Ronald Reagan thought a “law of the sea” treaty was a bad idea in 1978. As a private citizen, he devoted one of his daily radio commentaries to it. Four years later, as president, he refused to sign off on it because, in effect, it would have put sovereignty over more than 40 percent of the Earth’s surface in the hands of an international body, accountable to no one.
As Third World countries gained the majority in the United Nations General Assembly, the notion of controlling the world’s seabed took flight, so to speak. Let the industrialized nations use their know-how and resources to mine trillions of tons of minerals on the world’s seabeds, with half the proceeds going to a new international organization which could, in turn, distribute the money to all its members. Voila! they thought: instant redistribution.
Reagan thought otherwise and the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) languished until 1994 when amendments were made with the intention to make it more palatable to the United States. Now, by 2007, 154 countries have joined LOST. Advocates for it claim we are “isolating” ourselves by not signing on to LOST. That’s the same argument that was used for the Bush Administration’s refusal to sign on to the deeply flawed Kyoto treaty.
The Bush Administration now supports LOST, partly because the Navy likes the fact it sets up a legal framework for navigational rights. Oil and gas interests like its provision for creating “exclusive enterprise zones” 200 miles out from U.S. shores.
Despite these attractions, there are plenty of detractions. The size of the treaty is one of them. The LOST has 320 articles and nine annexes. Many of them are objectionable, such as Article 20, which requires that submarines operating in anyone’s territorial waters must do so on the surface, showing a flag. How will this affect our intelligence-gathering by submarine? Similarly, the treaty could sharply affect the Navy’s use of its sophisticated Sonar equipment.
Article 213 could have the effect of enforcing Kyoto standards on the U.S. It states that participating states, “shall adopt laws and regulations and take other measures necessary to implement applicable international rules and standards applied through competent international organizations.”
Perhaps the most odious feature of LOST is one that motivated it in the first place, 30 years ago: taxation. Article 12 contains a number of “production” charges, as well as an annual million-dollar “administrative” fee. This fee will go to the International Seabed Authority, a body created by LOST to administer it. One does not have to be clairvoyant to see that this stew of fees can easily lead to the kind of skimming, bribery and corruption that has afflicted the United Nations.
Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to approve LOST. It is now on the Senate floor for an “up” or “down” vote. The Senate should vote “down” and let LOST slip beneath the waves of history — permanently.
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