What Are the U.S. Objections to the Law of the Sea Treaty?
International lawyers from outside the U.S. often wonder why exactly the U.S. has yet to join the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This is a good question, since most U.S. international lawyers support joining the treaty, they are not usually able to give a fair description of the basis for opposing the convention. I am a squish on the Convention, seeing it as both good and bad, but leaning toward slightly more good than bad. But opponents of the Law of the Sea Treaty in the U.S. are not unreasonable, even if they are not always completely persuasive. That said, they can still be pretty easily rebutted. Here is an account of Utah Senator Mike Lee’s speech recently outlining his (and most conservatives’) objections to ratifying the treaty. According to the article, Sen. Lee has three main objections.
1) UNCLOS creates a “tax” on U.S. development of deep seabeds, by requiring contributions to the International Seabed Authority.
2) UNCLOS has, as key parties, many regimes hostile to the U.S., and state sponsors of terrorism. They would be in a position to judge or oversee U.S. actions.
3) UNCLOS creates an international dispute settlement system composed of judges who will probably be hostile to U.S. interests.
These are not unreasonable, but they are not completely convincing. After all, the U.N. itself effectively imposes a tax on the U.S. (we call them dues). Both the U.N. and the WTO contain regimes hostile to U.S. interests. So while it is not ideal, it is hard to see why UNCLOS is being singled out as much worse or dangerous than other far more intrusive treaties. And Lee is leaving out an assessment of some of the benefits of the treaty. Unless Lee thinks the U.S. was mistaken in joining the U.N. and WTO, I don’t find his analysis here very credible. But you can judge for yourself.