Would Ronald Reagan Support the Law of the Sea Treaty If He Were President Today?

Supporters of U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty often claim Ronald Reagan would support ratification of LOST (also referred to as UNCLOS, short for “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea”), were he with us today. Many of them have publicly argued that President Reagan’s only objection to the Law of the Sea Treaty was the treaty’s deep seabed mining section, which was modified in 1994.

A few of many examples of Law of the Sea ratification supporters making this claim:

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN): “President Ronald Reagan declared U.S. commitment to the principles of UNCLOS with the exception of the mining provisions.”

Lawrence Eagleburger and John Norton Moore: “Opponents assert that Ronald Reagan deep-sixed the convention, when instead he set requirements for renegotiation of Part XI, which were successfully achieved…”

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA): “The provisions on deep seabed mining, the only provisions that President Reagan objected to, were comprehensively revised to remove all of our objections in 1994.”

Rear Admiral William L. Schachte, U.S. Navy, Retired: “…the U.S. was also able to obtain necessary changes to the deep seabed mining provisions to address all of the concerns raised by President Reagan.”

William H. Taft IV / U.S. Department of State: “President Reagan expressed concerns only about Part XI’s deep seabed mining regime.”

Former Secretary of State George Shultz: “It surprises me to learn that opponents of the treaty are invoking President Reagan’s name, arguing that he would have opposed ratification despite having succeeded on the deep sea-bed issue. During his administration, with full clearance and support from President Reagan, we made it very clear that we would support ratification if our position on the sea-bed issue were accepted.”

David B. Sandalow / Brookings Institution: “President Reagan praised the Convention’s ‘many positive and very significant accomplishments,” but declined to sign because of the deep seabed mining provisions.”

Maggie Goodlander / Council on Foreign Relations: “President Reagan refused to endorse the treaty because of its provisions related to seabed mining, most of which were amended in 1994.”

Amanda Griscom / Grist: “Ronald Reagan was in office and he declined to sign on because of pressure from ultra-conservatives and specific objections to deep seabed mining provisions.”

Senator Richard Lugar: “President Reagan refused to sign it because of technology transfer provisions and other problems in the section on deep-seabed mining.”

The Saturday before last, husband David was reading aloud to me from The Reagan Diaries (yes, liberals, that’s the kind of thing conservative married couples do on Saturdays — your suspicions are confirmed), and came upon the entry for Tuesday, June 29, 1982:

Decided in NSC meeting-will not sign “Law of the Sea” treaty even without seabed mining provisions.

Many people may claim to speak for Ronald Reagan, but Ronald Reagan himself is the one person who really knew what Ronald Reagan thought.

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