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Chairman Courtney Re-Introduces Bipartisan Resolution Urging the Senate to Ratify United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Treaty

April 29, 2021
Press Release

NORWICH, CT—Today, Congressman Courtney, Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, was joined by Representatives Don Young (R-AK), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Rick Larsen (D-WA), and John Garamendi (D-CA) in reintroducing a resolution calling on the Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) treaty. Currently, the United States is one of only a handful of nations that have yet to ratify the UNCLOS treaty—a failure that is regularly used to rebut American attempts to support our allies and ensure that maritime nations adhere to the rule of law.

“China and Russia haven’t stopped pushing the boundaries of their maritime claims, and the U.S. Senate has a chance to put more weight behind America’s response by ratifying the UNCLOS treaty,” said Chairman Courtney. “Being one of just a few nations who haven’t ratified UNCLOS means that the U.S. is unable to meaningfully participate in Law of the Sea discussions and rulings—not having signed off on the treaty undermines the credibility of our military and diplomatic services. We’ve already seen the consequences of Russia’s willingness to disregard the terms of UNCLOS. After illegally seizing Ukrainian ships and sailors in the Kerch Strait in 2018, Russia refused for months to comply with a UN tribunal that ruled Russia must release the seized soldiers. Only when Russia saw an opening to exchange the illegally jailed Ukrainian sailors for a witness in the Malaysian Airlines MH17 investigation did they finally comply with international law.”

“On the other side of the world, in the Indo-Pacific, China continues to protest the U.S. Navy’s legitimate freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, and to encroach on territorial waters of American allies around the globe,” Courtney continued. “Our U.S. Navy won’t stop doing all they can to respond to these challenges, but the Senate must do its part to formalize our nation’s perspective on maritime policy. With the increasing openness of the Arctic region for economic and military expansion, and continued troubling action in the Indo-Pacific, we can’t waste any more time. We’ve got ensure the U.S. can approach any future discussions from a legitimate position based firmly in our ratification of the Law of the Sea.”  

“As vessel traffic and the growing presence of foreign interests continue to increase in the Arctic, it is more important than ever to work with our allies to help guarantee freedom of navigation in the region,” said Congressman Young. “Ratifying treaties is one of the U.S. Senate’s most important Constitutional roles, and I urge them to take up and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) treaty. Ratification of the UNCLOS treaty will help ensure America’s role as a leading advocate for protecting the freedom of vessels to navigate Arctic waters and solidify our place in discussions focused on the future development of the Arctic.”

Today, in a hearing held jointly by Courtney’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, and by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and Nonproliferation, Courtney spoke with Admiral Scott Swift (USN, Ret.) about the pressing need to ratify UNCLOS. “Speaking frankly, [the competition with China] is not going well,” said Admiral Swift. “It’s on that basis that I suggest that now is an appropriate time to revisit the ratification. I recognize the points that others make about the downsides of ratification, but I think they’ve been diminished even further with a result of the current competition. As you mentioned, there’s 168 parties that have signed onto the convention. Being on the outside—it isolates us from our allies, partners, and friends. […] Where it aligns us is with those that are self-isolated themselves—the likes of Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela—while those on the inside, like Russia and China, have free reign to define the rules-based order within UNCLOS as they wish, and as you pointed, we’re excluded when an issue comes before the tribunal.” To watch the full exchange, click here.

Rep. Courtney was reappointed as Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee on February 3, 2021. After first being appointed in January 2019, Courtney sat down with the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Kesling to talk more about the need to ratify the UNCLOS treaty: Cold War Games: U.S. Is Preparing to Test the Waters in Icy Arctic.

Courtney has publicly advocated for the ratification of the treaty since 2015, when he penned an op-ed published in Roll Call.