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Since Dec. 10, 1982, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea has established a legal framework for governing the world's oceans, seas and straits. Since that time, the United States and some other nations objected to some of the provisions of the law, but they were rectified in 1994 in the "Agreement Relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea." While the United States continues to debate whether to become a party to the treaty, 156 other countries, including all of the its traditional allies, have signed on, leaving the United States on its own.
Capt. Patrick Neher, director of international and operational law for the office of the judge advocate general of the U.S. Navy said, "It is difficult for the United States to urge the international community to respect the rule of law on the world's oceans when we are one of the few nations not to have joined the convention."
Two conservative groups in opposition are the John Birch Society and the Heritage Foundation, because they believe that signing the document would constitute a major step toward a United Nations world government and would give the United Nations control over everything happening over, on and under the world's oceans and seas. However, Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, said on May 17, 2007, "the principle of freedom of navigation, which is so critical to our national security and our ability to engage in international trade, and being able to go through international waters."
Becoming a part of this treaty will be particularly important in the Arctic. In Alaska, the prolongation of the continental shelf is believed to extend 600 miles north into the Arctic Ocean and the Chukchi Sea, but because the United States is not a party to the treaty, the United States is not able to make an extended continental shelf claim in the Arctic.
The Law of the Sea addresses the sovereignty of the five Arctic Coastal States: United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway. In May 2008, these nations held an Arctic Ocean Conference in Greenland and reaffirmed in the Ilulissat Declaration that a governing treaty was not necessary because of the Law of the Sea treaty. By refusing to sign this treaty, the United States is once again going to be on the outside looking in, while the other countries take control of the Arctic Ocean.