Imagine if the United States could lay claim over vast stretches of pristine open ocean and coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean. What if we could expand our nation’s control over the marine environments in the Arctic, the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea? And how might it benefit our country if we could extend our existing maritime borders along the East Coast, West Coast and the Gulf of Mexico?
It would be like a giant ocean Louisiana Purchase. Except this time, the United States wouldn’t have to pay a dime.
Expansion of U.S. borders may seem like the stuff of history books. But what I’m talking about here isn’t history. And it isn’t fantasy. It’s a very real choice facing the U.S. Senate right at this very moment.
Tomorrow, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin considering ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, a U.S.-initiated agreement that the United States has abided by since the Reagan Administration and yet to this day the Senate has failed to approve.
The treaty is the set of global “rules of the road” for the world’s ocean, and yet the United States – which controls more ocean area than any other single nation – has been sitting on the sidelines unable to reap the treaty’s benefits because of the Senate’s inaction.
Hopefully, that will soon change. At the urging of a vast and non-traditional alliance of environmental, business, labor and national security groups, the Senate is poised to finally consider doing what it has failed to do for so long – ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty.
And the benefits of doing so could be enormous.
Under the treaty, nations can lay claim to the seafloor outside of the traditional 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone if they can demonstrate that the continental shelf extends beyond the limit. The United States has many areas where this shallow coastal environment extends beyond 200 miles, meaning that ratification of the treaty could bring a massive expansion of our country’s ocean borders – and exclusive access to those ocean seabed resources.
Preliminary studies indicate that the United States may be able to lay claim to another million square kilometers of ocean. This would be an expansion of U.S. waters roughly twice the size of California or nearly half the size of the Louisiana Purchase.
Throughout America’s growth as a nation, many of our expansions – from the Louisiana Purchase to the purchase of Alaska – were controversial in the moment. But looking back through the lens of history, each one has proven to be vital to the success of our nation.
As the Senate considers the Law of the Sea Treaty, there will undoubtedly be naysayers, but this is history in the making. By expanding our maritime borders now, we’ll be able to reap the benefits long into the future.
Update: Just to be clear, the expansion of U.S. jurisdiction over additional ocean talked about here is just one part of what is a very comprehensive treaty. The Law of the Sea Treaty also contains extensive provisions on protecting the ocean environment – one of the reasons so many environmental groups support the treaty.
If the U.S. finally became a signatory to the treaty, it would not only help ensure that the U.S. followed the common-sense rules of the road for protecting the ocean, but it would also give the U.S. the international credibility and leverage to ensure that other nations also did their part to help protect the ocean environment. For those who are interested in learning more, you can take a look at Part XII of the treaty on protection and preservation of the marine environment.