A decades old treaty, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, may find itself up for a vote this year after the end of the election cycle. After three decades without ratification, the Senate should ratify this treaty as soon as possible.
The Law of the Sea treaty will create jobs, ensure legal stability investors, and give the United States a leadership role in multilateral global affairs and show a commitment to international law. Like it or not, the United States can no longer use its military might alone to intimidate other nations into doing what we say; we cannot rely solely on our strong military to promote our international goals. Regardless of our own “exceptionalism,” others nations no longer feel as if they have to submit to America’s wishes as they did years ago. Internationally unpopular campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan will survive in the memories of people around the world for many years to come. Is the image of a stubborn, belligerent America the one we want the world to see? Or would we rather present ourselves as an example of an ideal modern democracy, demonstrating the proper way to balance our strategic interests with what is best for the international community?
The Law of the Sea treaty is an easier way to improve our international image with essentially no drawbacks. The United States will continue to have the right of free transit for its ships, legal control over the 200-mile economic zone, and environmental control over the 200-mile zone as well, in addition to expanding our national sovereignty. The support for the Law of the Sea treaty is vastly bipartisan: the Pentagon, the State Department, former President George W. Bush, President Obama, and both Republican and Democratic members of the Senate support it. When was the last time so many people agreed on an issue? Opponents to the treaty often claim that the treaty will reduce our national sovereignty (if anything, it increases and legitimizes it) or that it will reduce the responsiveness of our naval forces (nothing changes, disputes regarding military actions are excluded from the treaty). Both America’s national security and our international reputation will be enhanced by the ratification of Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty. And just because Reagan didn’t sign the original version in 1982 doesn’t mean we should reject the updated version today.