Item: From the Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1975 edition, the definition of "sovereignty": "Freedom from external control : Autonomy," and "a supreme power especially over a body politic."
Item: From the U.S. Constitution: "The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made...." And: "This Constitution...and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land."
Despite these clear constitutional provisions, the Bush administration and the Democratic congressional leadership are trying to secure ratification of the so-called Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) -- which creates an "International Seabed Authority" and an "International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea," which set up and oversee what have been described as "mandatory dispute resolution tribunals." Those tribunals will have jurisdiction over "protection and preservation of the marine environment." And nations that sign the treaty "shall" (in other words, it is mandatory) "enforce" all laws necessary to "control pollution of the marine environment from land-based sources."
In other words, any alleged sea pollution that supposedly originates from within the land borders of the United States shall be subject to legal action under the aegis not of U.S courts, but of tribunals controlled by these foreign bodies.
That certainly doesn't sound like "sovereignty." It doesn't sound like U.S. courts remain "the supreme law of the land." It doesn't sound like our own policies concerning activity on our own lands would enjoy "freedom from external control."
The time is short. The treaty is expected to be put forth for Senate ratification some time this fall. But conservatives, for good reason, are beginning to rally against it. If President George W. Bush continues to push LOST, he risks a repeat of the fierce internecine battle against his own base that he lost so overwhelmingly on the subject of immigration. Moving forward with the treaty would therefore be both a truly horrible policy choice and sheer political folly.
Others more expert than than I, including two of Ronald Reagan's most trusted associates, have explained in great detail all the things wrong with LOST. But on the level of principle, the issue is really simple: Is the United States a sovereign nation or not?
It is one thing to submit trade disputes to international referees. It is quite another to submit to international bodies the right to decide if our own internal laws meet their shifting bureaucratic standards. The latter is a far more dangerous proposition.
Arguments from administration lawyers to the contrary -- in other words, that the international tribunals would not try to encroach on our sovereignty -- are specious. Long experience with our own American judicial branch demonstrates that even a judiciary that supposedly is carefully limited in scope by a wise and balanced constitution cannot help but try to aggregate ever more power to itself. It would be madness to count on restraint from foreign busybodies armed with treaty language as definitive as "shall" combined with clauses as elastic as "take other measures necessary."
One would think that a conservative administration that has so carefully tried to promote judicial restraint at home would vociferously oppose adherence to foreign tribunals that have neither record of nor incentive for restraint.
In truth (as some of the other writers previously referenced show at some length), the Law of the Sea Treaty is chock full of things American conservatives detest from the very marrow of our beings: foreigners asserting control over our affairs, multiple layers of bureaucracy, decks stacked in favor of Third World interests, open invitations for spurious lawsuits, and encouragement of mischief by radical environmentalists.
Conservatives, indeed all Americans who care about our national autonomy, should not let LOST pass unnoticed. If the United States becomes the land of the LOST, our sovereignty might go the way of the dinosaurs.