Governance & Law North America Policy & Politics

Unmoored from the UN: The Struggle to Ratify UNCLOS in the United States

John Kraus is a Research Associate at the Institute for Defense Analyses. He earned his Master of Arts from SAIS in 2022 and was previously a commercial fishing deckhand for five years.


On July 9, 1982, after three series of multilateral conferences spanning decades of rigorous negotiations, President Ronald Reagan formally announced that the United States would not sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), on the grounds that the agreement would curtail U.S. freedoms to conduct mining operations along the deep seabed. While President Reagan praised many of the treaty’s central provisions, including freedoms of navigation and overflight, he opposed the seabed mining regime expressed within Part XI of the treaty, stating:

We recognize that world demand and markets currently do not justify commercial development of deep seabed mineral resources, and it is not clear when such development will be justified… When such factors become favorable, however, the deep seabed represents a potentially important source of strategic and other minerals. The aim of the United States in this regard has been to establish with other nations an order that would allow exploration and development under reasonable terms and conditions.¹

Among other reasons for refusing to sign the agreement was his administration’s disagreement with technology transfer rights to the international seabed mining regime and a lack of de facto veto power for the United States within its governing body.² So on December 10, 1982, the United Nations rolled out UNCLOS in Montego Bay, Jamaica without the United States. As of 2023, Washington remains a non-participant in the Convention despite its close adherence to most the treaty’s provisions.

As the preeminent maritime power of the late 20th century, the United States’ disapproval of UNCLOS was principally rooted in deep-seated, ideological concerns over maintaining commercial autonomy in the maritime domain. In the early stages of negotiation, some members of Congress were skeptical about whether the United Nations should be given trusteeship over the world’s oceanic resources. In 1975, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Daniel Moynihan believed that by deferring to a supranational institution to regulate the natural commons along the seabed, the United States would be “endorsing principles for whose logical outcome it was wholly unprepared and with which it could never actually go along.”³ Moreover, American negotiators were wary of “Third World” nations seeking to build a coalition against U.S. national interests on the high seas. Such concerns partially stemmed from reputational damage the United States incurred internationally in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the Arab Israeli Wars, and the OPEC oil disputes of the 1970s. Young, underdeveloped nations capitalized on this restoration of parity in the international system and sought to drastically rewrite the rules of global governance through the United Nations.

The United States showed an outspoken reluctance to cede any degree of autonomy to smaller, commercially disadvantaged nations when harvesting the ocean’s natural resources. In 1978, the twice-failed Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan expressed his dissatisfaction with ongoing negotiations. He asserted in a radio address titled Ocean Mining, that “underdeveloped nations who now control the General Assembly were looking for a free ride at our expense, again.”⁴ And after a decisive electoral victory in 1980, it was clear the Reagan Administration would take sweeping measures to amend the treaty’s seabed mining provisions.

The Reagan Administration

Shortly after his inauguration in 1981, Reagan initiated an interagency policy review of the drafted convention, which revealed critical, divergent opinions over fundamentals between UNCLOS and the United States. As the internal review took place, two major perspectives on the convention emerged within the administration. One side believed that the treaty was inherently flawed and unamendable because it subjected U.S. industries to an international regulatory system. The other side reserved more hope for the convention; that while its current form had obvious flaws, it could be resuscitated through renegotiation. Those who held the former belief included Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Ocean and Fisheries Affairs Morris D. Busby, the most senior official in charge of reviewing the convention, as well as domestic staff in the White House, the Department of the Interior, and members of Congress.⁵ The negotiators for the American delegation to the convention shared the latter belief, whom Reagan ultimately sided with. U.S. participation in the convention continued, but its new rigid stance dominated the deliberation process.

