U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has stressed the need to ratify the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, saying that being the globe's preeminent maritime power, the United States has much to gain by the ratification.
Delivering the keynote address at the Law of the Sea Convention forum in Washington on Wednesday, Panetta said ratifying the treaty would allow the United States to exert a leadership role in the development and interpretation of the rules that determine legal certainty on the world's oceans.
He listed five reasons why the Law of the Sea Convention strengthens U.S. national security.
"First, as the world's preeminent maritime power, and the country with one of the largest coastlines and extended continental shelf, we have more to gain from accession to the convention than any other country," he said.
Right now, the United States has no seat at the table and is unable to help interpret the "rules of the road" on the oceans. Ratifying the convention "would give us the credibility to support and promote the peaceful resolution of disputes within a rules-based order," the Pentagon chief said.
Panetta's second point is that by joining the Convention, the U.S. would protect its navigational freedoms and global access for military and commercial ships, aircraft, and undersea fiber optic cables. American rights on the seas, he said, currently relied on customary international laws, which could change.
The third point he mentioned was that ratification would help to increase America's natural resource and economic jurisdiction, not only to 200 nautical miles off U.S. coasts, but to a broad continental shelf beyond that zone.
"Fourth, accession would ensure our ability to reap the benefits of the opening of the Arctic -- a region of increasingly important maritime security and economic interest," Panetta said. Countries are already posturing for new shipping routes and natural resources as Arctic ice cover recedes.
The Law of the Sea Convention is the only means for international recognition and acceptance of the U.S. extended continental shelf claims in the Arctic. "And we are the only Arctic nation that is not party to the Convention," Panetta reminded.
Fifth, the Secretary said, the new U.S. defense strategy emphasized the strategically vital arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia.
"Becoming a party to the Convention would strengthen our position in this key area," said Panetta who argued that the Convention would stop countries in this arc from proposing restrictions on access for military vessels in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, and the South China Sea.
Ratifying the Convention would serve to strengthen U.S. policy in the region, Panetta said. It would also increase America's credibility to all nations of the Asia-Pacific. Right now, he said, the United States undercuts itself as it pushes for a rules-based order in the region and the peaceful resolution of maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere.
"How can we argue that other nations must abide by international rules, when we haven't officially accepted those rules," he asked.
The Strait of Hormuz is another possible flash point. It is a vital sea lane of communication and commerce and the United States and its allies "are determined to preserve freedom of transit there in the face of Iranian threats to impose a blockade," Panetta added.
"U.S. accession to the Convention would help strengthen worldwide transit passage rights under international law and isolate Iran as one of the few remaining non-parties to the convention," the Secretary said.
He noted that the U.S. is the "only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that is not a party" to the treaty, adding that 161 countries have approved it.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey also addressed the forum, echoing Panetta's call for the U.S. to ratify the treaty.
Many conservatives oppose the Law of the Seas treaty, fearing that joining it would redistribute the world's riches from the United States and other developed nations to the Third World.
It would also hand jurisdiction over most of the world's ocean mass to a U.N. body, and subject the United States to mandatory dispute resolution, even with countries that have no diplomatic ties with the U.S.
by RTT Staff Writer
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