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U.S. Department of State
95/09/16 Address: Amb. Colson on the Law of the Sea
Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental & Scientific Affairs
THE LAW OF THE SEA: AVENUE TO COOPERATION
Ambassador David A. Colson
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans
U.S. Department of State
Presented to the
Maritime Law Association of the Philippines
September 19, 1995
I would like to thank the Maritime Law Association for inviting me here
this evening to speak to you on the Law of the Sea, a topic we in the
United States Government view with great importance. I have titled my
remarks "The Law of the Sea: Avenue to Cooperation" because I believe
the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as now amended
provides the foundation and the opportunity for closer cooperation
between and among all countries on matters pertaining to ocean use.
Today, even as we speak, people throughout the world are closer to each
other, and more knowledgeable about each other's activities, than ever
before. Even though Washington D.C. and Manila geographically may be
separated by thousands of miles, and even though there is a 12 hour time
difference, one can know what is going on in our respective capital
cities virtually as events are happening. CNN cable news epitomizes the
ability to have instantaneous coverage of breaking events worldwide.
Knowledge of a few basic keystrokes on a computer can open the world to
people everywhere. The wonders of Internet make available to all of us
information of all sorts. For example, if anyone on August 23 of this
year accessed on Internet the U.S. Federal Register, which is the
official U.S. publication for U.S. laws, regulations, and announcements,
he or she would have viewed a State Department notice providing five
pages of geographic coordinates defining the U.S. exclusive economic
Not only have communication advances brought us closer, but commercially
the world is linked more tightly than it was just a few decades ago.
International trade, often conducted through multi-national
corporations, has decreased the "distance factor" between countries.
International trade, for the most part, particularly for countries like
the Philippines and the United States, is achieved through ocean going
commerce. Approximately 95% of U.S. imports and exports by bulk occur
via shipping. And, it is my understanding that most of the Philippines
international trade also relies upon ocean shipping.
The oceans more and more bring us together -- not separate us. And as
our dependence on international commerce increases, their role as a
marine highway only increases. Ocean navigation today affects in the
deepest sense the economic well being and national security of virtually
every country: super tankers; fishing vessels; commercial merchant
ships; warships. We need them all, and they need to use the oceans
under the rules set out in international law.
As the world's dependence on this traditional use of the seas has
increased, technology has made it possible to reach out to deeper waters
for the oceans resources.
Accompanying these changes -- and in part as a result of them --
coastal States began to assert control over new activities further off
their shores and to assert controls over international shipping in their
waters. These national claims were often inconsistent and excessive.
The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea had three key
objectives designed to address these issues: (1) to maintain high seas
freedoms of navigation and overflight; (2) to give the coastal State a
certain amount of jurisdictional control over its offshore area; and,
(3) to protect the marine environment while providing a stable legal
regime for international shipping. And, it sought to do this by
reaching agreement on a Convention that established an acceptable, and
comprehensive, set of rules widely supported by the entire international
It was desired, at the outset of negotiations, that this body of law,
much of which would reflect customary international law, would contain
acceptable limits of national jurisdiction. And, it was expected that
any country making a claim that exceeded the negotiated limit to align
its national law with the Convention.
It indeed was a negotiating triumph in 1982 when the Third United
Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea concluded giving evidence that
so many countries could agree on a comprehensive set of rules covering
virtually every aspect of jurisdiction and uses in, over, and under the
oceans, with deep seabed mining excepted.
As I assume you know, one year after the 60th instrument of ratification
was deposited with the United Nations, the Convention entered into force
on November 16, 1994, for those countries having deposited their
ratifications. The Philippines is formally a party, and is to be
congratulated, having deposited its ratification on May 8, 1984. And,
as I assume you know, while recognizing that the LOS Convention serves
fundamental U.S. interests, the United States viewed Part XI of the
Convention, which addresses deep seabed mining, as seriously flawed.
For that reason, the United States did not sign the Convention in 1982.
But more negotiations have occurred at the international level to fix
the provisions of Part XI. And, an agreement reforming the seabed
mining provisions of the Convention was adopted by the United Nations
General Assembly on July 28, 1994. The Agreement, entitled the
Agreement Relating to the Implementation of Part XI of the 1982 United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of December 10, 1982, was
approved by an overwhelming majority of the members of the United
Nations and opened for signature the following day. The United States
did sign this agreement on July 29, 1994, and, thus, the differences
that did exist between many developing countries, such as the
Philippines, and developed countries, such as the United States,
concerning deep seabed mining have been overcome.
