Produced from the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which occurred from 1973 to 1982, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is also referred to as the Law of the Sea Convention or the Law of the Sea Treaty (United Nations, web). The international agreement provides definitions of the privileges and responsibilities of countries pertaining to their use of the planet’s oceans, founds standards for businesses, sustainability and the environment. UNCLOS took the place of four treaties signed in 1958. At this time, 166 nations and the European Union have joined the accord. It is not clear, however, just how much impact UNCLOS has on international law (United Nations, web).
What has been determined though is UNCLOS has aided its member nations. For example, the island nations are largely underdeveloped and there was discourse between nations on who owned what parts of the ocean. It would be easy for a larger, wealthier country like Australia to completely override a smaller nation like say the Philippines. UNCLO determines who has what territorial waters and provides regulations for other nations that also use the ocean in regards to pollution, etc. For instance, UNCLOS has certainly helped Papua New Guinea to at least have some positive outlook on developing in the future. The residents of the island largely engage in subsistence agriculture near the shorelines for survival. Oil and other minerals, however, have been unearthed there, so there is future hope for industrialization. Another example of UNCLOS helping a nation is Melanesia. This island country has very intriguing ethnic and human composition. It has also been dominated by New Guinea. With UNCLOS in place, Melanesia is guaranteed its rights will be honored or at least given due consideration.
Encompassing an area that is a 975,000 square kilometers, the Pacific Realm extends from the Bering Sea to Southern Ocean and from Central America to Indonesia (United Nations, web). Nearly 90 percent of the Pacific Realm is situated in New Guinea. The area also includes some colonies, such as French Polynesia, Guam and Easter Island. With such an electric mix of nations, natural habitats and international traffic, UNCLOS has certainly served its member countries as an instrument to resolve disputes, a forum for cooperation and an institution to regulate certain areas of international maritime law. For instance, UNCLOS established territorial seas for each nation which consists of 12 miles off each country’s shoreline.
Also, there is a 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). For the territorial areas, the nation has direct power to establish all laws and uses within that area. For the EEZ, the nation affected can do anything they would like to promote economic purposes such as lay cabling or pipes. Other rules for internal water, archipelagos, etc. are also included in UNCLOS.
Naturally not all the details of who owns what part of the water and what can be accomplished to preserve the environment are clearly decided between these nations, but UNCLOS was a tremendous starting point and will definitely play a key role in future relationships in the Pacific Realm in the years to come. The United Nations is not directly responsible for policing all aspects of the organization, but other international organizations such as the International Whaling Commission, the International Seabed Authority and the International Maritime Organization promote enforcement of UNCLOS. Oddly enough, the United States aided in some of UNCLOS work in the 1990’s but it refuses to sign the actual agreement to become a member. This is due to some contradictions in Congress over the state or the federal government would have rights when it came to territorial waters.
- Longhi, Lorraine. “The Law of the Sea and its Relevance to Disputed Waters.” International Maritime Organization. 2014. Web. Retrieved from http://munfw.org/.
- McIntyre, Matt. “Pacific-Environment Outlook.” UNEP. n.d. Web. Retrieved from http://www.unep.org/PDF/SIDS/Pacific_EO_final.pdf.
- Seidel, Henrike and Padma N. Lal. “Economic Value of the Pacific Ocean to the Pacific Island Countries and Territories.” ICUN Oceania. July 2010. Retrieved from http://cmsdata.iucn.org/.
- United Nations. “Oceans & Laws of the Sea.” Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. 2013. Web. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/Depts/los/index.htm.