Law of the Sea–Why not?

Ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty always seemed like a good thing. Both the Commandant and the CNO support it.

I can’t claim to have a full understanding of the treaty, but I have begun to get inklings of why others have reservations about it. As in all things legal, it is subject to interpretation, and the interpretation of others do not necessarily match our own.

In the interest of having a balance view, you might want to spend a few minutes reading what Peter Brookes, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense, has to say about why its not a good idea.

The right of innocent passage seems to be one of the things that is subject to interpretation, and it is not just China and developing countries that see things differently. So do the Canadians. (More here, here, and here.)

Ramblings on “Maritime Domain Awareness”

Some random thoughts on “Maritime Domain Awareness,” prompted by a Congressional mandate, Canada’s recent action regarding the North West Passage, and China’s “enforcement” of their EEZ.
“Maritime Domain Awareness.” It is a nice catch phrase, but where are we going with this? What is the objective? What level of detail is enough?

We want ships bound for US ports to report their intentions, what if they don’t? What’s the punishment? What about those that pass just outside our territorial sea, and might suddenly veer into a US port,  but aren’t required to check in? Are we being effective, or is this yet another attempt to be seen to be doing something, that is actually nothing more than an inconvenience to the law abiding mariners while making us no safer?
Having read Ryan’s article about the Coast Guard Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011, this amendment caught my eye:

H.AMDT.472 to H.R.3619 Section 1332 -“Directs the Secretary to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat the illicit flow of narcotics, weapons, bulk cash, and other contraband through the use of submersible and semi-submersible vessels.”

My first reaction–I foolishly assumed that what was being mandated was a system that would have a high probability of detecting any submersible or semi-submersible approaching the US.

–I would love to see us have this capability.
–All our other “Maritime Domain Awareness” problems are likely to be solved by any system that could do this.
–Let’s see, we would need a field of acoustic sensors wrapped around the US coast line, and then we would need some visual way to identify the contacts picked up–we could probably use UAVs for that…

But then–Do they have any idea how incredibly hard this is? This may be harder than tracking Ballistic Missile submarines. The Navy with all their resources can’t do this. We can’t even monitor our land border. It could easily require the entire CG budget.

Maybe the Secretary’s plan ought to be to “let the Navy do it.”

My next thought–Even having read it, I don’t really know what it means. Looking at it again, are we talking about these craft coming into US waters? Or are we expected to stop this illegal traffic wherever it exists, if the fruits of the trade might end up in the US? It’s not specific. As I understand it, most of these semisubmersibles go to Mexico, not directly to the US.

And finally, what is the point, if we are not also monitoring every sail and motor boat who might also bring in “narcotics, weapons, bulk cash, and other contraband?”
Then the Canadian government put the world on notice that ships entering that country’s Arctic waters will be subject to new mandatory vessel-tracking rules aimed at preventing terrorist activity and pollution while improving search-and-rescue capabilities in the Far North. The Canadian plan requires mandatory registration for ships of 300 tonnes or more, for tugs with a two-ship weight of 500 tonnes or more and for any vessel carrying dangerous goods or potential pollutants. Read more here and here. For an overview of the Canadian position, link here.
Then there are the Chinese, whose interpretation of the Law of the Sea, seems very different from our own. They seem to view the EEZ as little different from their territorial sea–a bit of history. Very recently they objected to our exercising with South Korea in the Yellow Sea even though presumably the exercises would not have even entered their EEZ. The Chinese have also been harassing the Japanese Coast Guard in their own EEZ (more here and here). The US Naval Institute blog is discussing the latest flap between the US and China in an article entitled “Poking China in the Chest.” The Chinese have been making a lot of friends lately and they are a member of the security council, so don’t be surprised to see something like their view of the rights of coastal states being raised in the UN.
I think we are going to see more changes to the EEZ. I can see points like this being made:

–How can you argue with the desire to limit pollution and quickly respond to maritime disasters as the Canadians state they want to do?
–How can a state monitor the economic exploitation of their EEZ if they don’t know who is there? Is a requirement to report entry into the EEZ any different from requiring name, flag, and homeport be displayed?
How could anyone engaged in legitimate activity object?
–Isn’t preventing terrorism an element of managing economic resources within the EEZ? Can’t we say the same about preventing a Naval attack?

While the Navy will probably want none of this, as the Coast Guard, there might be elements worth considering here.


It would be nice to have a system that showed us everything within the EEZ, but it is unlikely we will see that anytime soon.

In addition to getting projected ETA at our ports, if we were prepared to accept, catalog, store, and redistribute the information to those who could use the information, it might be helpful to ask all vessels entering our EEZ to identify themselves, to help us classify the contacts we do detect, but under the present regime I don’t think we have any recourse, if those who claim to be in innocent passage refuse.

Short of a robust detection capability to find those not reporting, additional reporting may be only a paper exercise of little utility. If the detection capability were truly robust, we would not need reporting.

The weapons of mass destruction we worry about, as well as “narcotics, weapons, bulk cash, and other contraband,” are not limited to large ships or semisubmersibles. They can come in on boats that appear no different from the thousands of recreational boats that enter and leave our harbors every day.