Fact Sheet
Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Washington, DC
July 1, 2011

The United States Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and other U.S. Armed Forces have been consistent and strong proponents of joining the Law of the Sea Convention.

Because the United States is the world’s foremost maritime power, our security interests are intrinsically linked to freedom of navigation.

  • We have more to gain from legal certainty and public order in the world’s oceans than any other country.
  • We need substantive rules that ensure worldwide access for military and commercial ships and aircraft.

The “navigational bill of rights” enshrined in the Convention provides such worldwide mobility, including during wartime, all without the permission of other countries. It is a terrific deal for the United States, with rules squarely in our long-term strategic interest.

Among other things, the Convention:

  • accords our submarines the critical right to transit submerged through international straits; and
  • sets forth maximum navigational rights and freedoms for our ships/aircraft in the exclusive economic zones of other countries (out to 200 nm) and on the high seas.

Becoming a Party would allow the United States to fully protect its navigational interests:

We would lock in a set of favorable rules as treaty rights; being on the outside and relying on customary international law -- which depends upon the practice of countries -- puts the legal basis for our actions outside our ultimate control.

  • Joining the Convention would give the United States greater credibility and legitimacy as we seek to hold others to the Convention’s terms.
  • Joining the Convention would maximize U.S. influence in the treaty bodies that play a role in interpreting, applying, and developing the law of the sea.

Becoming a Party is of increased geostrategic importance with respect to the Arctic and the South China Sea:

  • As the Arctic warms and opens up for navigation, resource exploitation, and other human activities, the United States needs to position itself accordingly. Admiral Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, and Admiral Papp, Commandant of the Coast Guard, have stressed the need to be inside the Convention with respect to this region of increasingly important strategic national security interest.
  • China is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. Being inside the Convention would give an immediate boost to U.S. credibility and our ability to both push back against excessive maritime claims and help resolve the maritime issues there to the benefit of the United States and our regional allies and partners.