Six four-star military officials Thursday warned senators that, if they do not ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, the U.S. would have to rely on military might alone to project power and could lose access to energy resources in the extended U.S. continental sea shelves.
“Competing claims in the maritime domain by some coastal states are becoming more numerous and contentious. Some of these claims, if left unchallenged, would put us at risk our operational rights and freedoms in key areas of the Asia-Pacific,” Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Ratifying the treaty would give U.S. officials more credibility with other treaty members when resolving maritime disputes and conducting everyday naval operations, the military leaders said.
“We have young lieutenants that are commanding patrol boats … and they need the clarity and the continuity and the predictability this convention provides in terms of making determinations on a daily basis on jurisdictional issues and other things,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp.
So far, 162 countries have signed and ratified the treaty.
The U.S. has signed but not ratified the pact. Some senators fear it would yield U.S. sovereignty to international law, impose environmental pollution fees, and burden U.S. companies with royalties for energy usage. They also note that some treaty members, like China, do not abide by its rules.
“This thing hasn’t helped one bit to resolve the tensions, the disputes … that are going on in the South China Sea,” said Sen. Jim Risch, Idaho Republican.
But the military officials said the treaty would help in resolving future disputes by adding another “tool in their toolbag” to protect national maritime interests.
“We do not want to wait until this becomes a crisis for us,” said Navy Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“We have to look forward, not in the rear-view mirror,” said Adm. Locklear.