 1980s, Reagan rejected the treaty due to concerns over the treaties ability to undermine US sovereignty. However, despite the fact that the issues that concerned Reagan have been remedied by amendments to the treaty in 1994, Republican Senators have continued to block Senate approval.

In addition to undermining US sovereignty, Senate Republicans argue that the treaty will be a back door for environmental activists, encourage the development of another “unaccountable” UN bureaucracy, and undermine US military and intelligence operations. However, many on both sides of the aisle disagree with these general arguments.  Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have all advocated for the ratification of the convention, and the bill even has support from conservatives such as Sarah Palin.  In addition, ratification of the convention is supported by the US business community, US Navy, and both American labor and the environmental community.  

Despite such widespread support, a core group of Senate Republicans has succeeded in preventing the convention from being ratified. Indeed despite the fact that the conventions proponents have defeated many of the ideological arguments posed by this group, they have still managed to stymie any progress towards ratification citing concerns about foreign power over US commercial interests.

The fact of the matter is that ratification of the UNCLOS is to the benefit of the US, and the majority of American interests agree. The continued refusal of Senate Republicans to ratify the treaty is not indicative of the will of the people, and is counter to the best interests of our country. Conservative forces in the military and business interests must pressure Republican Congressmen to actually vote according to the interests they claim to serve, and both the Obama administration and future administrations should exert their influence to bring the treaty to the Senate floor.  

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