Archive for August, 2009

The US and the UN Law of the Sea

Friday, August 21st, 2009

(Michael Berrill. mberrill@trentu.ca)

The UN Law of the Sea has now been ratified by 157 countries. That is practically everybody. It is the most extraordinary international agreement that the planet has yet achieved. Very few have not ratified it – North Korea and Iran come to mind.  European countries ratified it before they joined the European Union, and the EU has ratified it again on their behalf.  China, Japan, Mexico and even Canada have all ratified it. But still not the USA.

The US adheres to the Law’s provisions, and was even active in negotiating the amendments related to ocean bottom mining and high seas fishing – but still has not ratified it.  US presidents since Reagan have indicated support for it,  even Bush Junior. Negotiations about the future use and ownership of the Arctic are underway,  and will be based on the Law’s provisions, but the US will not have a vote until it ratifies the Law.  The Foreign Relations Committee has indicated support for it over the past few years,  and so has the US military.

The current Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, has said that bringing The Law of the Sea to a vote is a priority. But will it happen? Will the US finally ratify it? It has come close before, and not made it out of committee.

The opposition is based on two perceptions.  One is the view of right-wing conspiracy theorists who believe that because the LOS is a UN initiative, it is by definition dangerous and anti-American. The second is that it might diminish some of the limitless rights that some still think the US deserves. Both of these perceptions are without basis, but arguments are rarely won or lost based on the strength of rational arguments.

Only one country loses if the US continues to fail to ratify the Law of the Sea.   This is a good time to take action.

What are your plans, John Kerry?