Resolution Urges Senate to Ratify UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

Senators from Alaska, Hawaii and Virginia have joined forces in a resolution calling on the U.S. Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) introduced the resolution in the Senate on May 18. A similar resolution was introduced in the U.S. House in April by Representatives Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Don Young (R-AK).

UNCLOS, which is already ratified by 166 nations and the European Union, details rights and responsibilities of countries regarding the world’s oceans, including guidelines for businesses and management of marine natural resources.

Hirono noted that the world currently is facing challenges from those seeking to prevent international freedom of navigation worldwide, including in the Strait of Hormuz, the South China Sea, the Arctic and the Black Sea. It is time, she said, for the United States to become party to the UNCLOS, which provides a legal framework to protect the right of free passage through territorial seas.

Murkowski said the treaty provides immense value to the U.S., helping to avoid conflict by resolving issues diplomatically and through litigation rather than relying on customary law and military presence. In the Arctic, the treaty would allow the U.S. to resolve territorial disputes of continental shelf claims as more access is being seen in a region that up to now has been inaccessible, she said.

The Senate’s failure to ratify UNCLOS, Kaine said, places the U.S. at a disadvantage when dealing with threats to our national security and commerce, particularly by China in the South China Sea.

The U.S. signed UNCLOS on July 29, 1994, but the U.S. Senate has yet to ratify the treaty, despite urging from environmental, scientific, labor and industry organizations. Hirono and Murkowski, along with Courtney and Young, also called for the Senate to ratify UNCLOS in 2019.