Law of the Sea Treaty: Is the Tide Turning?
By Lena Garrettson on 07/24/2012 @ 11:05 AM
If you have your news filter set to find articles that mention Law of the Sea - like I do - your inbox would have been flooded last Monday. Why? Well, Senators Portman (OH) and Ayotte (NH) published a letter stating their opposition to the Law of the Sea Treaty. Additionally, Senator Isakson (GA) released an official statement that he, too, would oppose the treaty if it came up for a vote before the full Senate.
This brings the number of senators who have publically stated their opposition to the Law of the Sea up to 34. This is significant because constitutionally the Senate approves treaties by a two-thirds majority. With 100 senators, 34 no votes makes a two-thirds approval vote (requiring 67 senators) to ratify the treaty impossible.
The news last Monday was filled with articles proclaiming that the Law of the Sea Treaty was "sunk," or "dead in the water." When the hearings commenced earlier this spring, Senator Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made it clear that there wouldn't be a vote before the elections in order to detach the vote from partisan campaign politics. Yet as the hearings progressed the differences in opinions became more entrenched instead of resolved.
The opposition letter and the recent public statements opposing the Law of the Sea Treaty are indicative of a troublesome broader trend in the Senate to oppose international treaties. This is concerning as international treaties establish rules and norms that secure rights as well as provide mechanisms to peacefully prevent conflict in international settings.
Although Senator Kerry, who has led the efforts to ratify the treaty, announced that he will not be deterred and intends to keep moving the ratification process forward, this development is a major setback. Senator Kerry's spokeswoman said that "No letter or whip count changes the fact that rock-ribbed Republican businesses and the military and every living Republican secretary of state say that this needs to happen, and that's why it's a matter of 'when' not 'if' for the Law of the Sea." However, politicians fear being accused of flip-flopping on issues. This would make it highly unlikely for Senators to vote favorably for a treaty they have publicly opposed in the past.
FCNL has supported U.S. ratification of the treaty for decades and remains committed. Nonetheless, this is a major setback. Will Senator Kerry push for a lame duck session vote, or will the treaty get put on the back burner once again? For many advocates this is not the end. Ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty is not seen as a question of "if" only a question of "when" and the arguments in support of the ratification will only get louder with time.