UNCLOS, its pros and cons for all involved



Qn 1 “The balance between coastal state control over adjacent waters and the freedoms available to the users of these waters appears to be shifting towards coastal state interests. Analyse this trend in the context of the major passage regimes under UNCLOS (innocent, archipelagic, straits passage) and discuss the major implications for regional maritime security and naval freedoms of navigation?”

With 90% of the world’s trade going by the seas, coastal states with influence over the major Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) wield political clot beyond their size. With simple blockade or other less warlike measures, a small nation can threaten choke off the bloodlines of major developing countries which are dependent on the resources the sea brings. Even simply by not doing anything, the state can allow the regional pirates to extract their own brand of tariffs from transiting in their homegrounds. With the ongoing global trend of looking at the seas for expansion, more and more coastal states are exerting their claims over islands groups and seeking to influence the trade that goes through their waters.

The United National Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) seeks to even out the game for maritime traders by defining certain rules and regulations in their use of the world’s oceans as well as the responsibilities of the littoral states to safeguard the safe passages of the sea. However, one can only wonder what incentive a state can have to protect its adjacent waters when it may be facing internal problems on land. At the same time, are the responsibilities inferred onto the state fair to the littoral states given that the benefits of the safe passage goes to other nations? However, for the common global good, we cannot deny that safe navigation and freedom of the sea lanes benefits all involved but how can we ensure that the goodies flow to the states that does the ensuring of safe passage?

On the other hand, an examination of UNCLOS and its uses by the coastal states big and small shows inconsistency in its applications. Often, it has been criticized that UNCLOS, as a set of law is too vague and ill-defined to be applied effectively. At the same time, as a supra-national organization, the UN lacks the ability and political will to enforce its own laws upon its member sovereign states. While we may all tentatively agree that the existence of UNCLOS has cleared up misconceptions and lay the grounds for deliberation, how many members will want to use the UNCLOS if it judges that the use of the UNCLOS will only result in it losing benefits that otherwise hold?


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