South China Sea Dispute Compels Washington to Ratify Sea Law


The upcoming US-ASEAN summit on February 15-16 in Rancho Mirage, California provides an opportunity for the Obama administration to boldly demonstrate its rebalance towards Asia, and for the U.S. Senate to assert America’s national interests by ratifying the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Since the ten countries that make up ASEAN are home to 660 million people and represent the world’s seventh largest economy, it’s vital to demonstrate proof of strategic commitment to US allies, to denounce China’s militarization of outposts, and to uphold freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

It’s clear that more US military leaders, national security planners, policy pundits, and ASEAN members like the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam, are impatiently waiting for this treaty approval to effectively address and to manage China’s continued aggressive actions to expand its power and influence in the contested South China Sea.

The Law of the Sea Treaty, formally known as the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, was adopted in 1982. One hundred and sixty-two countries, including China and Russia, are signatories to the treaty that governs the world’s oceans. The United States is not.

The time has come to put partisan politics aside, and focus on national interests. While the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet continues to reinforce freedom of the seas or rather ‘Freedom of Navigation Operations,’ in the South China Sea’s troubled waters, the formal treaty defines limits of a country’s territorial sea, establishes clear rules for transit through “international straits,” and “exclusive economic zones (EEZs).”

In short, as a signature to the treaty, it allows the US military complete freedom of action and does not interfere with critical American-led programs like the Proliferation Security Initiative. Washington has long declared our interests and respect for international law, freedom of navigation, and peaceful resolution of disputes.

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