International Law Studies


The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was opened for signature on December 10, 1982, after nine years of painstaking debate. Hailed as “A Constitution for the Oceans,” the Convention was immediately signed by 119 States, a remarkable number given the contentious and complex nature of the negotiations, and today has 168 parties. The intent of the Conference that drafted the treaty was to produce a comprehensive and universally accepted convention covering every aspect of the uses and resources of the oceans that would stand the test of time. This article analyzes the various provisions of the Convention, based on forty years of State practice, to determine whether the Conference met its objective. This article concludes that many of the provisions of the Convention have had their desired effect by curtailing the plethora of conflicting coastal State claims that existed prior to 1982 and thereby preserving navigational rights and freedoms for the international community. However, an equal number of provisions have failed miserably in achieving their intended effect, thereby giving rise to a new era of excessive maritime claims that purport to restrict freedom of the seas. This article concludes by examining how the international community should respond to this new wave of excessive claims.