Another Perspective

To the Bottom of the Ocean

Is where the Senate should send the Law of the Sea Treaty.

By 7.14.04

Send to Kindle

The United Nations has gone through some tough times of late. The body faces a public relation disaster over a tell-all book by three U.N. employees. It charges that peacekeeping operations are chock full of waste and abuse. Allegations of U.N. mismanagement of the Iraqi Oil-for-Food program have led to a formal investigation.

Its image battered, the U.N. is now turning to the United States Senate to deliver some good news this summer by ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty (which goes by the wonderful acronym LOST). LOST operates under the assumption that any minerals in the ocean floor constitute the "common heritage" of all mankind -- and therefore cannot be the property of any one individual, company, or nation. This treaty would give the United Nations authority over much of the world's oceans, including the power to regulate and tax deep-sea mining, and redistribute the proceeds to Third World governments.

LOST has been around for a long time. President Reagan rejected it in 1982, citing the "deep conviction that the United States cannot support a deep seabed mining regime with such major problems." He withdrew the U.S. from participation in negotiations at all but the most "technical level."

Clinton signed the agreement in 1994, but could not persuade the Senate to ratify it. Now a loose coalition of American military officials, politicians, bureaucrats, and activists is working to force the Senate off the fence, on the treaty's side.

Proponents argue that the parts of the treaty that Reagan found unacceptable have been watered down. For instance, University of Virginia law professor John Norton Moore told the L.A. Times, "There is not a single sovereign right of the United States that is conceded in this treaty."

BUT DR. PETER LEITNER, of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, who has studied LOST for years, in May -- testifying before the House International Relations Committee as a private citizen -- pointed out that LOST would give the U.N. the power to "tax, regulate, and enforce its will" on companies attempting to mine the seabed. Further, it would give the U.N. an independent source of revenue, which would encourage that body to further "insulate itself" from the nation-states on which it traditionally depends for its funding.

This insularity would allow the U.N. to pursue one of the treaty's most obnoxious goals -- to enshrine the world body as an agent of global income redistribution. Paul Bamela Engo, a diplomat from Cameroon who was involved in some of the early LOST negotiations, has stated that LOST is not just about writing "a business arrangement to facilitate exploitation of the seabed resources by the industrially rich and powerful nations." Rather, its authors intended to "design a new relationship among states."

Given the United Nations' dysfunctional management culture, the countries that pay the bulk of the U.N.'s bills should be troubled by the prospect of that organization developing an independent revenue stream. How can the U.S., the UK, etc. know that the money will be well spent? What guarantees do we have that, if seabed mining becomes a profitable industry and the U.N. begins to take in lots of revenue, the end result won't be another debacle like the Oil-for-Food program -- but on a much larger scale?

As P.J. O'Rourke said of another set of bureaucrats, giving the blue hat brigade more money and power through LOST would be like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Neil Hrab is the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in Washington, D.C.