In the wake of Washington's second "freedom of navigation" operation near Beijing's man-made islets in the South China Sea, an often overlooked fact remains: The set of laws governing global maritime behavior that the U.S. has been touting has never been ratified by the Senate.

The U.S., which conducted the operation Saturday in waters 12 nautical miles (22 km) from Triton Island in the Spratly archipelago, has repeatedly urged its Asian rival to adhere to international law to solve disputes.

But analysts and experts say Washington risks creating a credibility gap by citing the very measure — the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) — it has repeatedly failed to ratify.