Will Our Freedoms Be Lost at Sea? the Obama Administration and Key Allies Are Advancing an All-Out Effort to Pass the Law of the Sea Treaty, Using Deceptive and Blatantly Inaccurate Facts and Disparaging Foes

By Tennant, Michael | The New American, July 9, 2012 | Go to article overview

Will Our Freedoms Be Lost at Sea? the Obama Administration and Key Allies Are Advancing an All-Out Effort to Pass the Law of the Sea Treaty, Using Deceptive and Blatantly Inaccurate Facts and Disparaging Foes


Tennant, Michael, The New American


The Obama administration is pulling out all the stops in an effort to get the Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), also known as the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST). The administration argues that the treaty offers the United States great benefits at no cost. LOST opponents maintain that the accord's few benefits--most of which are already enshrined in international law--are dwarfed by its price: granting an unaccountable, UN-created body control over 70 percent of the Earth's surface.

LOST and Found

Barack Obama set up housekeeping at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue determined to see LOST ratification through. As a candidate for President, Obama told the American Society of International Law that LOST was "clearly in the national interest" and that he would make it his "priority to build bipartisan consensus behind ratification" of it. As President, he has surrounded himself with LOST supporters, among them Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

The administration put LOST on the back burner for a while; but in 2011, it began pushing for ratification, aided by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who started meeting with his fellow Senators to convince them to support the treaty. However, he did not schedule a committee hearing until May 2012. Capitol Hill staffers told Foreign Policy magazine that Kerry delayed the hearing to assist his Republican counterpart on the committee and fellow LOST cheerleader, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, in his primary election battle against Tea Party-backed Richard Mourdock. Lugar lost just the same, but he is now free to back LOST to the hilt without fear of voters' wrath. (A Kerry spokeswoman denied the Lugar angle, stating that the hearing had been delayed because of Kerry's service on the deficit supercommittee and more urgent matters before the Foreign Relations Committee.)

The May 23 hearing demonstrated the administration's determination to move LOST through the Senate as quickly as possible. Clinton, Panetta, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, three of Obama's heaviest hitters, all made impassioned pleas for the Senate to accede to LOST the sooner, the better.

"I strongly believe that accession to this treaty is absolutely essential, not only to our economic interests, our diplomatic interests, but I'm here to say that it is extremely important to our national security interests as well," Panetta told the committee.

Dempsey, too, approached LOST from a national-security angle, saying that "being a member of the Convention would better allow the United States to exercise global security leadership." He argued that accession to the accord "would provide legal certainty to our navigational freedoms and legitimacy to our maritime operations that customary law simply cannot." In addition, he said, the United States becoming a party to LOST would enable it to counter "illegitimate expansionism" by foreign countries.

(Panetta and Dempsey had offered similar remarks at the Law of the Sea Convention forum in Washington a fortnight earlier, again proving how serious the administration is about LOST.)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Of the three, Clinton offered the most comprehensive defense of LOST.

"As the world's foremost maritime power," she remarked, "the United States benefits from the Convention's favorable freedom of navigation provisions." Though the U.S. military currently has freedom of the seas, such freedom is based on custom combined with military might. Commercial shipping is likewise at the mercy of informal customs rather than formal law. Ratifying LOST would codify the customs of international law and secure U.S. navigational freedoms in perpetuity, benefiting both the armed forces and the private sector, she argued.

"We have the world's second longest coastline," Clinton said, "so the United States benefits greatly from the Convention's favorable provisions on offshore natural resources. …

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