All Quiet on UNCLOS

by Duncan Hollis

Notwithstanding its recent efforts to avoid recess appointments with 12 second sessions, the Senate will return in full next Monday. For international lawyers, the big question is whether UNCLOS finally gets a vote for the Senate’s advice and consent. As I noted here and here, the SFRC voted UNCLOS out of Committee last fall largely along party lines. But it’s been all quiet since. Indeed, I’ve heard from a couple of sources that the window for Senate A&C to accession is closing, if not closed. What I don’t know is why? Is it that the Democracts really don’t have the two-thirds majority for A&C? Or, is the opposition less than a third of the Senate, but the Senate leadership doesn’t want to have the UNCLOS fight given all the procedural roadblocks and counter-measures even a handful of heavily committed Senators can invoke to oppose the treaty or forestall a vote? I suppose the fact that the election cycle is in full swing may have some explanatory value as well. But, what do readers think (or know)?

If UNCLOS doesn’t get a vote this Congress, it has to go back and start all over again at the SFRC, something I suspect UNCLOS supporters would be eager to avoid. In that respect, I wonder if the supporters have one last push in them, or if the best chance for U.S. accession in the last decade has already passed.

2 Responses

  1. As world commodities prices continue to rise, perhaps there will also be a push (or maybe a pushback?) as well from US mining companies interested in dusting off Part XI and the 1994 Agreement for prospective seabed mining ventures.

  2. Dear Duncan,

    Perhaps the Senate’s silence surrounding UNCLOS has something to do with:

    1)New data that has been provided about the universe of MEAs revolving around and relating to the environmental regulations within Part XII of the UNCLOS and the final and proposed environmental regulations of the International Seabed Authority;

    2)The plans of some UNCLOS State Parties to ‘import’ norms from such other treaties to interpret UNCLOS norms in the event ITLOS or arbitral jurisdiction is invoked in a dispute with the US, should it ratify;

    3)The plans to reform the UNEP and the now moribund UN Trusteeship, to strengthen the UNEP into an IEO, as suggested by France and Germany, and to improve the relationship between the UNEP secretariats and the UN General Secretariat overseeing the UNCLOS;

    4)The plans to vest the International Seabed Authority with broader and more extensive scope to regulate the marine environment of the Res Communis (Global Commons), including below, on and above the seabed, the water columns, and the air above, with ISA jurisdiction in a dispute arguably reaching into US EEZs and coastal waters, inland waterways, and the continental US;

    5)The plans to impose environmental taxes and user fees on US and other countries’ commercial activities for the use of the Res Communis, as defined above, as explained by France and Germany;

    6)The growing number of lawsuits commenced by US environmental extremist groups against the US Navy for operating sonar devices along US coastlines and the US EEZ, such that the Navy JAG has to employ a greater number of attorneys just to keep up with the caseload;

    7)The European Union and its coastal EU Member States’ growing environmental activism to claim more and more of the EU EEZ as off limits to commercial traffic, as ‘Marine Protected Areas’ and/or as ‘Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas’ (PSSA’s);

    8)Clear and convincing evidence that the UNCLOS, as it is now being practiced by the EU and its Member States, incorporates the wingspread version of the hazard-not-risk-based Precautionary Principle, directly, indirectly, and ‘in spirit’.

    Perhaps since evidence about all of these factors have been adduced, the US Senate leadership of the 110th Congress believes it doesn’t have the requisite number of votes to ratify the treaty. Alternatively, they do not believe it wise to expend the political capital to debate the treaty on the floor of the Senate and risk exposing the documented evidence showing all of the above.

    Don’t you think this could be why???

    Best Regards,


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