The Arctic and the Coast Guard- Part 3

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In the last two parts about the Arctic I mentioned the Law of the Seas Convention a couple times. So it made sense to address the Convention directly. Luckily there is a lot of information out there.

Did you know that 95% percent of U.S. imports and exports are carried by water at some point and that foreign-flagged ships make up the vast majority of this transport? Doesn’t it make sense that there should be some sort of agreement to how to take care of an area of the world that potentially will have more traffic as there is more and more open water with the melting of the ice? (Yes, that would be the Arctic I am talking about specifically here.)

The Convention provides for the effective enforcement of U.S. laws and international standards on these foreign vessels in our waters. This would be great for the Coast Guard’s busy port-state control efforts. It will also ensure that ships operating in our waters are safe and secure and that they don’t harm the fragile marine ecosystem in the Arctic.

The Convention expands U.S. sovereignty and sovereign rights over extensive maritime territory and natural resources off our coast.  It provides a 12 mile territorial sea subject to U.S. sovereignty, sovereign rights over resources within a 200-mile EEZ, and U.S. sovereign rights over offshore resources to the outer edge of the continental margin, which extends well beyond 200 miles in several areas, including up to 600 miles off Alaska. It’s rare that a treaty actually increases the sovereignty of a country, but as you can see this treaty does.

Important to the Coast Guard, the navigational provisions of the Convention ensure that U.S. military and commercial vessels have worldwide maritime mobility.

There are people who think that since the convention is a “UN” treaty it therefore won’t serve the interests of the U.S. The thing is the Convention was just negotiated at the UN, a lot of agreements are.  Just because a treaty was drawn up at the UN does not mean it doesn’t serve the interests of the US, or that it would ultimately hinder the missions of the Coast Guard.

Some people are concerned Convention would permit an international tribunal to second-guess the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard in their maritime missions. Actually no international tribunal would have that jurisdiction so disputes concerning military activities are completely excluded from dispute resolution. The U.S. has the exclusive right to determine what constitutes a military activity.

As I think it was mentioned in the Compass before that the Convention enhances our ability to wage the war on terror.  Maximum maritime naval and air mobility assured by the Convention is essential for our military forces to operate effectively.  The Convention provides the necessary stability and framework for our forces, weapons, and materiel to get to where it needs to be without hindrance.  It is essential that key sea and air lanes remain open as a matter of international legal right and not be contingent upon approval from nations along the routes.

Joining the Convention would significantly enhance the Coast Guard’s ability to protect the American public and its efforts to manage ocean resources and protect the marine environment by providing clear, internationally agreed-upon principles for operating in and governing ocean space.

So all in all the Law of the Sea Convention looks to be a good thing for the Coast Guard and America. As Capt. Sommer said “When an area is under someone’s care it is better taken care of than when it is just there.” The Convention would mean that the Arctic would be under someone’s care, and that the Coast Guard would be there to keep doing our missions.

If you are interested you can read more about the Law of the Seas Convention here.

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