Victory or Defeat with Law of the Sea Treaty? America's LOST Sovereignty

Article excerpt


The United States is again facing ratification of the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty. As in 1982, there is sizable support for the treaty - from U.S. business groups, our military and diplomatic corps, former secretaries of State, some 160 nations, the Obama administration and U.S. senators of both parties.

But mere strength in numbers wasn't enough to persuade President Ronald Reagan of the treaty's merits 30 years ago. And it shouldn't be enough to persuade members of the U.S. Senate today.

President Reagan was convinced that the Law of the Sea Treaty's sweeping power grab would erode American sovereignty by ceding our constitutional right to self-governance to an unelected and unaccountable international body. This is why he asked me to serve as a special envoy and meet with key world leaders to seek their support in opposing the treaty.

Reagan understood well that underlying the Law of the Sea Treaty was a new concept of enormous consequence - that the riches of the oceans beyond national boundaries are the common heritage of mankind and thus are owned in common by all people. This novel idea of ownership requires anyone who finds a way to make use of such riches to pay royalties of unknown amounts - potentially tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars - for redistribution to less-developed nations.

The treaty establishes a strange way of looking at industry, investment, talent, risk and good fortune that is, in my view, fundamentally incompatible with the basic tenets of capitalism and free markets.

Redistributing a significant portion of the value of the minerals in the deep seabed to nations and organizations that will have absolutely nothing to do with their extraction is a novel and dangerous principal that has no clear limits. Imagine if fishermen who exerted themselves to catch fish on the high seas were required by a U.N. treaty to pay a share of their take to countries that had nothing to do with the fishermen's costly and dangerous efforts. The treaty supporters making the argument for world ownership of the deep seabed could make similar arguments for outer space in the future.

There are practical and moral arguments in favor of developed countries providing financial and other forms of aid to poor countries. But the decision to provide such aid has always been and should remain a sovereign choice for each nation. In the case of the United States, it is a choice for American citizens and their elected representatives. I am convinced that the United States should not endorse a treaty that makes such a massive redistribution of wealth a legal obligation.

What makes such a transfer of wealth even more objectionable is its poor design. The mechanism outlined in the treaty is the newly created International Seabed Authority, which is effectively a U.N. agency that would be empowered to regulate all mining and oil and gas activity on the high seas. …