LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Not ratifying LOST undermines credibility

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The heat is being turned up to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOST) (“No time to get LOST,” Commentary, Tuesday). It is apparent to members of both political parties, academia, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the media, the Pentagon and many others that it’s the right thing to do.

In his opinion column, Ed Feulner states that the treaty isn’t needed, that we have unfettered access to areas beyond our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). His justification: “Congress has enacted laws establishing America’s maritime boundaries [and] no one has challenged them.” Unfortunately, he has confused what lies within our boundaries with that vast expanse beyond.

Mr. Feulner asserts that the nations that have joined LOST “cannot prevent the United States or any other nation from mining the seabed any more than they can prevent the U.S. from exercising freedom of navigation and overflight, the freedom of fishing, or any other high seas freedom.” Theoretically this is true, but it misses the point. The failure to ratify is tying our hands. Without a seat at the table, we are “unfathomably” depriving ourselves of that rightful place of leadership that allows us to shape the evolving body of international law. Vice Adm. James W. Houck, a recent Navy judge advocate general, points to the evolutionary nature of international law, suggesting nations are far less inclined to accept the status quo and predicting that coastal states will seek greater control of territorial seas and EEZs. For Adm. Houck, “the anti-LOST argument is based on the unexamined assumption that the law of the sea, as enjoyed today, will never change.”

Mr. Feulner maintains we’re in good company, that such leading maritime nations as Colombia, Israel, Peru and Turkey also have not ratified the treaty. He fails to note that Iran, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela also have failed to ratify and that our NATO allies and all member states of the Arctic Council have ratified the treaty. The law of the sea will change, and the treaty would guarantee continued ability to influence this body of international law. Our refusal to ratify undermines our credibility.


Captain, U.S. Coast Guard

Military fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

New York

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