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Publication: The New American
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 51311
ISSN: 08856540
Journal code: NEAM

Resuscitating the UN's Sea Treaty

ITEM: Speaking of the latest attempt to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the New York Times for May 24, 2012 reported:

The Senate has never ratified the treaty, despite the support of Republican and Democratic presidents, the Pentagon, environmental advocates, the oil and gas industry - virtually anyone who deals "with oceans on a daily basis," in the words of Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the Republican who recently lost a primary, who is a supporter.

So long has the "Law of the Sea" treaty been stalled on Capitol Hill that its opponents - a handful of conservative Republicans who view it as an infringement on American sovereignty - have taken to calling it "LOST," an uncharitable, if apt, acronym.

Now, though, Senator John F. Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, sees another chance to push through a treaty last debated in 2007.

ITEM: The online Voice of America News reported on May 23 that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetto, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "argued that adhering to international conventions strengthens America 's moral authority when it comes to pressuring other states to do likewise. 'Every time we argue with Iran, every time we argue with North Korea, we argue on the basis that they are not abiding by international rules - they are not abiding by the international standards that we have established. here we are, trying to make the same argument with regards to navigation, and we are not even a member of the Panetto said."

ITEM: Bloomberg News reported online on May 24:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took on conservative forces that twice have blocked ratification of the United Nations Law of the Sea treaty, calling it crucial to U.S. economic and strategic interests in the Pacific and elsewhere. The top American diplomat said some of the arguments against the treaty "cannot even be taken with a straight face." These, she said, include claims that the U.S. would have to pay a "UN tax," that it would give the UN power over the U.S. Navy and that it would erode U.S. sovereignty.

"Honestly, I don't know where these people make these things up," Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. She chided critics who object to the U.S. joining any UN treaty saying, "Of course, that means the black helicopters are on their way," a reference to conspiracy theories about a world government.

CORRECTION: That clever Ms. Hillary! She was trying so very hard to employ alleged witticisms, written ahead of time by a State Department hack, to ridicule her opponents. Sadly, when she tries to crack a joke on Capitol Hill, the entertainment tax in Washington has to be waived. Indeed, many of the Senators before whom she was testifying were underwhelmed with her performance. At least one told her so.

In point of fact, she was just employing an antediluvian lawyerly device: When the facts are against you, you pound the table, obfuscate, and abuse the other fellow's advocate.

There are any number of good reasons why the Law of the Sea treaty should be deep-sixed. And for the Secretary of State to be so dismissive of the very sovereignty, security, and economy of the United States is indicative of the depths to which some will go to try to wrap the nation in the tentacles of another international pact.

Proponents argue that LOST will facilitate U.S. efforts vis--vis China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and anyone else that springs to mind; it will supposedly help the very U.S. Navy that has gotten along for some 200 years without it; and it will, it is alleged, also be a boon for the wicked Big Oil interests that the Obama administration has spent years attacking.

The fact that the most radical so-called environmentalists are also on board, pulling at the same oars with Shell Oil, is not supposed to raise our suspicions. Well, color us suspicious. Columnist Phyllis Schlafly, a longtime opponent of this international power grab, has observed that the extremist green team is "salivating" about how the treaty calls for dispute resolution - ultimately being shunted to a 2 1 -member international tribunal in Hamburg, Germany.

The judgments of this tribunal, Schlafly also notes, "could be enforced against Americans and cannot be appealed to any U.S. court." The International Tribunal of LOST (ITLOS) "has jurisdiction over 'maritime disputes,1 which suggests it will merely deal with ships accidentally bumping each other in the night. But radical environmental lawyers have big plans to make that sleepy tribunal the engine of all disputes about global warming, with power to issue binding rules on climate change, in effect superseding the discredited Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. properly declined to ratify."

The New York Times, in a recent editorial, cited the fact that both the "environmental community and the oil and gas industry" agreed on something as sufficient proof for falling into line and ratifying the treaty. Having thus demonstrated their dazzling vapidity and showing once again that conceit is nature's way of compensating for inferiority, the droll editors could not then resist taking a supercilious slap at those unwilling to imbibe this magic potion. Said the editors of the Times on May 25: "Over the years, a small group of cranky right-wingers and xenophobic activists have managed to bully Senate leaders into inaction."

It must be comforting to go through life believing in every left-wing bromide: It undoubtedly saves a lot of thinking.

There are top defense and military officials supporting the ratification that is being pushed by the commander-in-chief. (There are also many prominent names on the other side of the issue - including a former defense secretary, a former attorney general, a number of top retired admirals, and two secretaries of the Navy.) Be that as it may, the claims made by some proponents are so over the top that one can only wonder how the nation has lasted this long without this awe-inspiring United Nations treaty.

Some decidedly not "black-helicopter" types, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), offer facts in the face of Secretary Clinton's sarcasm, writing:

Under the guise of being for "the good of mankind," LOST would obligate the United States to share information and technology in what amounts to global taxes and technology transfer requirements that are really nothing more than an attempt to redistribute U.S. wealth to the Third World.

