The Law of the Sea Treaty: Engaging with Different Perspectives
By Lena Garrettson on 06/25/2012 @ 05:30 PM
Last week six four-star generals and admirals testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of the treaty. The Navy has been a strong proponent for the ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which also receives broad bipartisan support among policymakers, military officials, businesses, environmental, religious, and foreign policy organizations, as well as institutions and companies. June 14th was all Law of the Sea, in an additional afternoon hearing the debate continued with former Secretary of Defense Ronald Rumsfeld, former Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, Legal Adviser John Bellinger and Heritage Foundation policy expert Steven Groves.
Thursday morning, I tested my knowledge of the Law of the Sea arguments in discussions with several other young adults who work for Members of Congress opposing the treaty. We were all there to get a feeling for the atmosphere around the ratification of the treaty and to hear which arguments the Navy would use. While some came to the hearing with a clean slate eager to learn more in order to report back, others came with static talking points their offices wanted to push through -- without engaging with arguments in support of the treaty. In the end, it was satisfying to hear the arguments I had used to counter my peers' opposition echoed by the generals to counter the senators' opposition.
Later in the afternoon, I revisited a letter addressed to the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, which declared opposition to the ratification of the treaty. The letter uses vague language and reflects a general opposition to treaties instead of addressing the specifics of the Law of the Sea Treaty. The senators, led by Jon Kyl, believe that the treaty is "inconsistent with American values and sovereignty," yet the treaty secures economic rights, ensures navigational security, and is an agreement on a system to peacefully resolve conflicts - how is this inconsistent with American values or sovereignty? Additionally, the U.S. would be able to (finally) claim the only permanent seat in the governing body established by the treaty in 1982. The Law of the Sea Treaty not only enhances U.S. national security, as generals and navy have emphasized; it also promotes U.S. leadership on the oceans and advances U.S. economic interests.
The Treaty sets guidelines for how a nation develops, uses, and maintains the water it has jurisdiction over. The treaty would give the U.S. a legal right to jurisdiction it already assumes and expand U.S. claims to the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone. U.S. interests in international waters would be secured and the United States would clearly benefit from full accession and participation in the Law of the Sea.
The hearings on the treaty have shown that in many cases the opposition's arguments are based on misinformation, and that their vague statements remain grounded in ideological convictions rather than determining what is in the best interest for the U.S. The hearings are making it clear that ratification of the treaty would benefit the United States.
Because there have been only a few very vocal senators expressing concern or clearly stating their opposition during the hearings, I was curious about the list of senators who joined the opposition at large. I scrolled down to the bottom of the letter, where I knew I would find the more passive opponents of the treaty. At the bottom of the list, I read my senator's name. While Senator Toomey had never expressed explicit support for the treaty, he is "committed to restoring economic growth and private-sector job creation in this country." The Law of the Sea Treaty would help accomplish this goal by ensuring protections and rights to U.S. private-sector companies exploring our continental shelf resources.
Taken aback to find Toomey's signature on the list, I searched his website for an official statement. Since there was none, I then sent him an email urging him to withdraw his signature and to explain when and why this had happened. Instead of an email reply from Sen. Toomey, I read a tweet in my twitter-feed from the official Toomey account: "I oppose the UN Law of the Sea treaty. Relying on an unaccountable international body would jeopardize U.S. interests."
Not much can be said in 140 characters or less, but there was a link to the official statement now up on his website. Toomey's statement reiterates the same loose claims as the letter he signed. With their vague language, both Toomey's statement and the letter reflect a general opposition to treaties instead of addressing the specifics of the Law of the Sea Treaty. Ratification of the treaty would benefit the United States and the hearings are making this clear.
The opposition expressed in the letter is poorly supported. And I am disappointed that my senator signed it.
The next hearing will be on June 28th and will be addressing the business and economic aspects of the treaty. If your senator is, like Sen. Toomey, "committed to restoring economic growth and private-sector job creation in this country" this next hearing might convince them that joining the Law of the Sea Treaty will support U.S. economic interests.