UN Law of the Sea Treaty Threatens US Sovereignty

June 2, 2004

By Tom DeWeese

Those driving the battle to entangle the United States in the United Nations’ Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) are fighting back, determined to paint any opponent as a radical who is out of touch with the way the world really works.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN) and his allies are mad because they had hoped to sneak LOST through the Senate before anyone noticed. Opponents to the Treaty foiled that trick and blasted it to the nation. Americans rose up in protest and now the Law of the Sea Treaty is stuck. Lugar seemed genuinely shocked by the strength of the anti-treaty protests. Now it appears LOST is being held up without a scheduled vote by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN).

So Lugar and the pro-LOST forces have taken off the gloves, fighting back by increasing lobbying efforts, invoking the list of powerful government offices and departments which testified in favor of the treaty. These include the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Departments of Defense, State, Commerce, Justice, and the EPA. Lugar insists that the Bush “Administration even helped write the resolution of advice and consent accompanying the treaty.”

In addition, Lugar insists that:

    • “Contrary to some claims, the Law of the Sea Treaty provides no decision-making role for the United Nations. The words ‘United Nations’ appear in the title of the Convention only because that is where negotiations physically took place.”
    • “…The Convention affirms unchallenged American rights to our ocean resources.”
    • “…Every major American ocean industry supports the Convention…”
    • “…The Convention does not levy taxes or require any technology transfers.”
    • “…some claims have tried to portray President Reagan as being against the treaty. In fact, in 1983 he proclaimed that the United States would abide by all provisions of the Convention except those dealing with deep-seabed mining in the open ocean…”

Those are pretty powerful arguments in favor of ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, if true. The fact is not one of these statements by Sen. Lugar is true.

Amazingly, sources close to President Bush reported just days after Sen. Lugar started the drive for ratification in the President’s name that the President said he knew nothing about it. Others have reported that President Bush is actually opposed to ratification. So who in the Administration is pushing the Law of the Sea Treaty that President Ronald Reagan not only refused to sign, but actually fired the U.S. State Department staff that had negotiated it?

Some have speculated that Vice President Dick Cheney is the driving force behind the sudden move to ratify a treaty that should have been dead twenty years ago. The real force behind the renewed efforts for ratification appears to be John Turner, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Turner comes from the world of radical environmentalism, having served as the CEO of the Conservation Fund and on the boards of the Land Trust Alliance, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, the Trumpeter Swan Society and several more “green” groups. These groups stand to gain massive power over the oceans through ratification of LOST. That’s why they have been the main forces in demanding its passage.

Moreover, Turner is a close buddy of Dick Cheney, so his efforts for the treaty have been interpreted as being official White House policy. If Turner wins this round, his next attack will be for ratification of the UN’s Biodiversity Treaty that the Senate refused to consider ten years ago.

Does the Law of the Sea Treaty give the UN decision-making power over the world’s oceans? Of course it does. It is a common trick used by those who seek to implement UN policy to mention only the particular document in question as if it lived in a vacuum. In fact, most of the UN treaties and programs are designed to couple and piggyback on other such programs, creating an all-encompassing web of control.

The Law of the Sea Treaty is closely integrated with the Convention on Climate Change, the World Heritage Treaty, the Convention on Desertification Treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on Ozone Depleting Substances and its Montreal Protocol, the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, and several more that can be traced back directly to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Six departments of our federal government (including the Department of State) and 44 U.S. environmental organizations are members of the IUCN. The IUCN uses the United Nations as the conduit to funnel the treaties to member countries for ratification.

As such, the United Nations becomes the monitor for enforcement and implementation of the treaties. For Sen. Lugar to imply that the UN is not even part of the process is beyond disingenuous; it’s downright deceitful.

That’s not Sen. Lugar’s first attempt to mislead and deceive on the issue of LOST. His Foreign Relation’s Committee hearings would not allow a single negative word to be spoken against the treaty. Those testifying were carefully chosen to paint an urgent need for LOST.

Sen. Lugar claims that LOST “affirms unchallenged American rights to our ocean resources.” This Lugar falsehood completely ignores Article 2, Paragraph 3 of the treaty which says, “The sovereignty over the territorial sea is exercised subject to this Convention and to other rules of international law.” In addition, LOST’s most powerful creation, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) will be the entity to enforce that section.

