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Law of the Sea

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“The decision not to sign on to legal frameworks the rest of the world supports is central to the decline in American influence around the world.”

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

What is it?

The Law of the Sea Treaty (LOTS) , or the third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is an international agreement that came in being in 1982. It establishes a comprehensive set of rules concerning jurisdictional rights and methods of engagement in the world’s oceans. The United States has not yet ratified this treaty and currently navigates international waters according to customary international law. The treaty is currently up for ratification in the Senate.


The Law of the Sea Treaty is a U.S.-initiated agreement that dramatically extends American sovereignty off U.S. shores, protects vital U.S. economic interests and ensures global freedom of movement for U.S. military vessels.


The United States has abided by its terms since the Reagan Administration, but cannot secure its rightful claims unless the Treaty is ratified by the U.S. Senate.


Why is it important?

The Law of the Sea Treaty enjoys a broad coalition of support ranging from the Military to private industry to national security groups to environmental organizations to Democrats to Republicans.

With ratification, America would gain:

  • Exclusive access to the full U.S. extended continental shelf, which, for example, extends up to 600 miles beyond the coast of Alaska, three times the current 200-mile limit.


  • The greatest expansion of U.S. marine resource sovereignty in the history of the United States.


  • A permanent seat – with veto power  on the international body that currently regulates access to ocean mineral resources in international waters.


  • Exclusive access to enormous natural wealth, including productive fisheries, abundant oil and natural gas resources and vast mineral deposits.


  • Universal recognition of the legal right for U.S. armed forces to move throughout and over the world’s oceans unimpeded by foreign jurisdiction in straits and economic zones.


  • An internationally recognized system for resolving commercial disputes in foreign waters while still preserving America’s sovereign right to address military disputes directly, rather than through an international body.


The Navy, for instance has been a long time supporter of ratification and believes that this treaty protects the freedom of navigation by providing a legal framework for resolving international conflict on high seas. Major corporations such as Lockheed Martin also support the treaty since it legally secures large tracts of the Earth’s continental shelf for deep seabed mining purposes.

This treaty would expand American sovereignty within an international legal structure.

Its ratification has immense consequences for national security strategy.