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American Security and the Oceans

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A “Common Heritage of Mankind.”

The Oceans play an important role in our Nation’s transportation, economy, and trade, and they are critical to the global mobility of our Armed Forces.

The oceans and the seas are a key part of the maintenance of international peace and security.

Navy at TwilightSince before our country’s founding in 1776, America has been a maritime power. As such, our economic well-being and our national security has always rested on the oceans. In our early years, America’s growth rested on the protection that both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans afforded our country.

In the 21st Century, we know that no ocean can protect us from global challenges like terrorism, nuclear security, or  in cyberspace. How we manage the oceans is a signal about how our country can manage the world’s commons.

America has a unique role to secure the oceans for the benefit of mankind. Unlike territory on land, no military can take and hold the oceans. Securing the oceans does not come from military might alone. Instead, it comes from strategic foresight, planning, and international cooperation. America needs a strategic vision for how to manage common challenges.

ASP’s work on the Law of the Sea Treaty, in the Arctic, and on Climate Change are a part of our work on the oceans.

The Law of the Sea

The 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.

Read about ASP’s work on the issue: Law of the Sea 

The Arctic

Submarine in Ice

The Arctic is the region of the world most dramatically transformed by the effects of a warming climate, caused by the burning of fossil fuels for energy. As the Arctic Ocean’s sea ice thaws, bordering nations are preparing to tap vast energy resources held beneath the Arctic Ocean: about 22% the world’s undiscovered fossil fuels.

As the Arctic Ocean opens to trade and energy development, managing the opening will require coordination of all countries through institutions like the Arctic Council and related bodies. It will require strategic planning and foresight.

Climate Change

Marines at a Flood in PakistanGlobal warming is permanently altering the world’s oceans.

There is increasing evidence that a large amount of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the oceans. This threatens to alter long-established ocean currents and fisheries. Rising seas, caused by melting ice, threaten to inundate huge swaths of land across the world, including some mega-cities like New York, Shanghai, and Bangkok.

Addressing climate change is one of the hardest collective action problems in history, as it will require the largest emitting countries in the world.

ASP’s Climate Security Website

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