According to testimony submitted to the House International Relations Committee by Dr. Peter Leitner, the Center for Naval Analysis believes that the International Seabed Authority may one day be able to “take on a variety of low-intensity policing functions in support of international agreements.” In other words, the Seabed Authority could become an ocean police force answerable to the United Nations.

The ISA has the power to set production controls for ocean mining, drilling and fishing, to control ocean exploration, issue permits and create regulations, and settle disputes in its own court. Private companies seeking to drill oil or mine ocean floors must first obtain a permit from the Seabed Authority. The Seabed Authority will be a regulatory agency, police force and court system all in one.

If the permit is granted and production begins, the Seabed Authority then charges a royalty fee or tax. Those royalties are then evenly distributed to all participating nations. Land-locked nations with no interest in the oceans will now profit from the efforts of private companies. Such a taxing system is now seen as a model for the creation of a global taxing system. Sen. Lugar tell outright lies when he says the treaty levies no taxes.

Sen. Lugar says that “every major American ocean industry supports the Convention.” That is blatantly false. However, those who are in support do so because they believe that by being part of the process they will get a leg up on the competition. They believe in the system of “pull” rather than in free market competition. Pull is a system of powerful, non-elected bureaucrats who pull the strings, set the prices, dictate the playing field and control the market. It’s how things are done when there is no freedom of choice. Businesses that have signed on to LOST are either lazy or scared.

Even worse, the Seabed Authority doesn’t just have the power to issue or deny permits and collect royalties. It also has the power to directly compete with private companies in the mining and drilling of the ocean floor through an entity called the “Enterprise.” In this way, royalties paid to member nations would be much higher because they wouldn’t have to share any profits with private companies.

Now, a reasonable person may conclude that an agency that has the power to issue permits to private companies or compete on its own for higher profits would likely chose the latter. Of course it would! And that’s the point.

Imagine what such a system would do to the world economy? Imagine what will happen to oil prices and mineral prices needed to sustain our nation? Imagine such power in the hands of small, corrupt, jealous nations as would make up the seabed authority and you can understand why the Law of the Seas Treaty is a trap for the United States.

The mantra put forth by Sen. Lugar and the other proponents of LOST is that we need to ratify it in order to get “a seat at the table” so we can make decisions as to who serves on the International Seabed Authority, but the United States would have only one vote out of abut 140. China, Cuba, and Barbados will have an equal vote. A block of small, third world nations that see LOST as an opportunity to “make America pay” can form a cartel to control policy.

One final point must be made. There is little understanding on Capitol Hill as to just how powerful and all encompassing the Law of the Sea Treaty can be. During hearings by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman James Inhofe asked former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, “What about the air over the sea?” Does LOST have jurisdiction there? Her answer: not only the air but also the space could become subject to UN authority under this treaty.

And there’s still more. Most opponents of LOST truthfully argue that it will give the UN control over all of the world’s oceans that includes 70% of the earth’s surface. The situation may be even worse than that.

The tangle of international agreements to be policed by the Law of the Sea Treaty leads one to be wary of a new report by the United States Commission on Ocean Policy which calls for new federal regulations to affect oceans and coasts. The Commission’s report calls for an “eco-system management approach that goes far beyond the political boundaries like state lines” to strengthen the link between coastal and watershed management. Such language is straight out of the UN’s Biodiversity Treaty.

The report is concerned with protecting estuaries where oceanic species breed. Estuaries are fed by rivers. American rivers are lined with cities. Under the excuse of protecting the oceans, will the policing powers of LOST allow it to sail right up into the rivers of America, giving the UN inland control as well?

The Law of the Sea Treaty doesn’t provide anything to the United States that we don’t already have. It blatantly takes away our rights to free movement and private enterprise, and endangers our national sovereignty and independence. We don’t need this treaty. If we allow it to pass we will regret it.

There is only one way to stop this madness. Keep the United States from ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty and ignore its authority. Do that and there won’t be any “table” to sit at.

Tom DeWeese
[email protected]

Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods (www.CFACT.org). He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.