This Day in International Law – March 10

Photo Credit: Daniel Go

By: Maximilian Oehl

On March 10, 1983 then US-President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that the United States would not be signing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which opened for signature in December 1982. In his Proclamation, Reagan justified his decision by pointing to the US’s discontentment with the Convention’s seabed mining regime enshrined in Part XI of the UNCLOS. He deemed the regime to be unfavourable to US interests, as it was not entirely based on free-market principles, in that it provided for technology transfer obligations benefitting developing countries and conferred considerable powers regarding the allocation of resource rights upon a central international agency, the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

 

The US and other industrialized nations continued their opposition to Part XI beyond March 1983, and were successful in advocating for a renegotiation of the respective provisions of the UNCLOS. In July 1994, the US eventually joined several other states in signing an international agreement on the implementation of Part XI, which diminished the powers of the ISA and based Seabed mining on market-principles consistent with WTO rules. Despite these developments, and the UNCLOS being one of the most universal international treaties with 168 contracting parties, the US has still not ratified the UNCLOS. However, the US largely recognizes the Convention as customary international law.