House panel seeks Pentagon, State Department report on UNCLOS

By Justin Katz / July 1, 2020 at 4:00 PM

A House panel today moved to direct the Trump administration to provide a wide-ranging report about the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The direction came in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) to the House Armed Services Committee's 2021 defense authorization bill. The amendment, packaged with dozens of others as an en bloc, was approved by voice vote. The panel today is marking up its policy bill.

The report would be produced by the secretaries of defense and state and due to lawmakers by February 2021.

"The committee is concerned that revisionist states seek to undermine and reshape the rules-based international order," according to the amendment. "The United States efforts to counter and deter such activities may be impacted by the U.S.' status as a non-party to the" agreement.

The United States' position on UNCLOS is a longstanding debate between lawmakers and national security officials.

While the U.S. Navy largely follows the laws laid out by UNCLOS -- an international agreement governing how commercial and military maritime entities should behave while at sea -- the country is not officially part of the agreement.

Proponents of UNCLOS argue the U.S. already follows the international agreement and being a party to it would pressure adversarial nations to do the same.

Opponents counter that being a party to UNCLOS would limit the Navy's ability to project power abroad and object to any foreign entity governing how the U.S. employs the military sea services.