WASHINGTON—Richard Armitage, a former Deputy Secretary of State, says the United States should sign the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), dismissing opposition as “absurd.”
“I find it quite ironic,” he told The Epoch Times at a forum in Washington, D.C., on Aug 15. “We abide by the conventions of the Law of the Sea and we don’t get the protections of it because we are not technically a signatory, so I think it is absurd.”
UNCLOS is widely seen as the most appropriate legal framework by which to manage international maritime disputes, as among other things, it defines acceptable passage through territorial waters, plus business and environmental guidelines for managing ocean and marine resources.
The United States is the only member of the U.N. Security Council that has not signed the convention. Signatories include 161 countries plus the European Union.
Under UNCLOS, a country would have sovereign rights over resources in marine territory extending up to 200 nautical miles (230 miles, 370 kilometers) off its coast.
The United States has the world’s second-largest coastline and, under UNCLOS, stands to gain up to 600 miles of territory into the Arctic from Alaska, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing earlier this year.
“No country is in a position to gain more from the Law of the Sea Convention than the United States,” she said.
The treaty ensures safe passage for trade and provides a legal framework for companies to invest in maritime oil and gas exploration, to pursue resources like rare earth minerals, and for telecommunication companies to lay submarine cables.
“No country is in a position to gain more from the Law of the Sea Convention than the United States.”
- Hillary Clinton
Signing the maritime convention was “critical to the leadership and security of the United States,” Clinton said, a statement underscored by the support at the Senate hearing of America’s top defense official, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and top military official, Gen. Martin Dempsey Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The urgency to sign the treaty has become more pronounced by maritime territorial disputes around the world, but most particularly among countries in the South China Sea, which have been exacerbated by the Chinese regime’s increasing aggression in claiming all of the South China Sea as its territory.
Panetta described UNCLOS as “the bedrock legal instrument underpinning public order across the maritime domain,” and asked the Senate committee, “How can we argue that other nations must abide by international rules when we haven’t joined the treaty that codifies those rules?”
Congressmen opposed to the treaty have expressed concerns about environmental obligations, the payment of royalties for seabed mining in open waters, and how those royalties would be spent. Most particularly, they were concerned about sovereignty.
Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense under George W Bush, has dismissed the treaty on similar grounds, telling a later Senate hearing that “the treaty’s costs to our security and sovereignty would far exceed any benefits for the United States.”
But Armitage, who also served in the Bush administration, would have none of it. He described Rumsfeld’s concerns as “absurd” and “out-of-date” adding, “he ought to bring himself up to 2012.”
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and ranking member Richard Lugar (R-Ind,) are both keen to see the United States sign the treaty.
Kerry said the treaty was too important to become a victim of the “hurly-burly of presidential politics.” In that event, the Senate would hold extensive hearings and wait until after the November elections to bring it to a vote, he said in a statement.
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