Will the US Ratify the Law of the Sea?

This Wednesday is World Oceans Day. In 2008, the United Nations voted to formally recognise 8 June as an annual celebration of and call for action around the planet’s oceans. The 2016 theme is “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet.”

King’s Water PhD researcher Becca Farnum recently published a book about the Kuwait Dive Team, a marine conservation and environmental volunteering initiative in the Gulf. Her colleague on the project and the book’s graphic designer is 2014 Marshall Scholar and Oxford aquanaut Grace Young.

On Wednesday, we will be highlighting our world’s oceans with a guest post from Grace reflecting on her 22-day sail across the Atlantic Ocean. Today, we thought we’d give a teaser to Oceans Day. In the piece below, Grace – an oceans engineer focusing on marine robotics – recognises that politics impact water realities under the sea as much as they do on land.


A month ago I had the opportunity to join a handful of Marshall and Rhodes Scholars for an informal discussion with US Secretary of State John Kerry at the King’s Arms Pub. He’d just finished a speech at the Oxford Union and was kind enough to chat with us for a hour or so before dashing off to dinner with the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street.

​I asked Secretary Kerry: If the US won’t ratify the Law of the Sea, how can we stay a leader in global ocean policy?

The conversation was off-the-record, but it’s fair to say he basically reiterated his stance from his 2012 Huffington Post op-ed “Law of the Sea: A National Security Issue that Unites,” yet was more pessimistic (or perhaps realistic in light of the political gridlock of the last four years) about getting Congress to pass anything.

You can read more about Kerry’s position and the issues in Chapter 5: Possibility of US Accession to the LOS Convention and its Potential Impact on State Practices and Maritime Claims in the South China Sea by Yann-huei Song in Major law and policy issues in the South China sea: European and American perspectives.

In early 2009 when President Obama entered office and Senator Kerry took over chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty was one of his priorities. An article from the WorldWatch Institute highlighted his commitment:
Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, chair of the foreign relations committee, followed Clinton’s response with his own support for the treaty. “We are now laying the groundwork for and expect to try to take up the Law of the Sea Treaty. So that will be one of the priorities of the committee,” Kerry said. “The key here is just timing.”

In his 2012 op-ed, Kerry reiterated then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it best: “Joining the convention would secure our navigational rights and our ability to challenge other countries’ behavior on the firmest and most persuasive legal footing, including in critical areas such as the South China Sea and the Arctic.

And again in 2014, Kerry stressed that law, not coercion, is the key to resolving sea disputes.

Yet the the Law of the Sea is still not US law 34 years after the country negotiated the treaty. America remains the only major country that hasn’t ratified this treaty while 166 countries and the EU have done so. On her blog in her original reflection on meeting Kerry, Grace argues that if her home country is to remain leaders in global ocean policy, they must keep this issue at the forefront of discussion until the Senate takes appropriate action.

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