The Next Big Thing: The UN Law of the Sea Treaty
By Lena Garrettson on 06/01/2012 @ 11:19 AM
Last Wednesday, Senator Kerry opened the first in a series of hearings on the Law of the Sea. He stated that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will "examine all arguments" and start an "open, honest and comprehensive" conversation on whether or not the U.S. should join the convention. The first three witnesses to testify before the committee were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Dempsey.
It is long past over due that the U.S. ratifies the Law of the Sea treaty. The treaty lays out a comprehensive framework for the peaceful resolution of disputes at sea; it defines a country's exclusive economic zone, secures maritime navigation rights and supports the protection of the marine environment. With pressing issues at hand such as the dispute in the South China Sea or the growing competition for Arctic resources, U.S. non-ratification has turned into a barrier of U.S. interests and credibility. Senator Kerry and the Obama Administration have now publicly stated their intention to move the treaty to a vote in the Senate this year.
In their testimonies, Clinton emphasized the economic and diplomatic importance of joining the convention, while Panetta and Dempsey focused on the military and national security need. They all emphasized the unique coalition of broad support the Law of the Sea receives from bipartisan policymakers, military officials, businesses, environmental, religious and foreign policy organizations, as well as support from a diverse spectrum of institutions.
Senators James Inhofe (OK) and Bob Corker (TN) were among the senators to speak in opposition to the Law of the Sea treaty and argue that joining the convention would be at odds with U.S. interests or U.S. sovereignty. But when taking a look at the benefits U.S. businesses, military, navigation and environmental goals would gain from accession to this treaty, it is hard to agree with the opponents. In fact, the vocal minority opposing ratification is guided by a general animosity against international treaties and long resolved myths.
Over the past decade, when the Law of the Sea has come to a vote in the full Senate, a few ardent treaty opponents managed to block the two thirds majority needed to pass this important accord. By not being a member of the convention, the U.S. cannot participate in the peaceful management of the sea, cannot claim its permanent seat on the seabed authority council, cannot fulfill its role as a global maritime leader and does not have legal claims to deep seabed minerals and resources in the Arctic or along the extended continental shelf.
FCNL has long been among the supporters of U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea, since Miriam and Sam Levering labored for more than a decade to help develop and advance negotiations. The Leverings were members of the "Neptune Group" and worked out of the FCNL offices during the 1970's. They saw the treaty's potential for the peaceful management of the seas and the responsible jurisdiction over the ocean's resources as strong arguments for U.S. ratification. With climate change driving increased competition over the oceans and their resources, the need for a strong international mechanism, in which the U.S. fully participates, is more urgently needed than ever to manage disputes peacefully and protect the global commons of the oceans.
Take a look at FCNL's resources on the Law of the Sea and please write your senators to urge them to support U.S. ratification. The Senate is not expected to vote on this treaty before November, but keep your eyes open for action opportunities and updates.