Will the USA really ratify the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)? This question has preoccupied much of the law-related public debate in the USA during the recent days. After the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) on Wednesday last week (31 October) voted 17 to 4 in support of recommending the Senate to accede to the UNCLOS, the issue seems to have caught the interest of the various presidential candidates as well. Apparently, all republican candidates have now spoken out against the UNCLOS. Initially, only Mike Huckabee was against the ratification of the treaty, calling it “one of the defining issues of our time”. But now all republican candidates have made it clear that they do not support the treaty, calling it a threat to US sovereignty and fundamentally flawed (for a summary see this article in the NY-Times).
This stance is somewhat interesting considering that the Bush administration (read President Bush’s endorsement of the UNCLOS here), the US military (especially of course the Navy), NGOs and the industry (in particular the oil and gas companies) have expressed support of the UNCLOS.
At least one of the republican candidates, namely John McCain, expressed the possibility of supporting the ratification of the treaty in the near future: “I think that we need a Law of the Sea. (…) I think it’s important, but I have not frankly looked too carefully at the latest situation as it is, but it would be nice if we had some of the provisions in it. But I do worry a lot about American sovereignty aspects of it, so I would probably vote against it in its present form.” Considering that Senator McCain did support the UNCLOS in the past (see his statement in the SFRC hearing in 2003) his – as well as other candidates’ – current stance against the UNCLOS may simply be seen as a means to raise support for his candidacy, i.e. as a position motivated by domestic politics only. Unfortunately I did not check on the position of the democratic presidential candidates. However, since at least Barack Obama is a member of the SFRC himself, it is highly unlikely that any significant criticism of the UNCLOS will be found in the Democratic Party. Next stop then – the US Senate!
For more information take a look at the website of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans.