Opposition Mounts to U.N. Sea Treaty

April 15, 2004

By Cheryl K. Chumley

It seems the voice of grassroots is resonating at last in Congress, as three of a handful of senators hearing witness testimony on the U.N. Law of the Sea Treaty publicly validated the opinions of those who regard this document as harmful to American sovereignty.

LOST, created in 1982 and amended in 1994, was never ratified in the Senate, mostly because true Reaganite conservatives in Congress at the time saw the devastation to our national sovereignty that would result. The treaty was dormant for years until February, when Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) caved to the pressures of supporters that included the White House, environmentalists, the U.S. Navy and oil industry executives, and pushed its passage through his Foreign Relations Committee unanimously.

This treaty is dangerous to America’s interests and sovereignty on several fronts: it gives three U.N. bodies authority over 70 percent of the world’s surface; compromises our ability to search suspect vessels; transfers our technology to hostile nations; forces our nation to pay fees and obtain U.N. permission before mining or drilling; and threatens to give the United Nations control of the sky and space above the seas.

Until just recently, though, those who outlined such fears and threats were the small voices in the wilderness. Given the criticisms of more than one senator at a recent LOST hearing, though, it would seem the tide is turning in favor of clear-sightedness and truth.

Thanks are due Sens. James Inhofe (R-Kan.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and John Ensign (Nev.), for peppering Armed Services Committee witnesses with probing questions about the ramifications of this treaty. Here’s an excerpt of what transpired during the question-answer phase of this hearing, paraphrased, regarding the treaty’s language that says nations cannot search suspect vessels if those on board claim their sea travels are related to trade rather than military.

“Let’s just say there’s a dispute with China,” Inhofe began. “China says its vessel is for economic purposes and the U.S. says no, it’s military. An arbitrator says China’s right.”

What happens then?

The answer: a vaguely defined guarantee that the United States would not be subject to the decision of U.N. authorities. Instead – and this, believe it or not, was offered in the tone of a friendly assurance – “we would discuss this with China.”

“Couldn’t we opt out of the treaty?” Inhofe pressed.

“Yes.”

“Then what happens to the contractors there?” Inhofe rebutted. He was referring to the fate of American workers who begin drilling activities with the blessing of the U.N. Seabed Authority but then find themselves caught in the midst of an American opt-out treaty disagreement.

The answer: contractors should be aware of this potential and cover themselves by inserting language in their contracts emphasizing their rights to continue activities, even if the U.S. exerts its opt-out authority.

Common sense alone should expose this so-called allowance as nonsense. Free-market principle is not of forefront concern to the United Nations. Given that, then, how much sway would an American corporate contract really hold with U.N. sea treaty authorities, especially if those same U.N. sea treaty authorities are bitter with our opt-out and what they would surely view as a typical American expression of arrogance and contempt for global authority? If the answer that comes to mind is greater than “none,” it’s not reflective of fact, realism or truth.

But wait, Inhofe wasn’t quite finished.

“What about the air over the sea?”

Now there’s a frightening point. If LOST is aimed at providing peaceful travel and economic and technological advancement to all nations equally, as it claims, then doesn’t logic stand to reason the air above must be monitored for unfriendly motions or hostile acts that run contrary to regulation?

The answer: not only the air but also the space could become subject to U.N. authority under this treaty, agreed witness Jeane Kirkpatrick, former Ambassador to the United Nations.

If any doubt persists that this treaty is not damaging to U.S. interests, perhaps Ensign’s statements will prove enlightening.

“Everyone has different opinions on this treaty and that leads to the question of how this will be interpreted later,” he said. “I have grave concerns with what this means down the line. How will we look at this down the line?”

Good point. Former Pres. Ronald Reagan, for instance, knew this treaty would decimate the ability of America to maintain its sovereign right to mine sea beds and search suspect vessels for, say, nuclear weapons trades between hostile nations. Reagan also knew that the portions of the treaty mandating mining technology had to be shared with the U.N. authority – and later, with nations unable to develop this technology on their own – placed America’s security at risk.

But what will be the opinion of the next generation of Congress? Or of the newest chosen president?

We don’t really know – and therein lies the problem, because how much authority to cede to the United Nations and under what circumstances to exercise an American opt-out will become the whim of the newest faces on Capitol Hill and in the White House, and we can only guess whether these faces of power will resemble more a steadfast Reagan than an appeasing Lugar.

“Before subjecting ourselves to another international institution, I think we need to proceed cautiously,” said Sessions.

Caution, for now, means delaying a vote on ratification until Sen. Pat Roberts’ (R-Kan.) Committee on Select Intelligence hears witness testimony on the treaty.

Maybe this buys enough time to remind the likes of Armed Services Committee ranking members Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), as well as Lugar, his committee of conciliators and whatever other U.N.-supporting cohorts emerge from the senate, that America’s constituents prefer to remain masters of their own fates and will not subject themselves to yet another global chain.

Cheryl K. Chumley is an associate editor with American Policy Center, a grassroots, conservative think tank located in Warrenton, Va. The APC is located on the Internet at www.americanpolicy.org and Chumley may be emailed at [email protected]

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.