I am pleased to report that the Clinton Administration, following years
of bipartisan support for the objective of a universally acceptable
Convention, firmly supports the LOS Convention as now amended. On
October 7, 1994, President Clinton transmitted the Convention and the
Part XI Agreement to the Senate for its advice and consent to accession.
I have had the honor to testify on behalf of the Administration at
several congressional hearings in support of the now amended Convention.
It is, however, difficult to predict the timing of formal consideration
by the Senate.
The President also transmitted the Secretary of State's commentary on
the amended Convention to the Congress. This commentary was published
in March 1995, in a special issue of the State Department Dispatch. We
have brought only a few copies, but we can get a copy to anyone who
would like to leave a name and address with us. I should also add that
this issue of the Dispatch is also available on the Internet, and we
would be happy to give you the particular Internet address.
I would like to take a moment to review some of the basic tenets of U.S.
ocean policy and to suggest that many are shared by the Philippines.
Given its size and its role as a global power, the United States has a
broad range of ocean interests. As a maritime State, dependent upon the
oceans for trade and for national security, we have vital interests in
maintaining the freedom of the seas. I suggest that the Philippines
shares this interest. Navigational freedoms on the high seas, and
navigation rights through territorial seas, international straits, and
archipelaigic waters are key elements in securing our security and
The United States, like the Philippines, is also a coastal State having
great interest in preserving, protecting and reaping the benefits of the
marine resources and environment adjacent to our coasts. Balancing the
interests of a maritime State, as we are, with that of a coastal State,
as we are, is not always an easy task. Domestically, we often have to
reach compromises in our national approach to ocean issues in order to
balance our competing interests.
The United States strongly believes that the LOS Convention identifies
the appropriate balance between our interests as maritime States and our
interests as coastal States. Since the conclusion of the LOS
negotiations, each succeeding U.S. Administration has recognized the LOS
Convention as the cornerstone of United States oceans policy.
The LOS Convention brings a needed consistency to the order of the
world's oceans. In particular, it stabilizes the breadth of the
territorial sea at 12 miles and establishes important navigation
regimes: of innocent passage through the territorial sea; of transit
passage through straits used for international navigation; of
archipelagic sea lanes passage in archipelagos. According to the
information available to us, 129 states currently claim a territorial
sea of 12 miles or less. Several of these claims reflect recent actions
by States which have rolled back claims that exceeded the 12 mile
breadth. Seventeen countries presently claim territorial seas that
exceed this limit.
We know that in 1961 the Philippine government claimed as its
territorial sea the limits set forth in the 1898 Treaty of Paris. The
United States has made its position well known that these limits, as in
the case in many other situations, merely identified the islands that
pertained to the Philippines, and that the limits never had any legal
significance in their own right as far as ocean jurisdiction is
concerned. Thus, it would appear appropriate that as a party to the LOS
Convention the Philippines would modify its territorial sea limits to
bring it into line with the provisions of the Convention.
There is another issue of difference, and that is the requirement by the
Philippines and some other States for foreign warships to obtain
permission, or to give notification, prior to engaging in innocent
passage through the territorial sea. There is no basis in the
Convention for such requirements and they are inconsistent with the
negotiating record. One would hope that these requirements would, too,
One part of the Convention that is of particular interest to the
Philippines is Part IV: Archipelagic States. The Philippines is
recognized as one of the leaders in advancing this concept and in
convincing the international community to accept it. At the First
United Nations Conference, in the mid-1950s, the Philippines, along with
the former Yugoslavia, submitted proposals regarding applying straight
baselines to archipelagos. Again, at the unsuccessful Second United
Nations Law of the Sea Conference, the Philippines, along with
Indonesia, raised the matter of archipelagoes.
On the third attempt -- at the Third UN Law of the Sea Conference -- the
Philippines, along with other key archipelagic States (including
Indonesia, Fiji, and The Bahamas) was instrumental in securing a place
for the archipelagic regime in the LOS Convention. The Philippine
government should be applauded for its perseverance: convincing 150
States that have diverse maritime interests to accept a new legal regime
in the oceans is no easy task.