The United States returned to the negotiating table poised to change seemingly every defect it saw in the seabed mining provision. The Reagan Administration wished to convert the Mining Authority into a more privatized “frontier mining code”–in which the first company to lay claim to mining territory would own the area outright and face no international regulations except taxing power. In addition, the United States sought excessive voting power for themselves and close allies in the International Seabed Authority (ISA).⁶ Such demands, however, were insufficiently outlined in the new proposition advanced by the convention’s president, Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore. Anticipating a failure to correct this provision, Reagan appointed Donald Rumsfeld as Special Presidential Envoy on the Law of the Sea Treaty to help dissuade other industrialized nations from ratifying the Convention.⁷ Rumsfeld met with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher prior to the formal vote, seeking her assurance that the United Kingdom would also oppose the treaty. Prime Minister Thatcher sided with Rumsfeld, saying, “What this treaty proposes is nothing less than the international nationalization of roughly two-thirds of the Earth’s surface.”⁸ In the last days leading up to the official rollout, the global community sensed that the Americans would still reject the treaty despite making substantive revisions to the mining regime. Ultimately, the United States became one of only four countries to vote against the final draft of the Convention, with only Israel, Venezuela, and Turkey joining it. The United Kingdom would abstain from signing the treaty until 1997, seven years after Thatcher’s tenure ended.

In the wake of the United States’ rejection, lead negotiator and Reagan ally Leigh Ratner lamented that “the guardians of pure conservative ideology may have won a battle when the United States stood alone at the Law of the Sea Conference, but we may lose a very important war.”⁹ Ironically, despite the United States’ opposition to the mining provisions, lobbying pressure from mining companies was rather tepid at the time due to the capital-intensive nature of deep-sea mining.¹⁰ Furthermore, the revisions to the Convention had ensured grandfather rights for American mining companies for the next 30 to 50 years, giving the United States flexibility to renegotiate the terms of the Mining Authority while retaining access to raw materials in previously claimed tracts of the seabed.¹¹ Despite this, the primary U.S. objective according to Ratner remained “the eradication of ideological impurity.”¹²

In March of 1983, the Reagan Administration hedged on its decision not to become a signatory to UNCLOS with its own Oceans Policy Statement, delivered exactly three months after Montego Bay. President Reagan announced his intention to adhere to the Convention’s provisions in three major areas: first, the mutual recognition of other states’ traditional uses of navigation and overflight within their respective coastal zones; second, the refusal to acquiesce to any unilateral acts from other states to deny freedom of overflight and navigation; and lastly, a proclamation of a U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone protecting sovereign rights to resources within 200 nautical miles of its coasts.¹³ Reagan also expressed his desire to work with other nations to “develop a regime, free of unnecessary political and economic restraints, for mining deep seabed minerals beyond national jurisdiction,” emphasizing the United States’ right to explore and extract high seas minerals outside of the purview of the ISA.¹⁴ The policy statement laid the groundwork for U.S. compliance with UNCLOS without official accession. In December of 1988, President Reagan extended the United States’ territorial waters from three to twelve miles in accordance with the Convention’s rules on territorial sea rights, aligning it closer to the Convention.¹⁵

The Clinton Administration

In July of 1990, UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar reopened negotiations for a review on the implementation of the Convention. The UN Secretary General admitted that several aspects within Part XI’s seabed mining statutes contained fundamental flaws that had kept many states, including the United States, from entering. As such, interested parties began crafting amendments to the controversial mining regime provision. A September 1994 State Department Report on UNCLOS attributed resumed negotiations on Part XI of the Convention to “the important international political and economic changes of the last decade-including the end of the Cold War and growing reliance on free market principles.”¹⁶

On July 28, 1994, the Agreement Relating to the Implementation of Part XI of UNCLOS was finalized, affording an eager Clinton Administration the opportunity to try and ratify the treaty once more. After being assured by the State Department that the changes implemented adequately addressed the problems raised by the Reagan Administration, President Clinton readily signed the agreement and moved it towards ratification.¹⁷ The United States, along with other industrialized nations who had already established large stakes in the offshore deep seabed, were granted more influence over decisions within the mining regime in the 1994 Implementation Agreement. In addition, the glaring technology transfer and production control mandates were eliminated, already viewed as archaic, socialist holdovers. Lastly, the agreement protected the grandfathered seabed exploration work conducted by major U.S. companies in the past.¹⁸ Secretary of State Warren Christopher stated that “all interested agencies and departments join the Department of State in unanimously recommending that the Convention and Agreement be transmitted to the Senate for its advice and consent to accession and ratification respectively.”¹⁹ Anticipating a potential Republican majority in two months, however, Christopher reiterated his hope that the agreement be transmitted to the Senate before it adjourned prior to election season. And on October 7, 1994—one month before midterm elections—the treaty was formally sent to the Senate for the first time.

