The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, was signed in 1958, and the laws from UNCLOS that are in effect today were signed in 1994. UNCLOS consists of 167 countries, including the states that make up the European Union. The reason that it was signed was to determine ocean borders and the management of maritime resources. In essence, UNCLOS sets the borders of coastal countries that extend into the ocean, 12 nautical miles being the country’s official territory, 200 nautical miles being an economic zone for trade with other countries, and anything beyond that being the high seas, where no laws stand.
Both the 12 and 200 mile zones allow countries to deep sea mine within those borders. To compensate landlocked countries that do not have access to these waters, coastal countries must give them access to the sea, and pay them a tribute in the form of pure capital. Finally, a ruling authority within UNCLOS, the International Seabed Authority, or the ISA, gives grants to countries that want to deep sea mine in areas of the high seas, beyond their 200 mile economic zone. The three clauses: borders, compensation, and authority, are essentially what make up UNCLOS.
In the status quo, the US is not a part of UNCLOS as Ronald Reagan declined to join the original UNCLOS. Not signing would appear to leave the US in a state of chaos and without maritime boundaries of any kind. Instead of UNCLOS, the US issued the Ocean Policy Statement at the same time UNCLOS was put into play. The Ocean Policy Statement acedes to UNCLOS in every sense, except for the existence of the ISA, which again, is the governing body that grants countries access to deep sea mining.
One might ask, if the US agrees to UNCLOS in every aspect except for the ISA, why not join? However, a closer look is needed as to why Ronald Reagan declined to join UNCLOS because of the ISA, and how that impacts the US in the modern day.
Ronald Reagan declined to join UNCLOS because of the existence of ISA. Although the ISA does grant deep sea mining grants to countries, countries that receive the grant must pay an accumulating tax to the ISA which is taken and redistributed to third-world, developing countries. At first glance, that may sound like a good deed; however, the tax that is redistributed is not in the form of the rare earth minerals that are mined, but is in the form of pure capital, which means that the country can use the money in any way that they desire. This is precisely what Reagan was afraid of: that the money would go into funding drugs, corruption, or even terrorism.
In addition, a tax would also be imposed on the technology that the country that receives that grant uses to mine the deep sea minerals, meaning the ISA would send that technology to third world countries. Again, although this may seem good, the definition of deep sea mining related technology is a vague concept, and can be interpreted quite loosely. Reagan was afraid that a military submarine or something similar would be classified under that definition and be given to third world countries, which they then could use against the United States, or for terrorism, or maintaining a dictatorship, as this was signed in the 1950s.
There are also many negative effects of UNCLOS on the world today in particular that add to the building reasons of why the US should not join. Because the ISA gives grants to deep sea mining in areas outside of a country’s 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, UNCLOS is the only barrier to US Arctic drilling and US mass deep sea mining. Both actions would cause a severe dent in climate change and cause it to accelerate at a much faster rate than is now.
In the Arctic alone, there is an estimated 1.5 trillion tons of carbon and a carbon release of that scale would cause the earth to instantly become uninhabitable due to the soaring average temperature. Adding on to that, disastrous amounts of methane would be released if the US began to deep sea mine in areas outside of their EEZ, and over the span of 20 years, methane is 84 times as potent of a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.
These cataclysmic effects on climate change as well as the potentially disastrous funding of terrorism and other illicit activities are the main reasons that the US should not join UNCLOS.
Paul Kang, Grade 9
La Canada High School