30-Year-Old Law of the Sea Treaty Still Not Worth It

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It’s Round 2 in President Obama’s effort to get the U.S. Senate to agree to ratification of a major international treaty. Late last year, the President successfully pressed the Senate to ratify the New START treaty with Russia, which dealt with nuclear weapons. Now, it’s ramping up pressure on another treaty, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Back in May, then-Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg said the Obama Administration and Senator John Kerry (D–MA) were working to secure the necessary number of Senate votes needed for UNCLOS’s ratification.

There’s just one problem. As Heritage vice president Kim Holmes contends in a piece in the Washington Times, ratifying UNCLOS is still a bad deal.

It’s been nearly 30 years since UNCLOS was first adopted at a 1982 U.N. conference, and there are good reasons why it’s languished for so long in the U.S. Senate awaiting ratification. President Ronald Reagan said that although the treaty contained “many positive and very significant accomplishments” in codifying customary law on freedom of the seas, he would not sign it because of the treaty’s objectionable provisions relating to deep seabed mining.

President Clinton presided over an amendment process to deal with some of the concerns Reagan had raised and then sent the treaty to the Senate in 1994 for ratification. It went nowhere because its critics felt there were still too many problems.

One of those problems is its infringement on American sovereignty. UNCLOS created another U.N.-style institution called the International Seabed Authority tasked with divvying up any royalties gained from harvesting resources beyond a certain point on a country’s continental shelf. Decisions are made by consensus, and if the U.S. disagreed, it would have to get Russia and China—part of the group it was placed in for voting purposes—to go along with a veto to stop them. Those making the decisions and the recipients of the royalties could easily be “corrupt and despotic regimes and state sponsors of terrorism.”

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It would be detrimental to U.S. sovereignty and the U.S. economy if the Senate were to vote to accede to the treaty. And then expect round 3 in the Obama treaty plan. All signs point to a renewed effort to get the flawed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratified right behind UNCLOS.

Scott Nason currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/internships-young-leaders/the-heritage-foundation-internship-program

Source material can be found at this site.

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