Senate Could Vote Soon on Return of U.N. Sea Treaty Reagan Opposed

     In the clamor over Britney Spears’s children and O.J. Simpson’s latest caper, the media haven’t told much about an impending Senate vote that could impact the U.S. economy, national security and international relations.


     At issue is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – a.k.a. the Law of the Sea Treaty or LOST. If brought to the Senate floor, it will require a two-thirds majority to be approved. The Associated Press said a Senate vote could occur “by year’s end.”

     Ronald Reagan rejected the treaty when he was president. Bill Clinton signed it in 1994, but the Senate didn’t ratify it. Now, a coalition including the Bush administration, oil companies, military leaders, and environmentalists is pushing for the United States to join, despite some conservative opposition.


     Ironically, one reason it’s hot news right now is supposedly global warming – melting some of the Arctic ice – but many of those who want the United States to join also want to drill for oil in the newly thawed area. Even media who are usually anti-fossil fuels have editorialized in favor of the treaty.


     “U.S. could miss oil rush unless Congress signs treaty,” USA Today’s editorial was headlined on July 31.


     “The Bush administration’s hostility to treaties has backfired in the Arctic,” the Los Angeles Times editorialized August 24.


     But there’s much more at stake. For starters, LOST could mean the United States would be ordered to curb carbon dioxide and other emissions, delivering a huge blow to the U.S. economy. The Kyoto Protocol – another treaty the Senate rejected by a vote of 95 to 0 – would have imposed emissions controls on the United States at an estimated cost up to $400 billion annually.

Belief in Global Warming Brings Pre-Rush for Oil


     The most-publicized portion of the treaty involves economic rights to any possible resources in a nation’s underwater continental shelf. After planting its flag underwater in the Arctic, Russia is trying again to extend its claim to seabed mining privileges.


     “The Law of the Sea Treaty allows countries – even nonsignatories – exclusive rights to the seabed extending 200 nautical miles from their shores,” noted The Wall Street Journal’s Neil King Jr., writing August 22. Russia is looking to extend that boundary in Arctic waters.


     Covering Russia’s interest in the Arctic, a June 10 Chicago Tribune story was decidedly pro-treaty.


     “It’s a trove of energy wealth that sits unowned and unexplored, a bonanza being readied for a rush of claims thanks to climate change,” wrote the Tribune’s Alex Rodriguez.


     He made the case for the United States signing the treaty, including the scoffing of environmentalists who said global warming should be a higher priority than the next oil drilling site. But Rodriguez didn’t include any interviews with the treaty’s opponents. Instead, he quoted from one opposing group’s statement before quickly dismissing the group’s worries about U.S. sovereignty.


     The New York Times also reported that the Arctic territorial showdown was growing between countries that border Arctic waters – Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States.


     “The ultimate demarcation, if geologists’ estimates of its deposits prove true, could be a key to future national wealth and power,” wrote the Times’s C.J. Chivers August 2. Chivers mentioned LOST but didn’t mention that the United States hasn’t signed on, much less U.S. reasons for not doing so.


     NBC also said “a United Nations treaty has the final word on who owns the Arctic sea’s riches” in an August 13 “Nightly News” story about oil claims in the Arctic, but neglected to mention the U.S. position on the treaty.


     “Call it ‘the new Cold War.’ Why the polar rush? Global warming,” said NBC’s Kerry Sanders.


     But on the October 3 “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” CNN reported the treaty could be a threat to U.S. sovereignty.


     “Rising outrage tonight over a treaty that opponents say threatens U.S. sovereignty and also vital national interests,” said anchor Kitty Pilgrim. “The Bush administration and leading senators want the Senate to sign the U.N. Law of the Sea Treaty. But opponents say that treaty will give international bureaucrats control of two-thirds of the world’s surface.”


