Obama presses Congress to ratify UN treaty on sea

Thirty years after it was signed, President Barack Obama is leading moves in the US to resurrect ratification of UN Treaty on Law of the Sea.

Last Updated: May 24, 2012, 15:59 PM IST

Washington: Thirty years after it was signed, President Barack Obama is leading moves in the US to resurrect ratification of the UN Treaty on Law of the Sea, citing that it was vital to protect American military interests in the face of emerging powers like India and China.

Obama deputed two of his top Cabinet members and senior most commander to the Capitol Hill to convince lawmakers to ratify the UN treaty, arguing that with the emerging powers like India and China increasingly looking towards the sea for its resources and navigational rights, the treaty may be vital to US economic and military interests.

The US Senate has never ratified the treaty despite the support of both republic and democrat presidents as the country`s powerful oil and gas lobby is against the concept of the law, which allows the countries to exploit the continental shelf, in some cases extending more than 200 miles from the shore.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey led the campaign to convince the Congress that the ratification of the treaty was pivotal for US to deal with disputes like the one raging in South China Sea.

Dempsey, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told a Congressional hearing that by refusing to ratify the treaty, the US could fail to exploit untapped oil and gas buried beneath the off shore sea bed.

Hillary argued that Washington will lose out to Russia, Norway and other countries in staking claims to the Arctic sea, where melting ice is opening up untold mineral riches.

She also said that the failure on the bill would amount to US losing credibility in reining in China`s maritime ambitions in South China Sea.

"As the Arctic warms and frees up shipping routes it is more important that we put our navigational rights on a treaty footing and have a larger voice in the interpretation and development of the rules. Because it won`t just be the five Arctic nations. You will see China, India, Brazil, you name it, all vying for navigational rights and routes through the Arctic," Hillary said.

Panetta and Dempsey told the lawmakers that the treaty would reduce the threat of conflict in hot spots like the South China Sea and the Straits of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to shut down in retaliation for oil sanctions.

The treaty signed in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 1982 has already been ratified by 162 nations and the European Union and codifies the rules for the use of oceans and maritime resources.

"If we were here 20 years ago we would have all been predicting that growing world population, the rise of regional powers like China and India, would place extraordinarily challenging demands for resources and that that could become destabilizing. And here we are 20 years later, and it`s playing out," Gen Dempsey said.

"So the reason I`m supportive of the Convention on Law of the Sea is that it provides clarity on the definition of maritime zones, it provides clarity on navigational rights. And from that clarity comes stability. And as we now begin to rebalance our security interests into the Pacific this becomes very important," he said.

"The rise of new nations competing for resources - Brazil, Russia, India, China - and the list goes on and on - their rise puts us in a position where unless we have this convention with which to form a basis to have the conversation about resources of the sort you`re talking about, does cause us to be increasingly at risk to instability," Dempsey said.

PTI