WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Citing additional guarantees for Sailors operating on the tip of spear, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Vern Clark said he supports ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea during an April 8 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
The Law of the Sea treaty reaffirms the sovereign immunity of warships and public vessels, and the right to transit through vital international straits and archipelagic waters. It also provides an international framework to counter excessive maritime claims of countries that seek to restrict access to international waters and airspace. In addition, the convention maintains a nation's right to conduct military activities and operations in exclusive economic zones without the need for permission or prior notice.
"I just want to be on record as saying that we would never recommend a treaty that would require us to get a permission slip from anyone to conduct operations or that would restrict our intelligence activities around the world," Clark stated, "because we know that those kind of freedoms are essential to our mission."
"The real issue for me is people," said Clark, who appeared before the committee with Department of State Legal Advisor William H. Taft IV. "Twenty-four by seven, 365 days a year, our Sailors are operating at the tip of the spear. A third of our fleet is forward deployed this morning. Sometimes we must place them in harm's way to do our country's business, and they do so willingly."
"As the chief of the Navy, I'm looking for every possible guarantee I can find to ensure our Sailors' safety and to keep them from needlessly going into harm's way. That's why I believe we need to join the Law of the Sea Convention," the CNO testified. "So our people know when they're operating in defense of this nation far from our shores that they have the backing and authority of widely recognized and accepted law to look to, rather than depending only on the threat or use of force, or customary international law that can be too easily changed."
The Law of the Sea Convention will help the Navy fully leverage the strategic mobility needed to successfully fight the global war on terrorism, Clark said. The CNO added that ratifying the treaty would align the U.S. Navy with its 13 partners in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), an initiative designed to disrupt the flow of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems and related materials around the world. The convention also supports the Navy's missions of protecting vital sea lanes of communication and interdicting the flow of illegal drugs.
"It first defines and then preserves our navigational freedoms," the CNO said. "It also provides the operational maneuver space that I need for my Navy to conduct peaceful operations at sea and combat operations. I also believe that it's very important, because it puts the United States of America where it should be, and that is in a position of leadership to protect these vital freedoms and to shape the future direction of the treaty."
"Entry into the convention will support, in my view, our necessary leadership role in maritime matters. We are an island nation. This will position us to initiate and influence future developments in the Law of the Sea," Clark said. "Ratification puts us on the inside of the discussion, when it occurs, to ensure the Law of the Sea continues to protect our people and our maritime interests."
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