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

March 1, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) along with Congressman Don Young (AK-R) introduced H. Res. 631, a resolution urging the Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty. The resolution follows statements made last week by two U.S. combatant commanders before the House Armed Services Committee expressing their support for ratification.

“My resolution is calling on the Senate to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty once and for all,” said Courtney. “As our country continues to challenge excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea, or jockey for standing in the increasingly competitive Arctic region, we risk being left on the sidelines during these important negotiations unless we are a party to this agreement. The UNCLOS treaty has long been supported by presidents and leaders from both parties, and while 166 countries and the European Union have already ratified it, the U.S. is part of a small group of nations including North Korea, Iran, Syria, Libya, and Venezuela that have not done so. Our military leaders need this treaty ratified in order to maintain free and open access to waterways across the globe, as Admiral Harris and General Breedlove said just like week during two different House Armed Service Committee hearings. I want to thank Congressman Young for joining me as a lead cosponsor of this critical effort.”

Courtney delivered a speech on the House floor this morning advocating for the ratification of UNCLOS:

Click here to watch the full floor speech from this morning

Courtney, the ranking member of the House Seapower Subcommittee, first called for ratification of UNCLOS in a September 2015 op-ed published in Roll Call. Citing the ongoing challenge of addressing China’s excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea, as well as ongoing efforts by Russia to make claims in the Artic, Courtney argued that the United States was damaging its own economic and security interests by joining the convention.

Additional Background:

During a full House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, February 23, Rep. Courtney had the chance to ask Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., USN Commander United States Pacific Command, about the need for ratification of UNCLOS:



Thank you, Mr. Chairman, thank you to both witnesses for your leadership in your testimony this morning. Admiral, on page 5 of your testimony you pretty much laid out what is sort of the guidepost for the sovereignty claims issues which we discussed this morning with the island building and basically it says we encourage all countries to uphold international laws reflected in the law of the sea convention.

Should the United States ratify UNCLOS, the law of the sea treaty?


Thanks sir for the question. Before I answer I want to say just that I spend a lot of time talking to proponents and opponents of UNCLOS in the last three or four months and I appreciate the time I've spent with those experts and I understand their arguments and understand those arguments for those folks who are opposed to UNCLOS but I am a proponent of it and I think in the in the 21st century our moral standing is affected by the fact that were not a (inaudible) UNCLOS.

I think there are some economic disadvantages as well. We can get into a discussion about the Russian stuff and the Arctic and how they are using UNCLOS to their advantage and we're unable too because we've not a signatory to it. So you know I would tell members of this committee and anyone else that for me personally, my opinion is the United States should cede (ph) to UNCLOS.


Thank you, and again when we discussed this at PACOM earlier, or last fall, that was before the Hague convention ruled against the United States requests to be part of the -- just as an observer in the Philippines claim on the Spratly Islands which Mr. Wittman referred to earlier. I mean it's kind of unbelievable, what we're allowing sort of litigation to proceed that the consequences, in terms of military strategy and resources of this country in Asia- Pacific, could hinge on the outcome of that claim and we're completely shut out because of a unforced error, I mean we've done this to ourselves and so thank you for your frankness this morning.

Myself and Congressman Don Young are going to introduce a bipartisan resolution in the house, again citing the events in the South China Sea as why we really need to take a fresh look at the law of the sea treaty and as a nation we need to move forward and I get in the game in terms of these critical issues because it is gonna determine the course of Maritime policy and military policy and budgets for decades to come.

On Wednesday, February 24 during a full House Armed Services Committee hearing Rep. Courtney had the chance to ask General Philip M. Breedlove, USAF Commander United States European Command, about UNCLOS treaty:



Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you General for your leadership and your thoughtful testimony hear today. On page four of your written testimony you advocate that the U.S. should join the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea Treaty UNCLOS.

I find that kind of striking because yesterday your colleague Admiral Harris who is dealing with a totally different part of the globe and totally different set of issues in terms of maritime world contest, made precisely the same recommendation. And I was wondering if you could sort of describe what you think the benefits would be if we took your advice and ratified UNCLOS and what are the hindrances that you're dealing with today by not being part of the convention.


Sir, thank you for the question. I think our uniformed military has been pretty consistent over time in the support of the UNCLOS.

If I could just do a vignette for you of the Arctic. We are facing a very challenging situation in the Arctic. The Arctic -- I think, should be a opportunity. As the ice flow pattern changes, the maritime trade route in the Arctic shortens by over 30 days -- I'm told -- transit to the far east. That should be an opportunity.

Many of our NATO allies -- Canada and the U.S. are concerned about what we see as the militarization of the Arctic now by Russia. What we would see in the Crimea situation, and the Duma situation -- currently in Syria is that Russia has a pattern of putting military force in the field to set the conditions to negotiate from a position of power.

And so what we see now in the Arctic is Russia establishing a military capability in capacity to influence that new passage in the North. And being part of the UNCLOS would allow us to be at the table in the diplomatic informational and economic arenas to address that.

Last week I think sir, you saw that Russia changed its claim in the North Pole area. It didn't affect U.S. claims but it affected three of our other allies and partners claims. And these are the kind of things that will severed in the framework of the UNCLOS.


Thank you.

Again, I think learned again the harm recently when the Hague Convention denied the U.S. request to intervene on the Philippine claims in the South China Sea. Again, a trend that I think really mirrors what you're talking about. Militarizing a part of the Pacific and our inability to even be at the table when these issues are being resolved -- that we'll have a direct impact in terms of military strategy and resources in the future is the ultimate unforced error.