Sarah Palin’s Letter in Support of the Law of the Sea Convention

by Chris Borgen

Following up on Peter’s earlier post on the foreign policy views of Sarah Palin, I note this letter that she wrote in September 2007 to Senators Stevens and Murkowski expressing her “strong support” for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). She also seems to advocate the use of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)  the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. [UPDATE: Thanks to John Noyes for his informative comment below which corrects my original supposition.]

Her support for UNCLOS seems to be primarily related to furthering U.S. oil and mineral claims in the Arctic Ocean:

If the U.S. does not ratify the convention, the opportunity to pursue our own claims to offshore areas in the Arctic Ocean might well be lost.

As a consequence, our rightful claims to hydrocarbons, minerals, and other natural resources could be ignored.

Governor Palin then writes in a later section:

However, as you know, ratification has been thwarted by a small group of senators concerned about the perceived loss of U.S. sovereignty. I believe quite the contrary is the case. If the U.S. does not ratify the convention, we will be denied access to the forum established by the international community to adjudicate claims to submerged lands in the arctic.

If I read this correctly, she specifically notes that one of her reasons for supporting UNCLOS is because the U.S. would be able to resolve disputes via an international tribunal (ITLOS)  benefit from the expertise and recommendations of the the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

I am curious to see if this is a position that the McCain-Palin ticket will embrace. Assuming that they will not backtrack on Governor Palin’s strong support of UNCLOS (and, given Sen. McCain’s Navy background and the Navy’s support of UNCLOS, I hope he would support it as well), this is further evidence that ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention is gaining momentum.

[UPDATE #2: This post over at the Washington Note focuses on John McCain’s flip-flopping on UNCLOS and even includes an image capture of the questionairre he answered for the Iowa Christian Alliance in which he originally checked the space for “support” for the Law of the Sea Convention, then crossed it out and checked the space for “oppose.” Hat tip: John Boonstra of UN Dispatch.]

http://opiniojuris.org/2008/10/09/sarah-palin%e2%80%99s-letter-in-support-of-the-law-of-the-sea-convention/

4 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, John McCain painted himself into a box in Iowa last August when he changed his decade long position of support for the LOS Convention to one of concern over ‘sovereignty’. Then, in November, he told a group or far-right bloggers that he would probably reject the convention as it now stands (saying later that he waned to re-negotiate it, a non-starter since it was already re-negotiated in 1994 to meet Ronald Reagan’s demands).

    McCain could decide to support the Resolution of Advice and Consent, which contains reservations on dispute settlement and clearly states that nearly all of the convention is non-self executing, leaving the mechanics of its application to the US in the hands of the Congress. I think that the difference between supporting the Convention and supporting the Resolution is too subtle a distinction for McCain to use during the remaining weeks of the campaign, but it gives him a basis for returning to his old position of support once the election has passed.

  2. Chris, Palin probably was not thinking about the ITLOS when she referred to adjudicating claims to submerged lands in the Arctic.  She probably was thinking about the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.  The Commission, however, does not “adjudicate” claims.  The CLCS evaluates submitted data and makes recommendations to coastal states; if the coastal states set the outer limit of their continental shelves “on the basis of” the CLCS recommendations, their outer limits become “final and binding.”  Though not the ITLOS, this mechanism — a way to achieve stable, recognized maritime outer limits — is an important benefit of joining the LOS Convention.  If there were adjudication over outer continental shelf limits — e.g., if the U.S. wanted to challenge another state’s outer limits on the grounds that they were not made pursuant to Article 76 of the Convention — the forum would almost certainly be an arbitral forum, not ITLOS, given Article 287 of the Convention and the U.S.’s advice and consent resolution.  John Noyes

  3. Thanks for clarifying this, John, and for the explanation of the CLCS. I have corrected the post accordingly.

    Chris

  4. I just did a review of the international law governing upcoming territorial disputes in the Arctic at my international law blog, concluding that UNCLOS governs even without U.S. ratification:

    Everyday International Law.

    Something that might be especially interesting to this crowd is a map made by Britain’s International Boundaries Research Unit that attempts to show the legal boundaries claimed by states with arctic coastlines.

    It can be seen here:

    http://www.dur.ac.uk/ibru/resources/arctic/

    Joshua Lenon

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