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


The Convention remains a key piece of unfinished treaty business for the United States.

Past Administrations (Republican and Democratic), the U.S. military, and relevant industry and other groups have all strongly supported joining the Convention.

President George W. Bush argued that “joining will serve the national security interest of the United States” and “secure U.S. sovereign rights over extensive marine areas, including the valuable natural resources they contain.”

As the world’s major maritime power and a country with one of the longest coastlines, the United States has historically had a very strong interest in the laws that apply to the oceans.

The Convention’s provisions are highly favorable to:

  • U.S. national security interests, because navigational rights and freedoms across the globe for our ships and aircraft are vital to our country; and
  • U.S. economic interests, because the Convention accords to the United States extensive offshore resource rights, including exclusive rights to natural resources (e.g., fish, oil, gas) out to 200 nm and additional rights to seabed resources (including oil and gas) beyond 200 nm in several large areas.

We need to become a Party in order to fully protect our navigational rights/freedoms, economic rights, and other ocean-related interests:

  • The U.S. would “lock in” the Convention’s favorable set of rules as treaty rights. While we have been relatively successful to date in relying on customary international law to protect our interests, that law can change based on the practice of countries and is ultimately something we cannot control.
  • The U.S. would fully secure its continental shelf. The Convention’s provisions are highly favorable with respect to the continental shelf beyond 200 nm. The shelf off Alaska is likely to extend more than 600 nm. However, only as a Party would we put our rights on the firmest legal footing and have access to the treaty procedure that maximizes legal certainty and international recognition of the shelf beyond 200 nm.
  • The U.S. would have the level of influence in the interpretation, application, and development of law of the sea rules that reflects its maritime status. As a Party, we could place U.S. nominees/designees on various Convention bodies, including those developing the rules governing mineral resources in the deep seabed, and those making recommendations regarding Parties’ submissions on the continental shelf beyond 200 nm.
  • U.S. accession is a matter of geostrategic importance in the Arctic (where all other Arctic nations, including Russia, are parties and can fully secure their continental shelf rights) and the South China Sea (where China is flexing its muscles with respect to maritime claims).

The oceans – and the rules governing them – will only increase in importance in the 21st century, and the costs of being on the outside will increase correspondingly.

We should join the Convention without delay.

[This is a mobile copy of The Law of the Sea Convention]