May 18, 2021

Senators Hirono, Murkowski, Kaine Introduce Resolution Calling on the Senate to Ratify UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced a resolution calling for the United States Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS, which has been ratified by 166 nations and the European Union, details the rights and responsibilities of countries regarding the world’s oceans, including guidelines for businesses and the management of marine natural resources. U.S. Representatives Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced a similar resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives last month.

“Our world faces the evolving challenges of those seeking to prevent international freedom of navigation across the world, including in the Strait of Hormuz, the South China Sea, the Arctic, and the Black Sea. It is time for the United States to become party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides a legal framework to protect the right of free passage through territorial seas,” Senator Hirono, Chair of the Senate Seapower Subcommittee said. “I join Senator Murkowski and Senator Kaine in calling for the long-overdue ratification of UNCLOS, because the United States should play an active role in decisions that impact Hawaii and the ocean around us.”

“For years now I have supported ratification of United States accession to the Law of the Sea. The treaty provides immense value to the U.S., helping to avoid conflict by resolving issues diplomatically and through litigation rather than relying on customary law and military presence. In the South China Sea, the treaty would enable us to contest unlawful Chinese claims through an international tribunal rather than military escalation and dangerous freedom of navigation operations prone to miscalculation. In the Arctic, the treaty would allow us to resolve territorial disputes of continental shelf claims as we see more access in a region that up to this point in time has been inaccessible. But, without ratification, the U.S. lacks a seat at the table for these negotiations,”Senator Murkowski said.

“The Senate’s failure to ratify UNCLOS places the United States at a disadvantage when dealing with threats to our national security and commerce, particularly by China in the South China Sea. This resolution rightfully underscores the urgent need for the Senate to finally approve the Convention, and the broad support among military leaders and the business community for ratification. I will continue to engage with the Biden administration and my colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee to make progress on this vital issue,” Senator Kaine said. 

“China and Russia haven’t stopped pushing the boundaries of their maritime claims, and the Senate has a chance to put more weight behind America’s response by ratifying the UNCLOS treaty,” Congressman Courtney, Chairman of the House Seapower Subcommittee said. “Being one of the few holdout nations who hasn’t ratified UNCLOS cuts off our ability to meaningfully participate in Law of the Sea discussions and rulings. Even more importantly, it undermines the mission of our sea services, and our diplomatic standing to defend the international rule of law. We’ve seen the real-world consequences of Russia’s willingness to disregard the terms of UNCLOS, and in the Indo-Pacific, China continues to protest the U.S. Navy’s legitimate freedom of navigation operations, and to encroach on territorial waters of American allies around the globe. We can’t waste any more time—we’ve got ensure the U.S. can approach any future discussions from a legitimate position based firmly in our ratification of the Law of the Sea. I enthusiastically support Senator Hirono’s resolution, and as a fellow Seapower Subcommittee Chair will do everything in my power to assist her effort.” 

“As vessel traffic and the growing presence of foreign interests continue to increase in the Arctic, it is more important than ever to work with our allies to help guarantee freedom of navigation in the region,” Congressman Don Young said. “I want to thank Senators Murkowski, Hirono, and Kaine for recognizing the urgent need to ratify the UNCLOS treaty by introducing this resolution. Ratification will help ensure America’s role as a leading advocate for protecting the freedom of vessels to navigate Arctic waters, and will solidify our place in discussions focused on future development in the region.” 

“The Nature Conservancy supports the call of Senators Hirono and Murkowski for the Senate to move quickly to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” Ulalia Woodside, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Hawaii and Palmyra Chapter said.“Protecting the health of the world’s oceans is critical to ensuring a prosperous future for our planet, and ratifying UNCLOS will ensure that the United States has a seat at the table with other countries and international organizations to address the many issues that are critical to U.S. and global welfare.”

“It is in the United States’ fundamental interest to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, also known as UNCLOS, a document US officials played a crucial role in crafting. The Convention enshrines international norms with regard to navigational freedom and access, as well as an enduring framework for delineating jurisdictional zones at sea. The treaty’s dispute resolution mechanisms also provide a path for equitable adjudication of differences. In a period where global norms and the rule of law are under increasing stress, it is essential that the United States demonstrate leadership in this vital area. Ratifying UNCLOS would give greater weight to US efforts upholding global norms as well as help squarely counter its competitors’ actions against such norms,” Robert P. Girrier, President of Pacific Forum said.

The United States signed UNCLOS on July 29, 1994, but the U.S. Senate has not yet voted to ratify the treaty, despite urging from environmental, scientific, labor, and industry organizations. Senators Hirono and Murkowski, along with Representatives Courtney and Young, also called for the Senate to ratify UNCLOS in 2019.

The full text of the Senate resolution can be found here.

###