Law of the Sea (2-27-04)
The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was open for signature between December 1982 and December 1984, established a legal regime governing activities on, over, and under the worlds oceans. The Convention resulted from the third U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea, which met for a total of 93 weeks between December 1973 and December 1982. While supporting most of the treaty, the United States and other industrialized countries, did not sign or would not ratify the Convention without important changes to the parts that dealt with deep seabed resources beyond national jurisdiction. Subsequently, the United States led a successful effort to revise the deep sea mining provisions and signed the convention in 1994.
On October 7, 1994, President Bill Clinton transmitted to the Senate the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and 1994 Agreement relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the U.N. Convention (Treaty Document 103-39). The package was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for their consideration with hopes of quick ratification on the Senate floor. But Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), then chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, had concerns about this treaty and declined to hold any hearings, leaving the issue dormant until 2002.
On April 8, 2002, in remarks at a U.N. meeting, U.S. Ambassador Mary
Beth West confirmed President George W. Bush's support for U.S. accession
to the Convention, noting we intend to work with the U.S. Senate
to move forward on becoming a party. (USUN Press Release #49).
Further, the current Administration has pushed for U.S. acession to
the Convention because it meets U.S. national security, economic,
and environmental interests."
On February 25th the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously to adopt the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The treaty provides a comprehensive framework for ocean management, which nearly 140 countries have ratified. The United States has hesitated on ratification due to concerns that the treaty would limit opportunities to exploit offshore natural resources and that developing nations would be given the same influence as developed countries. The treaty will be open to amendment later this year and if the United States is not party to it by then it would be hard to protect the convention rights that the U.S. fought hard to achieve. The treaty will now move to the Senate floor, where it will need a two-thirds approval to pass. (2/27/04)
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on October 14th. Chaired by Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the Committee sought to continue the work that began so long ago to produce a comprehensive international framework governing the use of the world's oceans. In his opening statement, Chairman Lugar said, "The Law of the Sea Convenion has great potential to advance U.S. interests related to the navigation of the seas, the productive use of their resources, and the protection of the marine environment." On October 21, 2003, the committee met again to hear from military experts, industry executives and environmentalists about the mechanics of approving the Convention. They sought to pinpoint areas of concern, contentious issues and common ground. A summary of the testimony is available here.
On Sep. 28, 1945, President Harry S. Truman declared the continental
shelf to be U.S. government property, saying: The Government
of the United States regards the natural resources of the subsoil
and seabed of the continental shelf beneath the high seas but contiguous
to the coasts of the United States as appertaining to the United States,
subject to its jurisdiction and control.
Although the Bush administration supports the Convention, the final
decision rests with the Senate. Whereas Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IL),
chairman of the committee, supports the Law of the Sea, other Republican
committee members long led by former Committee Chairman Jesse Helms
(R-N.C.) oppose ratification. Senate Republicans generally speaking
have not supported the Law of the Sea treaty because it would create
new United Nations bureaucracy, Lester Munson, press secretary
for the minority staff of the Foreign Relations Committee told Geotimes
in 2002. Additionally, he says there are more technical objections,
but he did not disclose them.
Sources: Environment & Energy Daily, Hearing Testimony, Senate Foreign Relations Committee website, United Nations Press Release.
Background section includes material from January 2002 issue of Geotimes.
Contributed by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program staff
and Gayle Levy, AGI/AAPG 2004 Spring Semester Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on February 27, 2004