Compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in the Asia-Pacific Region
(1999) 33:1 University of British Columbia Law Review 227-241
15 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2014
Date Written: 1999
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that, in many parts of the Asia-Pacific region, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 has achieved the status of holy writ. Most of East, South, and Southeast Asia, as well as the South Pacific, are parties to it. North America is a very different matter; Canada has signed but not yet ratified,** and the United States has yet to signify basic acceptance by signing.
More to the point, the treaty, and its provisions, (not quite the same thing) are invoked continuously and often passionately in support or denial of propositions involving, inter alia, the definition of maritime spaces under national jurisdiction, the High Seas, and activities of all kinds taking place in one or the other. Potentially, ocean management and governance is a task of immense dimensions.
The Convention was signed in 1982, but within a few years, its death notices were being posted by its many foes in Western countries. However, in 1999, the picture had changed: the Convention is on its way to universal acceptance. Or, perhaps it might be fairer to say, the appearance of universal acceptance. If one adheres to the school of international law or international relations which is content to relay on a scrutiny of ratifications, one concludes in favour of universality. If, on the other hand, one is of the school which demands rather more substantial and substantive evidence, preferably in the form of solid, verifiable state practice, one might be less sure.
Part of the problem lies in the completely natural wish of states to claim all rights available to them, and their equally natural disinclination to assume all the corresponding responsibilities or obligations. As regards the Law of the Sea Convention, the author considers that these problems are perhaps rather greater than had been anticipated. The strain on scarce human and financial resources is considerable, and this at a time when governments, such as that of Canada, are not looking for new ways in which to spend money: to the contrary. But there are also political and legal problems which, unless addressed, can act as a barrier to the advancement of the objectives of the Convention. The fact that these problems are to some extent chimerical does little to reduce their baleful influence.
This paper seeks to address some of those problems, and to consider what, if anything, can be done to alleviate the situation. Alternatively, are coastal states simply fated to pass through a much longer period of transition from the forms of unilateralism represented by the "old" law of the sea to the more complex arrangements, such as different forms of co-operation, which characterise the "new"?
**Note: Canada ratified the Convention on 7 November 2003.
Keywords: United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), Maritime law, Pacific Area
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