The Law of the Sea: A Crossroads for American Foreign Policy

On April 30, the United States was the only Western industrialized country to vote against the final treaty adopted in New York by the Third United Nations Law of the Sea Conference. Venezuela, Turkey and Israel also voted no. The U.S.S.R. and most Soviet bloc countries abstained, as did a few highly industrialized Western nations. Most of the West, including France and Japan, joined the Third World and voted yes. Altogether, 130 nations voted to adopt the treaty and open it for signature.

The final treaty falls short of the goals sought by the Reagan Administration. It establishes a mixed economic system for the regulation and production of deep seabed minerals and, as a matter of principle, the Reagan Administration could not, consistent with its free enterprise philosophy, have done otherwise when the time came to vote.

Unfortunately, our strong and uncompromising defense of principle may have cost us a golden opportunity to convert the treaty into a better vehicle for commercial operators.

But that loss could be minor when compared with the prospect that the United States might now decide to exclude itself from a new global regulatory organization which may-sooner rather than later-count among its members all of our allies, the Third World and the socialist bloc. This new institution will safeguard the mining claims of our industrial competitors and reject rights claimed by American flag companies.

Moreover, if the United States stays out of the sea law treaty, and most major nations join it, we risk conflict over American assertions that we are entitled, without participating in the treaty, to rights embodied in the treaty related to navigational freedoms, exclusive economic zones, jurisdiction over our continental shelf, fisheries, pollution control and the conduct of marine scientific research.

Should all this come to pass-and it seems likely it will-we will suffer a significant, long-term foreign policy setback with grave implications for U.S. influence in global economic and political affairs.


The Law of the Sea Treaty has

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