The Oceans and Fisheries Directorate, headed by David A. Balton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Fisheries, has two offices dedicated to international oceans issues. The Office of Marine Conservation focuses on conservation of fisheries and other living marine resources, as well as their associated ecosystems. The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs has primary responsibility for international ocean law and policy, marine pollution, marine mammals, polar affairs, maritime boundaries, maritime security, and marine science.
The United States has important and diverse interests in the oceans and polar regions. As the world's pre-eminent naval power, the United States has a national security interest in the ability to freely navigate and overfly the oceans as essential preconditions for projecting military power. Ensuring the free flow of commercial navigation is likewise a basic concern for the United States as a major trading power, whose economic growth and employment is inextricably linked with a robust and growing export sector. By far, the bulk of international trade is transported by sea.
At the same time, the United States, with one of the longest coastlines of any nation in the world, has basic resource and environmental interests in the oceans. The seabed of the deep oceans offers the potential for economically and strategically important mineral resources. Inshore and coastal waters generate vital economic activities -- fisheries, offshore minerals development, ports and transportation facilities, and, increasingly, recreation and tourism. The health and well-being of coastal populations -- the majority of Americans live in coastal areas -- are intimately linked to the quality of the coastal marine environment.
Understanding the oceans, including their role in global climate processes, is one of the frontiers of human scientific investigation, and the United States is a leader in the conduct of marine scientific research. Such research is essential for understanding and addressing problems associated with the use and protection of the marine environment, including marine pollution, conservation of fish and other marine living species, and forecasting of weather and climate variability.
Pursuit of these objectives, however, requires careful and often difficult balancing of interests. As a coastal nation, for example, we naturally tend to seek maximum control over the waters off our shores. Equally, as a major maritime power, we often view such efforts on the part of others as unwarranted limitations on legitimate rights of navigation.
Moreover, traditional perceptions of the inexhaustibility of marine resources and of the capacity of the oceans to neutralize wastes have changed, as marine species have been progressively depleted by harvesting and their habitats damaged or threatened by pollution and a variety of human activities. Maintaining the health and productive capacity of the oceans while seeking to meet the economic aspirations of growing populations also requires difficult choices.
Striking the balances necessary to implement United States oceans policy must be viewed in the international context. Living resources migrate. Likewise, marine ecosystems and ocean currents, which transport pollutants and otherwise affect environmental interests, extend across maritime boundaries and jurisdictional limits. National security and commercial shipping interests are also international in scope. Achievement of oceans policy objectives thus requires international cooperation at the bilateral, regional, and global level. The alternative is increased competition and conflict over control of the oceans and marine resources to the potential detriment of United States interests and the marine environment generally.