Pew and Belmont University Host Law of the Sea Treaty Forum

  • November 18, 2009

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Today, The Pew Charitable Trusts and Belmont University hosted a forum on the urgent need for the United States to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, an important international agreement that governs all activities on, over and under international seas and oceans.

“The Arctic Ocean is undergoing dramatic changes that are likely to accelerate over the coming years, opening up access to vast natural resources and important waterways,” said Dr. Jonathan Gilligan, associate professor at Vanderbilt University's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “Other nations are securing and allocating rights to exploit resources and control navigation. So long as the United States does not ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty we remain bystanders to these decisions, which significantly affect our interests.”

The Law of the Sea Treaty defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans – establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment and the management of natural resources. The treaty clearly defines its members' rights to offshore fishing, deep sea mining and navigation, while sustaining ocean resources for future generations. It also guarantees safe passage in international waters of military planes and ships for peaceful means, and provides clearly defined laws for countries to follow in order to avoid international military incidents.  

“Our national and economic security would be vastly improved under Law of the Sea,” said Commander Michael C. Holifield of the Navy's International and Operational Law Division. “U.S. military and commercial ships would be guaranteed safe passage through international waters, guaranteeing the ability to respond to threats and partake in international trade whenever and wherever.”

The treaty enjoys widespread support from major energy and business organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It is also supported by former Presidents including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as military leaders like Gen. Richard Myers, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Law of the Sea Treaty has been ratified by 157 nations, while only 22 nations including the United States, Libya and North Korea have failed to ratify.

“The U.S. Senate needs to quickly ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty,” said Gerry Leape, senior officer at The Pew Charitable Trusts. “By ratifying this important treaty, the United States can shape international laws to ensure that our own national interests are safeguarded. Right now, we're leaving all decisions about international waters up to other countries. We need to have a seat at the table.”

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