Geneva Sea Law Conference

Another Round in the Struggle Against Maritime Hegemonism

[This unsigned article is reprinted from Peking Review, #21, May 23, 1975, pp. 26-27.]

      THE Third Session of the Third United Nations Sea Law Conference ended in Geneva on May 9. At the eight-week session, representatives of the third world countries once again slashed away at the maritime hegemonism of the two superpowers and frustrated their attempts to impose on the conference the draft articles which serve their interests.

      The session examined and discussed hundreds of draft articles on territorial waters, international navigation in straits within territorial seas, exclusive economic zones, exploitation of international seabed resources and administering authority, maritime scientific research and prevention of sea water pollution. The heated debate centring on the drafts reflected two diametrically opposed stands: One attitude was to hold on to the old sea law regime which serves imperialist interests; the other was to demand the drawing up of a new law of the zea which respects the sovereignty and legitimate interests of all countries, particularly of the numerous small and medium-sized states. The old sea law regime, as the representative of Peru put it well, serves colonialism and hegemonism. In spite of the maritime powers’ obstinate resistance to change, the formulation of a new legal regime of the sea has become an irresistible historical trend, he declared.

      The 200-nautical-mile sea right and the establishment of exclusive economic zones constituted a focus of the struggle at the conference.

      At the second session of the conference in Caracas last year, the Soviet representative was forced to give verbal “recognition” to the 200-nautical-mile economic zone, but he tried in one way or another to use specific clauses to eliminate the essentials of the exclusive economic zone. The U.S. representative used the same tactic. Their hypocrisy was unmasked by representatives of the third world countries. When the conference was resumed this year, the representatives of the two superpowers again brought out their bag of worn-out tricks. They made a show of “recognizing” the coastal states’ “sovereign rights” over all natural resources in the economic zones, while outside the conference they tried to sow discord among the participating states. They hoped in this way to prevent the conference from reaching agreement on the economic zone question in accordance with the reasonable demands of the third world and other small and medium-sized countries. The Soviet representative continued peddling the idea that “the economic zone is part of the high seas.” This idea was refuted by the Algerian representative who pointed out the absurdity of equating the economic zone with the high seas. The Guinean representative spoke of the imperative need to clearly define the nature of the economic zone and the rights in it in order to prevent the superpowers from turning the seas and oceans into their areas of domination and hegemony. The facts and reasons presented by many representatives of Asian, African and Latin Amerimn countries refuted the fallacies of the superpowers’ maritime hegemonism and left the Soviet and U.S. representatives with no grounds for justifying their positions.

      Another focal point of the struggle by the third world countries against the superpowers’ maritime hegemonism was the problem concerning international navigation in straits within territorial seas. Both the Soviet Union and the United States defied the coastal countries’ sovereignty and asserted that the principle of “freedom of the high seas” also applied to such straits. Their representatives repeatedly obstructed the efforts of the delegates of the coastal states to explain their reasonable proposals at the session. Defying these pressures, however, these countries firmly stood for “innocent passage” through straits within territorial seas when used for international navigation. Representatives of the third world countries held that the “innocent passage” clauses should specify the kind of actions by foreign vessels which will harm the peace and security of coastal countries. These should include all belligerent acts by foreign military vessels and espionage activities against coastal countries.

      During the session, the “77-nation group” put forward a number of draft articles concerning the exploitation and use of international seabed resources, maritime scientific research and the prevention of sea water pollution. These draft articles, which reflected the interests of the small and medium-sized countries and stood in opposition to the draft articles submitted by the superpowers, were supported by many third world and other countries.

      One of the superpowers threatened that if the sea law conference failed to reach agreement, it would proceed unilaterally to exploit international seabed resources. This angered the representatives of many developing countries and a number of second world countries who opposed the arrogant and unreasonable threats and demanded that the session make a counter-decision.

      The session failed to reach agreement on any important substantive question. As the head of the Chinese delegation pointed out, the reason for this was that “the two superpowers still maintain their positions of maritime hegemonism, and assiduously cling to the outdated legal regime of the sea and refuse to abandon their control and monopoly over the seas and oceans.”

      The Third Session af the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea has closed, but the struggle continues. The next session of the conference will be held in New York next March. It has become more and more obvious to the third world countries and people that the superpowers will not willingly abandon their maritime hegemony. To move towards establishing a new sea law to replace the old one in conformity with the interests of the majority of the countries in the globe and all the world’s peoples, the third world countries and people must hold to principle, further strengthen their unity, make common front with the other small and medium-sized countries and their people and carry the struggle to the end.

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