On the receiving end of the treaty was Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Claiborne Pell (D-RI), a staunch supporter of the Convention who called it “a triumph for American foreign policy.”²⁰ As a former Coast Guard captain who worked on the staff of the secretariat at the 1945 San Francisco Conference creating the United Nations, Pell was the perfect fit to usher in the Convention with his endorsement. In fact, Pell was the first U.S. Senator to call for convening a third Law of the Sea Conference in 1967, which would take place six years later.²¹ He did not support President Reagan’s decision to become a non-party to UNCLOS in 1983, stating that the treaty “would accommodate national interests better than would going it alone without a treaty or attempting to negotiate mini-treaties on separate subjects with a limited number of other nations.”²² Tacitly acknowledging the Senate schedule could not accommodate a ratification vote until after the midterm elections, he promised to make ratifying the Convention one of the top priorities for the committee in the 104th Congress. Thus, the SFRC failed to hold a ratification vote before the 1994 midterm elections.

Christopher’s fears were realized on Election Day, as Republicans seized control of the Senate by flipping eight Democratic seats, making it the biggest party victory in decades.²³ Replacing Pell and assuming the seat of Chairman was Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), an unabashed critic of the United Nations. When asked by a reporter whether the United States should withdraw from the UN amidst the Balkan Wars, Helms considered it a “valid question.”²⁴ Regarding the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world, the new Chairman called it a “strange document” and warned President Clinton that as long as he was Chairman, “it is going to be very difficult for this treaty even to be given a hearing.”²⁵ For the time, the prospect of even considering ratification of UNCLOS in the SFRC was impossible with Helms in charge. In fact, the treaty languished for nine years in the Senate until Helms retired from office.

In response to Helms’s continued obstinance, President Clinton rolled out a patchwork of ocean policies that aligned with UNCLOS. In 1999, President Clinton announced the establishment of a U.S. Contiguous Zone, which formally extended U.S. control of its coastline “to prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration, or sanitary laws and regulations within its territory or territorial sea.”²⁶ This officially allowed the Coast Guard and other law-enforcement agencies to board foreign ships up to 24 nautical miles off the U.S. coast. Environmentalist groups rejoiced because the extension tightened law enforcement authority over irresponsible fishing practices and pollution by foreign vessels. The administration also looked to appeal to the domestic fishing industry, who had long protested foreign vessels working in the same waters.²⁷ Like former president Reagan’s 1988 claim to a twelve nautical mile territorial sea, President Clinton’s action aligned U.S. ocean policy closer to UNCLOS statutes.

The Bush Administration

In 2001, UNCLOS rose again to the legislative forefront shortly after the retirement of Helms at the end of the 107th Congress. Filling the SFRC Chairmanship was Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), a devoted internationalist who served in the U.S. Navy as an intelligence officer.²⁸ Lugar quickly emphasized the need to consolidate multilateral efforts to tackle environmental and security threats in the maritime domain. The Bush administration also included U.S. accession to UNCLOS in its Ocean Action Plan, which outlined the administration’s ocean policy objectives.²⁹ The President’s blessing to ratify the Convention set the stage for Senate review.

On October 14 and 21, 2003, Lugar restarted the ratification process by convening two committee hearings on the Convention. At this time, more than 140 nations, including every other permanent member of the UN Security Council and all but two other NATO members, had fully acceded to the treaty.³⁰ In his opening statement, Lugar acknowledged fundamental problems associated with the United States’ growing isolation from the international body, stating that U.S. absence “diminishes [UNCLOS’] effectiveness and our own influence over international ocean policy.”³¹ The hearings were designed to foster discussion on how acceding to the Convention would promote U.S. historic ocean interests and sea power.

