This summer, John Oliver and Steve Venckus of the US Coast Guard published an article on the importance of US accession to the Law of the Sea Convention, with special reference to US interests in the Arctic. Published in the summer 2013 issue of the USCG Proceedings, this article did not get the wide readership it deserved.
The authors' arguments for US membership in the Convention rest on national interests in trade, resource access, regulation of shipping new our coasts, protection of our seas and coasts from environmental pollution and, perhaps most important, US leadership in the application of international law in the newly accessible Arctic.
The authors note the breadth of high level support for the Convention, identify specific areas where US interests are threatened, and highlight the difficulty of maintaining our leadership role when we fail to accept the body of law that underpins the use of maritime space around the world and that is the primary framework for protecting national rights in the Arctic.
During LOS hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2012, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) voiced his opposition to the LOS Convention, saying that it wasn't needed because the US already was able to pursue our interests through the International Maritime Organization - perhaps the first UN organization to which Senator Inhofe has given high praise. But Oliver and Venckus note the impact that the US non-party status is having on the Coast Guard in discussions at the IMO:
The Coast Guard represents the United States at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the specialized body through which international standards for ship safety, security, and environmental protection are developed and adopted. These standards are negotiated and implemented under the Law of Sea Convention’s framework.
Consequently, we are becoming increasingly challenged in some of these negotiations because we are not a party to that framework. Moreover, the convention encourages international cooperation to enhance the safety and security of all ocean-going ships. The IMO is developing a mandatory Polar Code for Arctic shipping, and the Coast Guard is playing a key role in that effort.
Furthermore, many states have excessive claims with respect to baselines, historic bays, territorial seas, straits, and navigational restrictions, which many believe are not permissible under the convention. However, as a nonparty, our ability to seek to roll back these excessive claims is severely inhibited. Failure to join the convention will materially interfere with our ability to engage with other states to improve maritime governance—a major part of the Coast Guard’s current strategy for maritime safety, security, and stewardship.
Our non-party status is an obstacle that we must overcome in developing virtually any new multilateral maritime instrument. For example, the United States has long played a key role in the IMO to promote maritime safety and effciency and to protect the marine environment in the Arctic, but our leadership position is undermined by our current “outsider” status.
The article closes with a statement by Admiral Papp, Commandant of the US Coast Guard:
The Commandant of the Coast Guard testifed before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June 2012 and said, “We must continue to seek out opportunities with our Arctic neighbors and the global community to address the critical issues of governance, sovereign rights, environmental protection, and security in the Arctic. While there are many challenges, the increasingly wet Arctic Ocean presents unique opportunities. The convention provides the key legal framework we need to take advantage of these opportunities. The Coast Guard needs the convention to ensure America’s Arctic future.”
About the authors:
Dr. John T. Oliver is the senior ocean advisor of the Emerging Policy Staff at U.S. Coast Guard headquarters. He is a graduate of Stanford University and the University of Washington School of Law. He also holds a Master of Law degree and a Doctor of Juridical Science degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. He teaches a seminar, “National Security and the Law of the Sea,” as an adjunct professor at the Georgetown Law Center.
Mr. Steve G. Venckus is the deputy chief of the Coast Guard’s Offce of Maritime and International Law. He is a 1974 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy and received his Juris Doctorate from Case Western Reserve University Law School in 1984.
A PDF of the two and a half page article is attached in the link below