The Law of the Sea Treaty establishes rules governing uses of the world’s oceans which are more than 200 nautical miles off coasts. The waters closer to shore are considered to be an “exclusive economic zone,” and they are governed by the coastal country. The Treaty describes the right of coastal states to a 12-mile territorial sea.
The LOS Treaty reaffirms the sovereign immunity of warships and commercial vessels by giving them the right to transit through vital international straits and archipelagic waters. It extends international legitimacy to fly-over and maritime navigation rights in the world’s ocean territory.
The Treaty also provides an international framework to counter excessive maritime claims of countries seeking to restrict access to international waters and airspace. In addition, the Treaty maintains a nation’s right to conduct military activities and operations in exclusive economic zones without the need for permission or prior notice.
The Treaty allows “normal modes” of travel through key international straights. This means a submarine can stay submerged and an aircraft carrier can not be barred from a waterway. A foreign nation is not allowed to exclude a U.S. nuclear powered submarine from its territorial waters. According to LOS, the propulsion system of a vessel does not matter.
The Treaty allows free and unimpeded passage through the 100 straits that are narrower than 24 miles. Even friendly nations such as Canada did not want U.S. warships to have the right to transit the North West Passage, which is now becoming ice-free. China has already ratified the LOS Treaty, and thus the U.S. Navy would have the recognized right to continue patrolling the Taiwan Strait, despite the past objection of the People’s Republic.
The Treaty also establishes a framework for efforts to interdict weapons of mass destruction, and it outlines seabed mining rights. In general, the Treaty describes a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas. It establishes rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources.