Law of the Sea Treaty Could Prevent U.S. from Stopping Terrorists

Washington, D.C. – The United States may have more difficulty capturing terrorists, intercepting weapons of mass destruction and conducting routine military operations at sea if the U.S. Senate ratifies the Law of the Sea Treaty, according to a just-released report by The National Center for Public Policy Research.

     The report, “Ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty: A Not So Innocent Passage,” was written by David A. Ridenour, Vice President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a non-profit, non-partisan educational foundation.

     The Law of the Sea Treaty, formally known as the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS III, was originally adopted in 1983.  Its purpose is to establish a comprehensive set of rules governing the oceans.  Although the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended U.S. accession to the treaty in March 2004, the full Senate has yet to act on this recommendation.  It could do so at any time.

     But, according to report, the treaty contains such serious flaws that the U.S. should be wary of acceding to it.

     Among the flaws cited in the report is a provision that specifies that boarding of ships at sea is justified only if “there are reasonable grounds to believe that” the ship is engaged in piracy, engaged in the slave trade, or engaged in unauthorized broadcasting.  It makes no mention of those ships engaged in the transportation of terrorists or weapons of mass destruction.

     “As objectionable as unauthorized broadcasts – or even authorized broadcasts — of Jessica Simpson or Brittany Spears might be, shutting them down isn’t as important as apprehending terrorists and WMD,” said David Ridenour, Vice President of The National Center for Public Policy Research.  “Under the treaty, the U.S. wouldn’t be able to act on intelligence information that Syrian, Iranian or North Korean ships is carrying terrorists or WMD without having to answer to the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).  And since the majority of ITLOS judges come from countries that are either openly hostile to the U.S. or are at best unreliable allies such as Russia, China, Brazil, Tanzania and France, the prospects for rulings in the U.S.’s favor would be poor.”

     The “Ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty: A Not So Innocent Passage” report also suggests that treaty could harm the United States’ ability to set its own environmental standards and may even provide the means of forcing the U.S. to comply with the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty the U.S. has rejected.

     “The Law of the Sea Treaty requires states to  ‘adopt laws and regulations to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from or through the atmosphere,'” said Ridenour.  “Since environmentalists argue that human emissions of greenhouse gases – 25% of which are generated in the U.S. – are causing climate change damaging to coral reefs, some environmentalists could use the treaty to compel the U.S. to comply with the Kyoto Treaty.”

     The report notes other problems with the treaty, too, including:

* Some of the conservation provisions would provide new avenues for environmental activists to pursue legal action in both U.S. and international courts.

* The treaty would for the first time require all unmanned ocean vessels, including those used for mine detection to protect ships exercising the right of innocent passage, to navigate on the surface in territorial waters – effectively eliminating their value for such purposes.

* Potentially impede routine U.S. military operations at sea by stipulating “the high seas shall be reserved for peaceful purposes” and requiring that all parties to the treaty refrain from “any threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”  Under the Law of the Sea Treaty, the principal would enforcement body would not be the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. holds a veto, but such bodies as the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea and International Seabed Authority (ISA).  The ISA’s membership, like ITLOS’s, does not favor the U.S. as it includes such countries as Sudan, China, Malaysia, Russia, Namibia and Myanmar (the name given Burma by its military junta).

A copy of David Ridenour’s complete report, “Ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty: A Not So Innocent Passage,” may be obtained from The National Center for Public Policy Research’s web site at

For more information, a hard copy of the report or to arrange an interview, contact David Almasi or Ryan Balis at (202) 507-6398.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, non-profit educational foundation founded in 1982 and based in Washington, D.C.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.