U.S. should ratify UNCLOS to help convince other states to implement necessary protections for underseas cables
[ Page 69 ]
That security gap should be of international concern for a number of reasons. The first successful hostile ac- tions by pirates and terrorists against active international cables already have occurred. In March 2007 Vietnamese pirates in multiple vessels carried out high-seas depredations on two active submarine cable systems, including the theft of optical amplifiers that rendered the systems inoperative for 79 days until re- placements could be manufactured.4 At the time, cable owners urgently pleaded with at least four nations for help in preventing ad- ditional attacks, only to learn that none of those governments had contingency plans for such action. Similar damage was inflicted on a newly laid cable in Indonesian archipelagic waters in 2010.
Submarine cables are legitimate targets of belligerents in war.5 The United States cut cables linking Spain to its colonies during the Spanish-American War.6 The first offensive action of Britain’s Royal Navy in World War I was cutting Germany’s international links to the rest of the world by severing its cables.7
But attacks on cables by terrorists are new. On 11 June 2010, terrorists in the Philippines successfully struck an international cable.8 It is naïve to assume that submarine- cable landing stations, cables, the cable ships, and the marine depots that maintain the systems will escape asym- metric terrorist acts.
Currently the vital U.S. underseas cable industry has to rely on the outdated 1884 telegraph treaty for its legal basis when defending its rights to lay, maintain, and repair underseas cables. U.S. ratification of UNCLOS would better protect U.S. companies’ existing cable systems and foster additional investments by giving telecommunications the legal certainty to their claims that they need.