The hearings, as well as the Convention’s overall ratification, enjoyed support from key Republicans, including Senators Ted Stevens (R-AK) and John McCain (R-AZ), who served as Chairmen of the Appropriations and Commerce Committees, respectively.³² Stevens, an Alaskan and longtime proponent of UNCLOS, provided detailed testimony and advocated for U.S. accession based on the Convention’s past success in facilitating collective natural resource management. He referenced the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, ratified by the United States a year after the 1994 Implementation Agreement was crafted. This was perceived important not only for the protection of marine species in crucial fishing regions like the Bering Sea, but also proof that UNCLOS was an effective framework for advancing responsible international management of the oceans.³³ Stevens also referred to the vast continental shelf off the coast of Alaska as an incentive for acceding. Extending beyond the U.S. 200-mile exclusive economic zone, the Arctic continental shelf comprises two-thirds of the United States’ total area of oceanic continental shelf and presents lucrative seabed mining opportunities.³⁴ By becoming a party to the Convention, Stevens argued, the United States could wield more authority in that area; especially since in the same year, Russia had proposed its own claims to large swaths of the Arctic shelf to the ISA, potentially undermining any claims forwarded by the United States since it did not yet sit on the ISA committee.³⁵

Another notable supporter of the treaty was the American Petroleum Institute (API), whose president, Paul Kelly, wrote to Helms in 1996 that the Convention “provides a predictable framework for minerals developed; and, sets forth criteria and procedures for determining the outer limit of the continental shelf.”³⁶ Representing over 600 companies, including most of the biggest oil and natural gas industries, Kelly testified before the Foreign Relations Committee on October 21, 2003. He noted that the United States obtained about 28 percent of its natural gas and oil production from its outer continental shelf, illustrating the significant technological advancements made in the mineral extraction process since the early negotiation phases of UNCLOS in the preceding decades.³⁷ “New technologies are taking oil explorers out more than 200 miles offshore for the first time, thus creating a more pressing need for certainty and stability in delineation of the outer shelf boundary,” Kelly said.³⁸

In preparation for the committee vote, dozens of interagency meetings, hundreds of telephone conferences, and thousands of emails were exchanged between the Department of Defense, subject matter experts, industry unions, the National Security Council and other relevant government agencies to craft a comprehensive presentation in favor of ratification. On the day of the committee vote, the Convention had garnered broad support from U.S. oceanic organizations, including the U.S. Navy, the National Ocean Industries Association, the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf Policy Committee, the API, and the Chamber of Shipping of America.³⁹ Each stakeholder collaborated and ultimately concurred on the issues related to protecting U.S. maritime rights for the upcoming committee vote by January of 2004. On February 25, 2004, the SFRC voted unanimously on recommending that the full Senate deliver its advice and consent to accede to the Convention.⁴⁰

However, despite a robust show of support from a comprehensive list of ocean-faring organizations, Senate Majority Leader William Frist (R-TN) declined to put the treaty vote on the calendar. Lugar would assert that full-Senate floor consideration of the treaty was held up by “vague and unfounded concerns about the Convention’s effects, primarily by those who oppose virtually any multilateral agreement because of ephemeral conservative concerns that boil down to a discomfort with multilateralism.”⁴¹ Unfortunately, Senate rules relegated the Convention back to the SFRC by the end of the 108th Congress, stymying any hopes to join UNCLOS for the next few years.

Prospects for ratification rebounded after Democrats flipped the Senate in 2006. With Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) as majority leader and Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) leading the SFRC, UNCLOS appeared destined to reach the Senate floor. However, the SFRC was initially slow in passing the treaty through committee vote. On May 15, President Bush tried to reinvigorate efforts to review the treaty by releasing a statement urging the Senate to act favorably on ratification.⁴² Bush explained that the treaty would “give the United States a seat at the table when the rights that are vital to our interests are debated and interpreted.”⁴³ But the next day, the Heritage Foundation countered in a report expounding on the apparent risks of joining and claiming that the United States would become subservient to multilateral bureaucracies and bloc voting practices, ultimately jeopardizing U.S. seapower. Thus, policy debates of the past continued to reverberate.

In fall, the 110th Congress initiated another review of the treaty in the SFRC. The committee was soon deluged with letters from over 100 public figures voicing support for ratification, including two former Reagan Secretaries of State, Alexander Haig and George Shultz, and two of Reagan’s former National Security Advisors, Colin Powell and Bud McFarland.⁴⁴ In a letter to Lugar regarding the changes made to the international seabed mining regime in the 1994 Implementation Agreement, former Secretary of State Shultz said, “The treaty has been changed in such a way with respect to the deep seabeds that it is now acceptable, in my judgment.”⁴⁵ The SFRC also received letters from the chair and ranking members of the Armed Services Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence, reinforcing their earlier approval of the convention from the 2004 process.⁴⁶ Letters of opposition to U.S. accession came from organizations such as The American Conservative Union, State Department Watch, Freedom Alliance, America’s Survival, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.⁴⁷

