Law of the Sea: A Sinkable Treaty

Perfect timing.

Just as critical sectors — like the full GOP Senate leadership — appear to be waking up to the dangers of the Law of the Sea treaty, the Wall Street Journal weighs in with a very well-argued staff editorial, “A Sinkable Treaty.”


The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 17-4 Wednesday to approve the Law of the Sea Treaty, meaning it’s now up to 34 Senate Republicans to send this giant octopus of a document back where it belongs. To wit, the bottom of the ocean.

The U.S. last disposed of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — LOST to its critics — when Ronald Reagan was President. This May, however, the Bush Administration reversed course and declared that the Gipper’s objections had been fixed by a 1994 amendment. We’ve since had a debate on these pages over that point, with former Secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker in favor, while Ed Meese and William Clark, Reagan’s Attorney General and National Security Adviser, remain opposed.

The best arguments for the treaty come from the U.S. Navy, which likes how it creates a legal framework for navigational rights. The oil and gas industry approves of provisions that create an “exclusive economic zone” for the U.S. out to 200 miles. There’s also the potential for development (with clear legal title) of resources in the deep seabed, which would be managed by the International Seabed Authority on which the U.S. would be guaranteed a seat…

Then again, the Navy has been getting along fine by using the “customary law” that has guaranteed freedom of the seas for three centuries. Treaty proponents have taken to arguing that, unless we ratify, Russia will lay claim to oil rights over the Arctic seabed. But Russia’s expansive Arctic claims, possibly including the sea floor under the North Pole, are themselves a product of the treaty….

The larger problem is the treaty’s sheer size…

Consider the treaty’s potential effects on military activities….

The Navy might also ask how its powerful sonars — which some environmentalists say harm marine life — could run afoul of Article 196…

Or take concerns that the treaty’s requirements on pollution are a back-door mechanism for forcing U.S. compliance with the Kyoto Treaty and other global environmental pacts. Confronted with the argument, an Administration spokesman told the Senate that the treaty did not exercise jurisdiction over land-based pollution. Replied Republican Senator David Vitter: “If it is… not covered by the treaty, why is there a section entitled, ‘Pollution from Land-Based Sources’?” A good question, considering that Article 213 notes that countries “shall adopt laws and regulations and take other measures necessary to implement applicable international rules and standards established through competent international organizations” to control such pollution. Note our emphasis.

Critics are also right to be concerned about the powers of direct taxation the treaty confers…

Some 154 countries have joined the Law of the Sea Treaty, with the U.S. one of the few holdouts. Critics are being labeled isolationists, or worse. But the U.S. has been abiding voluntarily with the terms of the treaty since 1983, with no ill effect. Twenty-some years ago a former President objected to handing sovereignty over two-thirds of the Earth’s surface to another unaccountable international body. Ronald Reagan sank the treaty then; now it’s up to 34 Senators to show similar courage.

For more in-depth information on several of these points, I encourage folks to read husband David Ridenour’s National Policy Analysis paper of August 2006, “Ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty: A Not-So-Innocent Passage.” Raising the issue of land-based pollution that Senator Vitter addressed in the Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, for example, David wrote then:

In a great ironic twist, the Law of the Sea Treaty – supported by many in the energy sector – may give environmentalists a blunt instrument to use against the energy industry.

Article 212 of the treaty states, in part, “States shall adopt laws and regulations to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from or through the atmosphere… States, acting especially through competent international organizations… shall endeavor to establish global and regional rules, standards and recommended practices and procedures to prevent, reduce and control pollution.” This sounds like a directive to impose Kyoto Protocol-style regulations designed to reduce state emissions of greenhouse gases. These gases are emitted through the use of the very products the energy industry sells.

Backdoor implementation of the Kyoto Protocol might be advanced by arguing that U.S.’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (one-quarter of such emissions world-wide) are warming the planet causing irreparable harm to coral reefs, home to the world’s most biologically-diverse marine ecosystems.

Alternatively, they could argue that sea levels are rising due to U.S.-induced climate change, causing beach erosion in such countries as the Maldives, Comoros or the Seychelles. To bolster their case, they might cite Article 194(2) of the treaty which states: “States shall take all measures necessary to ensure that activities under their jurisdiction or control are so conducted as not to cause damage by pollution to other States and their environment.”

There’s plenty more. This treaty is dangerous.

I also encourage folks to visit the National Center for Public Policy Research’s special website on the Law of the Sea Treaty at for easy access to many papers, op-eds, hearing testimonies, blog entries and videos about the Law of the Sea Treaty. I can’t promise the website won’t scare you, but as more and more Senators are waking up to the dangers of this treaty, all is not LOST.

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