International Law Studies


The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is a major achievement of diplomacy in the late twentieth century and is rightly regarded as the “constitution for the ocean.” UNCLOS has withstood the test of time and has demonstrated its flexibility and adaptability to changing circumstances. Notwithstanding, there is an underlying tension at the heart of UNCLOS as it tries to reconcile two fundamentally different approaches—the exclusivity of coastal State jurisdiction versus the international character and shared space of the Area beyond national jurisdiction. As the search for mineral deposits in the Area intensifies, and as coastal States seek to extend their maritime jurisdictions to the maximum extent permitted by UNCLOS, the potential for disputes increases. Three aspects are highlighted, including the need to determine the geographical limits of the Area, the consequences of disputes over the delineation or delimitation of the continental shelf, and the unfinished business of implementing the revenue-sharing provisions of Article 82 of UNCLOS. Notwithstanding statements to the contrary, the history of the law of the sea has trended towards an erosion of the doctrine of the freedom of the sea towards enclosure and this is also likely to be the case for the common heritage of mankind. With respect to Article 82, it is suggested that there is no room for complacency. It is important to identify practical solutions to problems before they arise. This should be an issue of particular importance to the land-locked and geographically disadvantaged States.