The Law of the Sea Treaty is a complex international agreement that's been around since Ronald Reagan was president. Its ostensible purpose is to define the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources.
Reagan objected to several of the treaty's provisions and refused to sign it without amendments changing it, but like a bad penny, it keeps turning up. In 1994 the United Nations attempted to move the ball down the field by creating an "Agreement on Implementation" that would address the concerns expressed by the United States and others. It didn't really make the treaty any better but President Bill Clinton signed it anyway. The U.S. Senate, however, has never, as the Constitution requires, voted to ratify it.
The global governance crowd remains undeterred. The treaty may again see the light of day in the Senate, perhaps as early as next week. And this doesn't sit well with some people.
"One of the primary missions of the United States Navy for over two centuries has been to maintain freedom of the seas for all. As a Navy veteran, I am offended to think that the Senate and the Chief of Naval Operations would even consider ceding any part of that mission to the United Nations," said Colin Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring—a nonpartisan organization where I am a senior fellow.
In reality the Law of the Sea Treaty is one more step towards a system of global governance under which U.S. sovereignty would be subordinated to an international system managed by an unelected, self-perpetuating form of bureaucratic aristocracy that cares little for democratic traditions. Which, Hanna suggests, is one of a series of reasons the Senate should continue to vote down efforts to ratify it.
The Law of the Sea Treaty would do irreparable harm to U.S. military and intelligence operations and would force the United States to hand over proprietary technology to countries actively hostile to U.S. interests. It would also create a system for resolving disputes lying outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. legal system, leaving American citizens and businesses at the mercy of international tribunals whose members are not necessarily adherents to Western political or legal traditions and who may not hail from democratic nations.
The Law of the Sea Treaty, as previously mentioned, establishes a global bureaucracy that could leave U.S. businesses awash in a sea of destructive environmental regulations that would be costly and anticompetitive while these same bureaucrats handed out U.S. government money to give the economies of unfriendly countries a boost. The treaty would, Hanna says, impose global royalties and fees on American energy companies that will destroy U.S. jobs and make energy from traditional sources like natural gas and oil even more expensive. It might also embolden the military of countries like the People's Republic of China, who could use its language to justify a more aggressive posture in the South China Sea, while at the same time impeding the ability of the United States to interdict weapons of mass destruction being transported from one nation to another on the high seas.
Finally, says Hanna, "There is no guarantee that the treaty will remain what it is at the time of ratification. Under its terms, its content can later be changed by an amendment process that does not require the approval of the United States government. This undermines U.S. sovereignty and, to put it bluntly, is unconstitutional."
The issue is not one that gets much attention while those who oppose it are often dismissed as raising concerns that lie outside the mainstream of American political belief. The treaty has the support of Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee's ranking Republican, who was defeated Tuesday in his bid for renomination. Both men are the kind of internationalists who believe the United States needs to deepen its involvement in global affairs—not as the leader of the free world—but as a kind of first among equals which, history has shown, is not in the best long-term interests of the nation as a whole or the values upon which it was founded and continues to represent to the rest of the world.
Kerry and Lugar are thought by some to want to bring the treaty up, yet again, perhaps as a way to burnish their domestic and international credentials as potential secretaries of state in a second Obama administration. If they do, the Senate should reject it.