Table of ContentsChapter 8Next


U.S. Security Interests

Maintaining Maritime Mobility
Protecting Economic Interests

Top of Section

Maintaining Maritime

The oceans have been tied to U.S. national security and defense throughout the history of the country. Initially, the oceans were a buffer from the military power and the conflicts of European nations, allowing the U.S. to indulge in bouts of isolationism alternating with hemispheric expansionism. With the development of U.S. naval capabilities in the late nineteenth century, the United States took to the oceans to project power to the shores of countries as distant as Japan and the Philippines. Like earlier maritime powers, the U.S. has relied on the concept of the freedom of the seas to maintain access and mobility.

Even as the Cold War recedes, U.S. interests and reach will remain global for the foreseeable future. The definition of Navy missions set out in ...From the Sea reflects those interests, and includes a broad and challenging array of peacetime as well as conflict roles: presence, strategic deterrence, sea control, crisis response, power projection, sealift, embargoes, counternarcotics operations, and humanitarian operations. The capacity to perform these missions depends on maritime mobility--on free access to the world oceans, including strategic waterways and international straits. That access cannot be taken for granted.

Coastal state claims to broader areas and increased rights (such as the right to control the entry of warships into territorial waters) in offshore areas pose an ongoing dilemma. In light of these claims, the United States has several options for pursuing its freedom of navigation goals: (1) unilateral demonstrations of resolve, including use of force, (2) bilateral or regional deals and arrangements, and (3) comprehensive agreements generating international treaty law. These are not mutually exclusive, nor are they equally effective.

Particularly in an era of shrinking budgets, the U.S. will be increasingly hard pressed to devote the military and diplomatic resources needed to pursue bilateral deals or unilateral demonstrations of force. It is therefore easier and cheaper to resolve conflicts in the context of a comprehensive international agreement. The Defense
Department, in its 1994 DOD white paper, National Security and the Convention on the Law of the Sea, makes the case that international law is the most effective approach:

National security interests in having a stable oceans regime are, if anything, even more important today than in 1982, when the world had a roughly bipolar political dimension and the U.S. had more abundant forces to project power to wherever it was needed.

...Without international respect for the freedoms of navigation and overflight set forth in the [LOS] Convention, exercise of our forces' mobility rights would be jeopardized. Disputes with littoral states could delay action and be resolved only by protracted political discussions. The response time for U.S. and allied/coalition forces based away from potential areas of conflict could lengthen...Forces may arrive on the scene too late to make a difference, affecting our ability to influence the course of events consistent with our interests and treaty obligations.

Top of Section

Protecting Economic Interests

Commercial Navigation. The navigation provisions of the LOS Convention are important to the United States for economic as well as security reasons. As a major trading nation, the U.S. depends on access to shipping routes. The stability and predictability afforded by the Convention will serve to keep shipping costs low. Uncertainty regarding transit regimes costs time (longer routes) and money (insurance fees and fuel). For example, ships passing from Japan to the Middle East that were unable to pass through international straits controlled by Indonesia would be forced to re-route around Australia, adding 5,800 nautical miles and 15 days (assuming a speed of 15 knots) to their journey.

Management and Conservation of Offshore Resources. The provisions of the treaty dealing with living and non-living resources, particularly as they deal with delimitation questions and dispute settlement mechanisms, also serve U.S. economic interests. The provisions for delimiting the fishing EEZ and the outer edge of the continental shelf constrain further extensions of state control, but also allow coastal state exploitation of offshore resources with a degree of certainty, within set limits.

Equally important to the United States are the provisions calling for sound environmental and management practices. Coastal states are enjoined to manage their fishery resources according to the norm of maximum sustainable yield. Special provision is made for protection of marine mammals and endangered species and their habitats. Anticipating difficulties with the migratory nature of living resources, the convention relies on regional fishing organizations to address conservation and management details. Where difficulties over straddling stocks and high seas fisheries arise, dispute settlement provisions offer recourse.

The non-living resources of the continental shelf are to be managed by the coastal state with due regard to consequences for the environment. Provision is made to reflect the international interest in the resources of the continental margin that extend beyond 200 miles. As to the resources that may eventually be exploited in the deep seabed, the Convention will provide the security of tenure needed to attract investment.

Environmental Protection. The U.S. has an interest in a healthy ocean environment. The LOS Convention is perhaps the most comprehensive environmental treaty ever negotiated. It sets out basic obligations on all states to protect and preserve the marine environment from all sources of pollution. And it establishes a duty to enforce detailed international environmental protection regulations as they evolve in future negotiations in organizations such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO). That duty applies even if a state does not participate in the process of developing the new international standards.

Table of ContentsChapter 8Next
| Back | Table of Contents | Chapter 8 | Next |