On October 31, the SFRC ordered the Convention and the 1994 Implementation Agreement to be sent to the Senate floor by a roll call vote of 17-4, with all four dissenting votes came from Republicans. In the SFRC’s Executive Report affirming the treaty’s ratification, the four dissenting Senators provided their minority views. They cited a passage from Reagan biographer Dinesh D’Souza, who recalled a conversation President Reagan had with former Secretary of State Haig about the treaty during its formative stage. Reagan had told Haig weeks after becoming president that the 1980 election was about “not doing things just because that’s the way they’ve been done before,” and that voting against UNCLOS was one step closer towards revolutionizing America’s role within multilateral institutions.⁴⁸

After surviving yet another round of SFRC oversight in 2007, the treaty became engulfed by the 2008 Presidential campaign. By December of 2007, Republican presidential hopefuls started to coalesce around opposing the treaty. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who at the time was a prime candidate for the Republican nomination, called UNCLOS “one of the defining issues of our time,” and derided the Convention as an imposition on U.S. freedoms.⁴⁹ Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney agreed, saying that “giving unaccountable international institutions more power is a serious problem.”⁵⁰ The eventual Republican nominee, Senator John McCain, ended up reversing his decade-long support for ratification and expressed opposition to the convention, following the lead of his competitors.⁵¹ By 2008, any political momentum generated by the Senate hearings was gone as presidential campaigning dominated the political environment. Following the 2008 election, the onset of the Great Recession removed all doubt that the treaty would not receive a full Senate vote during President Bush’s lame-duck period. Once again, Senate rules pushed the treaty back to the SFRC.

The Obama Administration

For the majority of President Obama’s first term, the UNCLOS debate had been shelved. Wars in the Middle East, Obama’s healthcare policy ambitions, and a prolonged economic recession had occupied most of the legislative agenda. The administration first pushed for ratification after the 2010 midterm elections, but to no success in the SFRC.⁵² It would continue to languish until May 23, 2012, when the SFRC convened a new hearing involving prominent names in international diplomacy and national security. This time, the committee would hold four total hearings. There to testify in support were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert Papp, as well as top executives from the API, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the Seafarers International Union, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense Fund, the National Resources Defense Council, Lockheed Martin, Verizon Communications, and Exxon Mobil.⁵³

However, not everyone was as eager to join UNCLOS. Two days before the second hearing, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed from former Secretary of Defense and UNCLOS negotiator Donald Rumsfeld. He opened the piece with an anecdote from his meeting with Margaret Thatcher in 1982 on how UNCLOS threatened the sovereignty of both nations on the high seas. He also acknowledged the broad coalition of treaty proponents, and boldly rejected their perspectives.⁵⁴ Rumsfeld’s justifications for remaining a non-adherent to the treaty echoed past sentiments from other Republicans. He characterized the controversial ISA as “Orwellian shorthand” and believed that participating in the body “would constitute massive global welfare, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.”⁵⁵

Rumsfeld’s warnings helped create a groundswell of Republican opposition amid the SFRC hearings. In July, after the committee hearings adjourned, the Heritage Foundation reported that thirty-one senators had signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid stating their opposition to what they refer to the treaty as “LOST.”⁵⁶ Just days later, Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), a past critic of UNCLOS and former foreign relations committee member in2007, confirmed he would vote nay if the treaty reached the Senate floor. Finally on July 16, Republicans gained the two additional senators needed to sink the treaty’s ratification. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), both members of the same Armed Services Committee that had supported UNCLOS ratification during the Bush administration, submitted a letter to the majority leader voicing their opposition, bringing the total number of Senators in opposition to 34.⁵⁷ This preempted any potential vote within the SFRC. Of the thirty-four senators who rejected the treaty, thirteen had been in the Senate for less than a year, most of whom were self-avowed Tea Party candidates.⁵⁸ Both Ayotte and Portman were reported to have been targeted by the Heritage Foundation in a lobbying effort to abandon the treaty as well.⁵⁹ Opposition to joining UNCLOS had become more established within the Republican Party than ever before due to the increased lobbying efforts.