     Christine Romans’s report that followed included both supporters and opponents of the treaty. Romans also explored more angles to the treaty, including The Heritage Foundation’s criticisms that it “undermines U.S. sovereignty; is a back door for global environmental activists; is yet another unaccountable international bureaucracy; undermines American intelligence gathering; and is unnecessary.” It’s unnecessary because “the U.S. Navy already enjoys international navigation rights by customary practice,” Romans explained.

Treaty Carries Huge Implications for Emissions Regulation


     The Associated Press reported that the LOST “establishes environmental standards,” as Jim Abrams wrote October 3.


     That’s an understatement, experts say.


     Former President Bill Clinton, who signed the treaty in 1994 before the Senate declined to ratify it, “did not mince his words when he stated that the convention was ‘the greatest environmental treaty of all time,’” Heritage Foundation scholars Baker Spring, Steven Groves and Brett D. Schaefer wrote.


     The treaty’s pollution-control measures require that signatories “address ‘all sources of pollution of the marine environment … including those from land-based sources, from or through the atmosphere, or by dumping,’” the Heritage scholars wrote. “Signatories are also required to ‘adopt laws and regulations to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from or through the atmosphere …’ (Article 212).”


     Regulating the atmosphere and “land-based sources” could lead only in one direction, said policy analyst Myron Ebell.


     “[R]atification of LOST will almost certainly lead to judicially-implemented restrictions on CO2 emissions,” warned Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. 


     “This will happen even if the Kyoto Protocol continues to collapse and no second round of cuts is negotiated, even if Congress does not enact cap-and-trade or other energy-rationing legislation, even if the next president thinks global warming is not a serious problem, and even if the EPA decides not to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act,” Ebell said.

U.S. Sovereignty and Security


     Other experts have warned U.S. economic sovereignty isn’t the only type under threat. Though several reports touted military support for the treaty, Heritage scholars Spring, Groves and Schaefer pointed out that it actually has provisions that work against military interests.


     “Under the convention, the United States assumes a number of obligations at odds with its military practices and national security interests, including a commitment not to collect intelligence,” they wrote on September 25.


     “The U.S. would sign away its ability to collect intelligence vital for American security within the ‘territorial waters’ of any other country (Article 19). Furthermore, U.S. submarines would be required to travel on the surface and show their flags while sailing within territorial waters (Article 20).”


     As editorials and news reports debated the subject, they speculated whether Reagan would sign LOST today.


     “While the U.S. adheres to most provisions, President Reagan opposed the treaty because of a section dealing with deep seabed mining,” AP’s Abrams wrote, adding that “that section was overhauled in 1994 to satisfy U.S. concerns.”


     But as Reagan cabinet members William P. Clark and Edwin Meese wrote in The Wall Street Journal October 8, “The so-called seabed mining provisions were simply one manifestation of the problems Ronald Reagan had with LOST.”


     Abrams did include some criticisms of LOST in his AP story; however, he then concluded that “Congress and the White House have come around on the issue as global warming opens up the possibilities of exploiting resources frozen under polar ice.”


     Clark and Meese wrote that Ambassador James Malone, Reagan’s man who tried to renegotiate the treaty, said in the ’90s that the treaty still had fundamental flaws: “the regime’s structural arrangements place central planning ahead of free market interests in determining influence over world resources; and yet, the collapse of socialist central planning throughout the world makes this a step in the wrong direction.”


     Other vital concerns Clark and Meese detailed:


“ … the increasingly brazen hostility of the United Nations and other multilateral institutions to the United States and its interests; the organization's ambition to impose international taxes, which would allow it to become still less transparent and accountable to member nations; the determination of European and other environmentalists to impose the ‘precautionary principle’ (a Luddite, ‘better safe than sorry’ approach that requires proof no harm can come from any initiative before it can be undertaken); the increasing practice of U.S. courts to allow ‘universal jurisprudence’ to trump American constitutional rights and laws; and the use of ‘lawfare’ (multilateral treaties, tribunal rulings and convention declarations) by adversaries of the U.S. military as asymmetric weapons to curtail or impede American power and operations.”