The United States joining the Law of the Sea Treaty would help strengthen the U.S. Defense Department’s position in the Pacific, at a time when the Pentagon places more emphasis on that region, top DoD officials said.
Not being part of the treaty puts the Unites States at a “distinct disadvantage particularly when it comes to disputes over maritime rights and responsibilities,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who making a rare joint appearance with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a forum in Washington hosted by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Atlantic Council.
“The time has come for the United States to have a seat at the table,” Panetta said. “The time has come for the United States to fully assert its role as a global leader, and accede to this important treaty.”
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is designed to serve as the rules of the road for use of the oceans’ resources. More than 160 countries, including China and Russia, observe the treaty.
Conservative opponents of the treaty in the U.S. Congress feel signing the treaty would cede decisions on sovereignty.
The Pentagon’s new military strategy — announced in January — calls for a greater emphasis in the Pacific region. Becoming part of the Law of the Sea treaty would not impact U.S. military operations, Panetta said.
“The convention in no way … harms our intelligence collection activities or constrains our military operations, nor will our military activities be subject to review or scrutiny by any international court or tribunal,” he said. “On the contrary, U.S. accession to the convention preserves our freedom of navigation and over-flight rights as bedrock treaty law, the firmest possible legal foundation for these activities.”