Wilson Center President Urges Senate to Approve Law of the Sea Convention

Hamilton Highlights Numerous Benefits of Ratification

Aug 31, 2007

The U.S. Senate should vote to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention, said Wilson Center President Lee H. Hamilton in an op-ed published this week in The Indianapolis Star. More than 150 countries have signed the Convention, which governs the use of the world's oceans; in fact, the United States is the only major power that has not yet joined. The Convention has jurisdiction only over nations that have signed it, so the U.S. must ratify it in order to enjoy the privileges that it extends to signatories.

Hamilton argues that ratifying the Convention would benefit U.S. interests in several ways. First, it would be a boon to U.S. national security because it establishes a uniform set of rules guaranteeing rights of passage to countries' navies. It would also benefit the U.S. economy because it ensures freedom of navigation for the commercial shipping industry; would grant the U.S. the rights to natural resources extending up to 200 miles from our shoreline; and would confer upon the U.S. the same legal standing already enjoyed by the other four countries (Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark) that have made claims to oil and gas reserves in the Arctic.

The United States already abides by the pollution reduction standards that the Convention sets forth, but as Hamilton points out, "By joining, we will strengthen our leverage to press others to do more." Due to these many benefits, a diverse collection of players—including President Bush, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the U.S. military, the energy industry, and many leading environmental organizations—supports ratification.

Those who oppose approving the Convention—in the Senate, mostly conservative Republicans—argue that it would undermine U.S. sovereignty, waste taxpayer dollars on maintaining a bureaucracy to monitor the Convention, and restrict our ability to intercept materials such as illegal drugs. Yet, as Hamilton writes, "the Convention actually extends U.S. sovereignty over a dramatically larger portion of the earth, levies no taxes on Americans, has created an institution with only 35 full-time employees, and expands our rights of interdiction."

Signing the Convention has gained greater urgency as Canada, Russia, the U.S., Norway, and Denmark spar over access to oil and gas reserves in the Arctic seabed. Climate change has accelerated the melting of the polar ice caps, making these natural resources easier to reach. A recent post on The New Security Beat, the blog run by the Woodrow Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program, analyzes this unfolding political drama.

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