In the joint letter to Reid, the thirty-one signatories cited the subjugation of U.S. maritime freedoms “to a supranational government that is chartered by the United Nations.”⁶⁰ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) explained that the Convention “would redistribute U.S. oil and gas royalties to developing nations, including corrupt regimes and state sponsors of terrorism,” even though major oil and gas companies themselves had accepted the alterations to the royalty system within the ISA.⁶¹ Rebuttals from Secretary of State Clinton and SFRC Chairman Kerry ultimately fell upon deaf ears, and the treaty was scuttled for the remainder of the Obama presidency.

Current Implications

Although the Senate failed to ratify UNCLOS during President Obama’s second term, the treaty returned to the U.S. political mainstream after China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) made significant territorial claims in the South China Sea. Resigned to the fact that the Senate lacked the votes to ratify the treaty, President Obama continued to speak out against unyielding Senate Republicans while tensions in the South China Sea roiled on. In June of 2014, while speaking at a West Point graduation ceremony, Obama claimed, “It’s a lot harder to call on China to resolve its maritime disputes under the Law of the Sea Convention when the United States Senate has refused to ratify it.”⁶² Two years later in the summer of 2016, just weeks before the international tribunal in The Hague ruled against China in its territorial dispute against the Philippines, Obama criticized the Senate for refusing to accept the treaty, arguing that the United States could not effectively respond to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea without being party to the multilateral framework.⁶³ Heritage Foundation researchers called his statements “completely ridiculous” and claimed that “China is going to disregard any negative outcome from the arbitration whether or not the U.S. is party to the treaty or not.”⁶⁴

While the domestic political debate over U.S. accession to UNCLOS remains unresolved, the limits of the treaty’s enforcing power continue to be tested by maritime stakeholders across the globe. Seven nations bordering the South China Sea have predicated their territorial claims in the region on UNCLOS customs. In the Arctic, Russia has staked out vast claims to the Arctic seabed, overlapping with Canadian and Danish claims to the Extended Continental Shelf. Without being party to UNCLOS, the United States has been unable to participate in such dispute settlement bodies that can protect collective security and economic interests. Even though the United States remains the most proactive security partner to several claimants in these regions, it has simply been a mere observer to UNCLOS proceedings.

The main obstacle to UNCLOS ratification remains Senate Republicans’ philosophical aversion to multilateral institutions. In 2019 and 2021, representatives from the U.S. Subcommittees on Seapower in the House and Senate introduced resolutions calling for the Senate to ratify UNCLOS.⁶⁵ However, neither action has prompted the SFRC to review the treaty again. The outcome of the 2012 SFRC hearing illustrated a highly organized Republican opposition to the treaty. Such dynamics persist in the Senate today, in which a ratification proposal to the Senate floor would be considered dead on arrival. Thus, champions of American independence from multilateral bodies like UNCLOS have proven to be a powerful minority.


[1] Reagan, Ronald. Statement on United States Actions Concerning the Conference on the Law of the Sea. Simi Valley, CA: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (July 9, 1982).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Caron, David D. “Reconciling Domestic Principles and International Cooperation” in Law of the Sea: U.S. Policy Dilemma. San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1983. 5

[4] Edwin Meese III, “Law of the Sea Treaty No Better Today Than During Reagan Years,” The Heritage Foundation, June 7, 2012.

[5] Caron, Reconciling Domestic Principles, 12.

[6] Ibid. 34

[7] Donald Rumsfeld, “Why the U.N. Shouldn’t Own the Seas,” Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2012.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ratner, Leigh. “Costs of American Rigidity,” in Law of the Sea: U.S. Policy Dilemma. San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1983. 41

[10] Ravikumar, Shruti. “Adrift at Sea: US Interests and the Law of the Sea.” Harvard International Review (2000). 40

[11] Ratner, Costs of American Rigidity, 35

[12] Ratner, Costs of American Rigidity, 34

[13] Reagan, Ronald. Statement on United States Ocean Policy. Simi Valley, CA: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (March 10, 1983).

[14] Ibid.

[15] U.S. President. “Proclamation 5928 of December 27, 1988, Territorial Sea of the United States of America,” 103 Stat. 2981, (December 27, 1988).

