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With recent years of difficult foreign relations, there is much discourse in the United States as to how the country might better wield influence and renew its global leadership. Many point to more consistent leadership on rule of law matters and real engagement with international accords. For example, a recent commission report by the Center for Strategic & International Studies states: “We ought to take the lead in pursuing those instruments and agreements where an American consensus exists. The Law of the Sea Treaty is one place to start because of the wide support it has garnered from both sides of the aisle.” The U.S. Senate, even with election-year distractions, should vote as the Constitution directs, with a two-thirds affirmation for the United States acceding to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In October 2007, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted, 17-4, to recommend accession. Recent international developments, especially Russian continental shelf claims in the Arctic � which fall under the purview of UNCLOS � have added urgency for the United States finally to accede to this accord. An unprecedented broad and bipartisan coalition supports acceding to UNCLOS, including the Bush administration; the military; various industries, such as oil and gas and telecommunications; oceans-based businesses; environmental organizations; and the American Bar Association. However, an energized minority vehemently opposes UNCLOS, arguing that the United States will lose sovereignty if it joins. The most formidable support comes from the U.S. military. An essential part of rule of law understandings, UNCLOS offers clear support for U.S. naval operations through a number of provisions, including those regarding rights of passage and the security of vessels involved in military operations. Whereas opponents often point to the sheer might of the U.S. Navy or the practice of customary law to secure U.S. naval passage, Navy officers point to the clearer and greater support of UNCLOS-provisioned rights for passage, navigation and other conditions of mobility, preparedness and security. Navy personnel also point to UNCLOS’ facilitation of resolution of disputes, not just with potential adversaries, but also with established allies, and how this reduces friction that detracts from security cooperation. The dispute-resolution devices of UNCLOS, far from undermining U.S. sovereignty, would allow the United States to seek authoritative judgments against other nations’ practices that it deems contrary to its oceans understandings. For example, with regard to current contentions over continental-shelf claims in the thawing Arctic zone, UNCLOS’ Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf serves as the authoritative body. Clearly, U.S. concerns regarding Russian continental-shelf claims would be best served by the United States being a full party to UNCLOS. UNCLOS high seas seabed provisions are also often noted as benefiting the United States, and these pertain to resource access beyond the limits of a nation’s continental shelf or 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The 1982 text’s original provisions, which did not vest property rights with the utilization of high seas resources, served as the focus for the Reagan administration rejecting the treaty, notwithstanding Reagan’s declaration of abiding by the other UNCLOS stipulations. This led to the first Bush and subsequent Clinton administrations’ renegotiating the high seas seabed section of UNCLOS, spawning a 1994 supplemental agreement that is now authoritative, and that addresses Reagan’s earlier reservations. Living up to sovereignty responsibilities, these administrations, instead of walking away from UNCLOS, fixed it, better safeguarding U.S. interests. The environmental aspects of UNCLOS are similarly opportune for the United States. The United States will be able, by means of the convention’s hortatory environmental provisions and supplemental negotiations possibilities, to shape other nations’ environmental practices to better reflect high U.S. standards. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 8, Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff Admiral Michael G. Mullen evoked more than just the military rationale for acceding to UNCLOS when he said: “[O]ur new maritime strategy emphasizes the importance of leveraging other nations’ capabilities. The growing interdependence of the community of nations will continue to offer similar opportunities . . . .I believe that joining the Convention will strengthen our military’s ability to conduct operations.” At this time of compelling U.S. interests in oceans matters, military operations and renewing global leadership, the Senate should heed the urgings of Mullen, industry, foreign policy experts and environmental organizations with a vote in favor of Law of the Sea Convention. Richard J. Blaustein is a solo practitioner in Washington.

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