Dempsey Urges Ratification of Law of the Sea Convention
By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, May 9, 2012 - Ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention is the right thing to do for American national security, the U.S. military's highest-ranking officer said here today.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Pew Charitable Trusts gathering on the treaty that he joins each chairman since the document was signed in 1994 to urge the Senate to ratify it.
Republican and Democratic administrations have both urged approval. And, Dempsey maintains, the treaty is good for American military rights.
"It codifies navigational rights and freedoms essential for our global mobility," he said. "It helps sustain our combat forces in the field."
The treaty also guarantees the right of innocent passage through foreign territorial seas, the right of transit passage through international straits and the right to exercise high seas freedoms in foreign exclusive economic zones all without permission or prior notice.
In addition, the treaty also affirms the sovereign immunity of U.S. warships and other public vessels. "And it gives us the framework to counter excessive claims by states seeking to illegally restrict movement of vessels and aircraft," Dempsey said. "These are all rights and capabilities that we want and that we need. In fact, they are of our own making. We negotiated them into the convention to advance our national security interests."
The United States could, of course, not ratify the treaty and depend on the same strategy an infant republic used more than 200 years ago, the chairman said. "At that time, we commissioned the Navy's first ships to safeguard our seaborne merchants against the Barbary pirates," he said.
The force of arms should not be America's only national security instrument, the chairman said, and the Law of the Sea Convention provides an additional way to navigate an increasingly complex international security environment.
"Ratification now represents an unprecedented opportunity," the chairman said. "The convention offers an opportunity to exercise global security leadership."
More than 160 nations are now a party to the convention. "Even so, the world looks to us for leadership," he said. "We have the world's largest and most capable navy, largest economy, and the largest exclusive economic zone. We will become the leader within the convention as soon as we enter it. And that's never been more important."
Dempsey said that on, over and under the oceans, nations are making competing claims or posturing themselves to restrict the movement of others, and these actions affect the United States, its allies and friends.
"As a party to the convention, we can help resolve conflicts, strengthen alliances and foster innovative partnerships," he said. "We have never been better poised or more welcomed to lead a global security order benefiting all peaceful nations."
The convention secures legitimate global freedom of access for the U.S. armed forces, Dempsey told the audience. "Today, we rely on customary international law and assert it through physical presence warships and aircraft transiting and challenging illegal restrictions," he said. "Some say this alone is sufficient."
But this works against U.S. rights in that nations will continue to try and bend customary law to restrict movement on the ocean, he said, and it puts U.S. ships, subs, aircraft and personnel at risk to continually challenge these claims.
"We are strong enough for this role. We can and will continue to defend our interests, and we'll do that with force when necessary," Dempsey said. "But we can also be smart. We can leverage law to mitigate the need for physical assertion. Under the Law of the Sea Convention, we can be both strong and smart."
Ratifying the convention also strengthens the U.S. position in Asia, the chairman said.
Finally, Dempsey said, joining the Law of the Sea Convention will strengthen America's strategic position in Asia. "The Western Pacific is a mosaic of competing claims for territory and resources," the chairman said. "This is a critical region where, as a Pacific nation, our security and economic prosperity are inextricably linked."
The United States wants to mitigate any conflict in the Pacific, Dempsey said. "The convention gives us another tool to effectively resolve conflicts at every level," he added. "It provides a common language, and therefore a better opportunity, to settle disputes with cooperation instead of cannon fire."
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey