No pragmatic reason not to ratify Law of the Sea treaty
National security is not best served from a position of unilateralism, despite our dominant position in world affairs. In fact, our dominant position is buttressed by long-term collaboration and engagement in international forums and law. We are a country whose political and economic self-interest coincides with international rule of law and global stability.
I mention this in the context of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which has emerged from years of dormancy as an issue on the forefront of American maritime policy.
The United States is the only industrial country not to have ratified the treaty, despite support from backers as varied as the Chamber of Commerce and Greenpeace, as well as every administration, Republican or Democratic, since 1994.
Included in that chorus of supporters are military and defense officials who hardly would speak in favor of, as it detractors have it, a treaty that would undermine our sovereignty or security.
"The myth that somehow this would surrender U.S. sovereignty, nothing could be further from the truth," said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during a May 23 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In fact, the opposite, since the treaty would codify country-exclusive economic zones out to 200 nautical miles beyond the coastline, or farther yet if the continental shelf extends out past that.
The State Department calculates that under the treaty's provisions, the U.S. economic zone in the natural-resource-rich Arctic would extend 600 miles offshore.
"Not since we acquired the lands of the American West and Alaska have we had such an opportunity to expand U.S. sovereignty. The estimated extended continental shelf is said to encompass at least 385,000 square miles of seabed," Panetta said.
But so long as the United States remains the sole holdout to ratification, extraction companies will be leery of investing money in the resource-rich Arctic region, noted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the same hearing.
Lack of ratification has other effects, too. The western Pacific, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp said earlier this month, "is a mosaic of competing claims for territory and for resources." Lack of U.S. involvement means we are unable to participate in the legal framework for settling such disputes. Joining the convention would provide "a better opportunity to settle disputes with cooperation instead of cannons," Papp said.
Why exactly there's so much opposition to the treaty, mostly from conservatives, is difficult to determine. The canard that the treaty would undermine military or intelligence operations is just that--a canard. It might have to do with suspicion of anything associated with the United Nations. As Clinton put it, "of course that means that the black helicopters are on their way."
The convention does require acceptance of binding settlements over disputes through arbitration or in an international venue such as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. But, the International Tribunal is no International Court of Criminal Justice, not by a long shot. The treaty allows countries to opt out of binding dispute settlement procedures regarding maritime boundaries between neighboring states, disputes concerning military activities and certain law enforcement activities--and the United States would without question opt out.
Probably it just amounts to innate suspicion of all things international, a position that seems laughable when one considers that the United States is responsible in great measure for most important international institutions and that we play dominant roles within them. There's no pragmatic reason not to support ascension, just as there's no pragmatic reason to be an isolationist. Here's to hoping enough senators see reason. - Dave