Within specified archipelagic baselines (which can not exceed certain
technical parameters), an archipelagic State can claim sovereignty over
the waters, the air space and to the sea bed; and it may measure its
territorial sea and exclusive economic zone from these baselines. But
the archipelagic provisions were carefully negotiated to balance the
interests of the archipelagic State and that of the international
community, which has used some archipelagic waters as normal routes of
Thus within archipelagic waters the navigation interests of the
international community are protected. First, in these waters, at a
minimum, all ships enjoy the right of innocent passage. Second, in sea
lanes which are used as normal passage routes for international
navigation or overflight, all ships and aircraft enjoy archipelagic sea
lanes passage. Such passage is to be conducted in "the normal mode
solely for the purpose of continuous, expeditious, and unobstructed
transit." This means that overflight is allowed, submarines can transit
submerged, and military battle groups can steam through in formation and
conduct such operations as to protect the battle group, without prior
notification or consent. Of course, the resources within archipelagic
waters and the exclusive economic zone are for the archipelagic state to
There are specified rules in the Convention for archipelagic States to
follow should they wish to designate sea lanes through the archipelago.
Generally, such proposed designations must include all normal passage
routes and must be submitted to the International Maritime Organization
with a view to their adoption. However, the archipelagic State is not
required to formally designate sea lanes and in many cases may find it
more feasible or convenient not to do so. In the situation where no
designation is made, the right of "archipelagic sea lanes passage may be
exercised through the routes normally used for international
It is our hope that as the Philippines and other States go forward to
implement these provisions any differences will be resolved through
consultations to ensure the rules of the Convention are followed. Only
through such a process will the benefits of the Convention be realized
and that a foundation will be laid for future cooperation on ocean
And let me now turn to some of those other issues. The Convention is a
far reaching environmental accord, addressing vessel source pollution,
ocean dumping, and land-based sources of marine pollution. It has
facilitated continuing improvement in the health of the world's oceans.
In this area there are many important issues to be addressed, and if the
international community does so within the framework provided for in the
LOS Convention, there is great potential for progress. In closing, I
would like to note just two initiatives that are very important and
which rely on the LOS Convention as the foundation for international
First, the International Coral Reef Initiative. Coral reefs are an
important, but fragile, living resource. An international effort, the
International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), is underway with the
fundamental goal that coral reefs will be protected and thrive. ICRI is
based on the concept that the economic and ecological importance of
coral reefs warrants efforts by the international community to give
priority to coral reef issues within existing international, regional,
and national fora. ICRI is unique in that it reaches out to, and
includes governments, multilateral agencies, and private organizations
at all levels.
The Philippine government is playing a key and vital role in ICRI's
success. As one of eight founding ICRI governments, the Philippines
contributed its intimate knowledge of coral reefs, its expertise with
community based reef management, and its logistical and personnel
resources. This past June, Dumaguete City hosted the successful global
ICRI workshop which drew participants from all walks of life, and from
all parts of the globe.
On behalf of the ICRI Secretariat, I would like to thank the Philippine
government for the instrumental role it has played in the initial stages
of this effort. I hope that the Philippines will continue to be an
active player in this initiative. And that the United States and the
Philippines will continue to collaborate closely on this important ocean
A second new initiative is on the horizon. In just a few weeks the
United States will host a major meeting of the United Nations
Environment Program which will address land-based sources of marine
pollution. This conference is a direct result of the United Nations
Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCED), held in Rio a few years
ago, but it relies on the LOS Convention for its foundation. We hope in
Washington to develop a program of action that will begin to address
this type of pollution, including sewage, industrial and agricultural
runoffs and sedimentation, which constitutes about 90% of the oceans
pollution. These land activities must be addressed if we are to protect
our coastal habitats, fisheries, beaches and coral reefs.
In concluding this evening, I would like to state again that I believe
our two countries, both of which have a rich heritage linked to the
oceans, have much in common in our maritime interests. I am confidant
that the relationships and interactions between the peoples and
institutions of our two countries will continue to grow in a very
positive way. One reason for this cooperation will be a common goal of
protecting the oceans for the welfare of our future generations through
respect for the Law of the Sea.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you this evening.
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