At the center of these taxes and transfers is the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a Kingston, Jamaicabased supra-national governing body established by the treaty for the purpose of redistributing cash and technology from the "developed world" to the "developing world."

Ceding authority to the ISA would mean that the sovereignty currently held by the U.S. over the natural resources located on large parts of the continental shelf would be lost. That loss would mean lost revenue for the U.S. government in the form of lost royalties that the U.S. government collects from the production of those resources.

In the same vein, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe has pointed out that should the United States ratify this treaty, it would "be forced to transfer billions of dollars in royalties generated from oil and gas production on the U.S. extended continental shelf to the U.N. International Seabed Authority for redistribution to the developing world. And this is the first time in history that an international organization, the U.N. in this case, would possess taxing authority over this country."

Hillary Clinton asks scoffingly, Where do folks find all of this stuff? Well, in this case, it's found in Article 82 of the treaty, which among other details calls for the forfeiture of royalties beyond 200 nautical miles on the continental shelf. Perhaps her speech writer could take some time from his flaccid comedie efforts to reach into the file cabinet or pull it up on one of the State Department's computers.

One who has been carrying a lot of the water in the anti-LOST effort is Steven Groves, a fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation. In a piece written for the McClatchy Newspapers, Groves alluded to that loss of royalties and pointed out ahead of time what would not be heard at the then-pending Senate hearing:

LOST directs that the revenue be distributed to "developing States" (such as Somalia, Burma ... you get the picture) and "peoples who have not attained full independence" (such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization ... hey, don't they sponsor terrorism?). The assembly - the "supreme organ" of the International Seabed Authority in which the United States has a single vote to cast - has the final say regarding the distribution of America's transmogrified "international" royalties.

The assembly may vote to distribute royalties to undemocratic, despotic or brutal governments in Belarus, China or Zimbabwe - all members of LOST. Perhaps those dollars will go to regimes that are merely corrupt; 13 of the world's 20 most corrupt nations, according to Transparency International, are parties to LOST. Even Cuba and Sudan, both considered state sponsors of terrorism, could receive dollars fresh from the U.S. Treasury.

Unfortunately no one will hear about Article 82 at the May 23rd hearing. That's because Sen. Kerry is permitting testimony only from witnesses who already favor LOST: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey.

It goes beyond preposterous to believe that the behavior of communist China (which has ratified LOST) or Iran (which has signed but not ratified it) will be drastically changed because of a U.S. signature on the treaty. Such tyrannical regimes pay heed to treaties only to the extent that they can be used against their enemies. When you need 90,000 tons of diplomacy, an aircraft carrier is more effective than a debater's point.

When pressed, treaty proponents sometimes argue that there is an exemption in the treaty that provides a loophole for the military. Why we should rely on a loophole when the U.S. Navy already plies the waters worldwide is generally ignored.

Trying to seek such an exemption would just be another potential means for enemies or rivals of the United States to use legalese as a weapon. As has been noted by Frank Gaffney, a former defense official who heads the Center for Security Policy, "while there is a LOST provision exempting 'military activity' from such dispute resolution mechanisms, the treaty makes no attempt to define 'military activity,' virtually guaranteeing that such matters will be litigated - in all likelihood to our detriment - before one or another of LOST' s arbitration mechanisms. The rulings of such arbitrators cannot be appealed."

Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in foreign policy and civil liberties and formerly served as special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, says most of the points he made when he testified against the treaty in 2004 still pertain. This time around, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, have offered three main reasons why the United States supposedly needs LOST.

We allegedly need this treaty, we are instructed, because of Iran's threat to the world economy in the Strait of Hormuz; there also is China, which has become a potential war-provoking threat to the Philippines in the South China Sea; and we can't forget that Russia poses a threat to natural resources due to its claims in the Arctic.

All these trials and tribulations will be over thanks to this UN-sponsored piece of paper, or so we are supposed to believe. This panacea of course was shelved three decades ago because of its dangers and deficiencies.

Bandow, among others, isn't buying:

If this sounds too good to be true, it is. It is not clear the treaty would do much at all to alleviate these flashpoints. Especially since the two most important potential antagonists, China and Russia, already have ratified LOST.

And it is certainly not the best option policy-wise for the United States with each issue: Iran's bluster in the Strait of Hormuz may prove its weakness. U.S. policy in the South China Sea suffers from a far more serious flaw: encouraging free-riding by allied states. Russia's move into the Arctic has nothing to do with Washington's absence from LOST.

Senator Kerry has indicated that he will not seek a vote until after the November elections, which does not preclude a vote by a lame-duck Senate.

Those pushing the pact like to say the United States needs a "seat at the table" so we can help decide how the Law of the Sea will be interpreted. There are, as it happens, lots of nations that don't necessarily have U.S. interests at heart that are also interested in getting the United States into a vulnerable position at the supposed international table.

For their own reasons, these include Gabon, Tuvalu, Moldova, Palau, Burkina Faso, Laos, Fiji, Kiribati, Comoros, and Togo. Oh, yes, and that dictatorship in Cuba, which ratified the treaty in 1 984 but deems other types of voting to be superfluous. Each would have the same one vote as the United States of America.


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