Foreign Policy Briefing No. 29

Do Not Endorse the Law of the Sea Treaty

Executive Summary

The Clinton administration is showing new interest in the Law of the Sea Treaty, which the United States rejected in 1982 when it was approved at the United Nations. The LOST gives the United Nations vast control over the use and exploitation of the seas’ resources. Although in November 1993 the treaty gained the number of ratifications needed to take effect on November 16, 1994, the United States should still refrain from signing on.

The LOST establishes rules for such matters as resource jurisdiction, navigation, and seabed mining. Although proponents of the treaty say that an internationally recognized system of rules is important, commerce and transportation have proceeded unhampered without the treaty, and other mechanisms exist for resolving international disputes. Moreover, the treaty’s objectionable provisions on seabed mining, if they become effective, will harm both the West and the developing world. The LOST’s mandates will increase costs and depress productivity.

It is senseless to embrace a treaty that embodies the most odious features of centralized planning. The United States should continue to reject the LOST and promote a market-oriented system that would truly benefit both the developed and the developing world.

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Doug Bandow is a senior fellow of the Cato Institute. While he was a special assistant to President Reagan, he served as deputy representative to the Third UN Conference on the Law of the Sea.