The entry into force of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS”), on 16 November 1994, is probably the most important development in the settlement of international disputes since the adoption of the UN Charter and the Statute of the International Court of Justice. Not only does the Convention create a new international court, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (“ITLOS”), it also makes extensive provision for compulsory dispute-settlement procedures involving States, the International Seabed Authority (“ISBA”), seabed mining contractors and, potentially, a range of other entities. Implementation of the Convention has spawned a number of inter-State disputes to add to the cases already before the International Court. The initiation of the ITLOS not only opens up new possibilities for settling these disputes but it also has implications for the future role of the International Court and ad hoc arbitration in the law of the sea and more generally. It contributes to the proliferation of international tribunals and adds to the potential for fragmentation both of the substantive law and of the procedures available for settling disputes. Judges Oda and Guillaume have argued that the ITLOS is a futile institution, that the UNCLOS negotiators were misguided in depriving the International Court of its central role in ocean disputes and that creation of a specialised tribunal may destroy the unity of international law. The law of the sea, both judges argue, is an essential part of international law and any dispute concerning the application and interpretation of that law should be seen as subject to settlement by the International Court.
* Professor of Public International Law, University of Edinburgh. This is a revised version of a paper delivered at the Annual Conference of the British Branch of the ILA in Edinburgh in 1996. I am grateful to His Excellency Judge Dolliver Nelson for some very helpful comments but the views expressed here are mine alone.