Making waves: The Bush and Clinton administrations and the Law of the Sea

Date of Completion

January 2004


Political Science, International Law and Relations




Why does the United States often oppose international agreements, especially those that appear to be in its self-interests? In particular, why has the country refused to join the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty it helped craft and which presents many political, economic, and security advantages to America? ^ These questions are examined using an inductive case study of the George H. W. Bush and the Bill Clinton administrations and their differing UNCLOS policies, including the 1994 decision to accede to the treaty. This dissertation provides a detailed analysis of the variables involved in the decisions at all levels-of-analysis—systemic, domestic, and individual. Factors are examined such as ideology, presidential management style, the end of the Cold War, bureaucratic politics, interest groups, and Congressional position. This study concludes that domestic-level variables had greater influence in the determination of UNCLOS policy for Presidents Bush and Clinton. There was also interplay of the variables which shaped the decision environment. ^ This project shows that the self-interests of a powerful state, the United States of America, have a causal effect at the systemic-level and in creating international law and norms, whether or not the country joins multilateral agreements. This dissertation adds to the literature in international relations and international law because no other study has fully examined the Bush and Clinton administrations' UNCLOS policies. ^