Action Area 1:
Support ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In May 2010, the CNO stated that the need for U.S. formal participation in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) becomes more pressing as ice continues to melt in the Arctic.5 Other U.S. naval leaders have expressed similar views.6 The geopolitical situation in the Arctic region has become complex and nuanced, despite the area being essentially ignored since the end of the Cold War. The Arctic Council, a governmental forum of the five Arctic nations (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States) plus Iceland, Sweden, and Finland, offers a diplomatic vehicle for addressing contemporary Arctic issues. However, maritime boundary disputes abound. For example, Canada and the United States, and Canada and Denmark have unresolved territorial sea and exclusive economic zone disputes in the Arctic. Norway and Russia disagree over offshore areas around Svalbard. The status of the Northwest Passage through the Canadian archipelago—internal Canadian waters or an international


The committee studied the implications of the failure of the United States to ratify the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) from the standpoint of potential impacts on national security due to climate change. In this regard, the committee’s perspectives are in line with those of Department of Defense (DOD) leadership, including the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard regarding ratification of UNCLOS. For example, the 2010 DOD Quadrennial Defense Review provides endorsement for U.S. ratification of UNCLOS in its discussion of climate and energy (see Quadrennial Defense Review, February 2010, p. 86 [p. 108 of the PDF file], available at The committee realizes that the U.S. ratification of UNCLOS involves a number of nonmilitary issues. For additional reading, see Ronald O’Rourke, 2010, Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress, March 30, Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C., pp. 6-7; and National Intelligence Council, 1996, Law of the Sea, The End Game, Intelligence Community Assessment, March. Available at A previous National Research Council committee, also operating under the auspices of the Naval Studies Board, examined UNCLOS and the international legal framework in the context of maritime security partnerships. See National Research Council, 2008, Maritime Security Partnerships, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.


For example, in a May 2010 speech at the National Press Club, ADM Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, strongly endorsed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as “the vehicle by which we can collectively provide continuing stability in the maritime domain” (see Inside Defense, 2010. “Roughead Goes to Bat for Ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty,” May 24). ADM Thad Allen, former Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, has also issued public statements supporting ratification of UNCLOS: in 2009, he provided testimony on UNCLOS to the United States Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security (see, and Also, ADM James G. Stavridis, USN, Commander of the United States European Command, and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, stated in a February 2010 meeting with the committee that the United States should ratify UNCLOS.

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