[16] United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, With Annexes, and the Agreeement Relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, With Annex: Message from the President of the United States Transmitting United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. U.S. Senate, 103rd Cong. (July 29, 1994)., VII

[17] Ibid. VII

[18] Ibid. VIII

[19] Ibid. XI

[20] Duff, John A. “The United States and the Law of the Sea Convention: Sliding Back From Accession and Ratification,” Ocean & Coastal Law Journal 11, no. 1 (2005). 9-10

[21] Pell, Claiborne. “Introduction: Law of the Sea,” San Diego Law Review (1981). 388

[22] Ibid. 390

[23] Berke, Richard L. “The 1994 Elections: The Overview; GOP Wins Control of Senate and Makes Big Gains in House; Pataki Denies Cuomo 4th Term,” New York Times.November 9, 1994.

[24] Helms, Jesse. “Saving the U.N.: A Challenge to the Next Secretary-General” Foreign Affairs, September 1996.

[25] U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Background and Policy Issues, by Luisa Blanchfield, R40484. December 6, 2010. 6

[26] U.S. President. “Proclamation 7219 – Contiguous Zone of the United States.” Washington, DC: GPO, (September 2, 1999).

[27] Shenon, Philip. “U.S. Doubles Offshore Zone Under Its Law,” The New York Times. September 3, 1999.

[28] The Lugar Center. “About Senator Richard Lugar,”

[29] U.S Ocean Action Plan, U.S. Department of State, December 17, 2004. Press Statement.

[30] U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearing on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. 108th Cong, October 14, 2003.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearing on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. October 14, 2003. 4

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid. 3

[37] U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearing on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. October 21, 2003., 3

[38] Ibid. 3

[39] U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations, Hearing on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. October 14, 2003., 2

[40] U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: Report (to Accompany Treaty Doc. 103-39). 108th Cong. 2nd Sess. March 11, 2004. Exec. Rpt. 108-10.

[41] Lugar, Richard G., “The Law of the Sea Convention: The Case for Senate Action,” Brookings Institute. May 4, 2004.

[42] Bush, George. President’s Statement on Advancing U.S. Interests in the World’s Oceans. White House Archives, May 15, 2007.

[43] Goodlander, Maggie. “Is the United States Ready to Approve the Law of the Sea Treaty?” Council on Foreign Relations, July 19, 2007.

[44] U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Hearing on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. 2

[45] Ibid

[46] Borgerson, Scott G., “The National Interest and the Law of the Sea,” Council on Foreign Relations, Report no. 46, May 2009. 12

[47] U.S. Congress. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea: Report (to Accompany Treaty Doc. 103-39). 110th Cong. 1st Sess. December 19, 2007. Exec. Rpt. 110-9., 10

[48] Ibid. 24

[49] “Law of Sea Treaty draws GOP focus,” The Washington Times, October 26, 2007.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Borgerson. “The National Interest and the Law of the Sea.” 13

[52] Bonner, Patrick J. “Neo-Isolationists Scuttle UNCLOS.” The SAIS Review of International Affairs 33, no. 2 (2013). 136

[53] Ibid. 136

[54] Rumsfeld, Donald. “Why the U.N. Shouldn’t Own the Seas” Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2012.

[55] Heritage Action for America. “Senators Oppose LOST in Letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid,”

[56] Ibid.

[57] Austin Wright, “Law of the Sea treaty sinks in Senate,” Politico, July 16, 2012.

[58] Bonner, “Neo-Isolationists Scuttle UNCLOS” 137

[59] Ibid.

[60] Bonner, “Neo-Isolationists Scuttle UNCLOS” 141

[61] Heritage Action for America. “Kudos: Mitch McConnell Opposes LOST,” July 10, 2012.

[62] Stearns, Scott. “Obama Pushes Law of the Sea to Help Settle S. China Sea Claims,” Voice of America, June 2, 2014.

[63] Gallo, William. “Why Hasn’t the US Signed the Law of the Sea Treaty?” Voice of America. June 6, 2016.,from%20U.S.%20President%20Barack%20Obama.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Office of Mazie K. Hirono. “Senators Hirono, Murkowski, Kaine Introduce Resolution Calling on the Senate to Ratify UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.” Press Release, May 18, 2021.,%2C%20labor%2C%20and%20industry%20organizations.

By John Kraus

John Kraus is a Research Associate at the Institute for Defense Analyses. He earned his Master of Arts from SAIS in 2022 and was previously a commercial fishing deckhand for five years.