May 18, 2007
By Rebecca Hagelin
My husband and I have taught our three children that the people
of the United States have a fundamental right to self-determination
-- that our national sovereignty is critical if we are to remain a
How do I explain to them that President Bush wants to sign a
treaty that will seriously undermine America's sovereignty and put
our security at risk? How do I tell them that the principles our
founding fathers died for -- government of the people, by the
people, for the people -- may be compromised by foreign courts?
The name of this very real threat doesn't sound dangerous; in
fact, it sounds pretty boring. The title alone could almost put you
to sleep -- the "United Nations Convention on the Law of the
The Bush administration came out in favor of the Law of the Sea
Treaty (LOST) in 2004 -- a move some experts believe was meant to
soothe international consternation over the Iraq war debate. It was
stopped in its tracks by Sen. Bill Frist (then majority leader).
But the White House has decided to force the measure through now
that the liberals are in charge.
The question is, why?
Advocates say LOST will make it easier for our navy to maneuver.
But how, exactly, our current access is impeded -- and how the
treaty would fix that -- isn't explained. As Heritage Foundation
defense expert Baker Spring told the House Committee on
International Relations in 2004, our navigation rights are, by and
large, already established by four 1958 "Geneva Conventions of the
Law of the Sea" and long-standing international custom. Others
believe it's time to make concessions with the rest of world
because of the unpopularity of the Iraq war.
What would we lose if LOST is put into action?
Start with national security. In an issue of Legion
magazine, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., argued against LOST, writing:
"Under the treaty, the United States could not board a foreign
vessel even if it is suspected of carrying weapons of mass
destruction. Our warships couldn't board "unless there is
reasonable ground for suspecting that the ship is engaged in piracy
… the slave trade … unauthorized broadcasting" or
"being without nationality."
Also deeply troubling, from a sovereignty perspective, is
Section 4 of the Treaty. It would establish an "International
Seabed Authority," which, according to Baker Spring, would enjoy
jurisdiction over all the world's oceans and seabed outside of
current national boundaries. The Authority's powers would supersede
the sovereign powers of nations that are party to the treaty. In
short, it would be the boss. If we disagreed with its ruling,
It gets worse. As Spring notes in a new
Heritage paper co-authored with U.N. expert Brett Schaefer and
former Attorney General Edwin Meese, the international
bureaucrats empowered by LOST would be able to "impose direct
levies on the revenues of U.S. companies generated through the
extraction of resources from deep seabed." Incredible. Foreign
officials could tax Americans -- could profit from our hard work.
Good luck explaining that one to the next generation of
Here's a larger question: Why would we choose to put our
sea-faring interests in the hands of a new U.N. group? As the
Heritage experts point out, the International Seabed Authority
would be vulnerable to the same corrupt practices that have plagued
the U.N. for years.
Remember the Oil-for-Food scandal? The Iraqi government, they
write, "oversaw a system of bribes and kickbacks involving billions
of dollars and 2,000 companies in nearly 70 countries while the
U.N. failed to act." And we want to create an International Seabed
Authority with the power to assess fees and charges on commercial
Some advocates of the Treaty acknowledge that there could be
problems, but they believe we could deal with them as they arise.
The U.S. will have a vote, right? It can persuade others to join
its side. That's nice in theory, but the U.N. Commission on Human
Rights -- and its replacement, the U.N. Human Rights Council --
have shown how poorly this actually works. The U.S. likely would
see its voice, well ... lost on LOST matters. We could and most
likely would be powerless on human-rights issues, for instance. Or
find ourselves outnumbered and isolated by nations that do not
share our interests -- and are often downright hostile to them.
"Liberty, once lost, is lost forever," John Adams once wrote.
Having learned so much about the principles our nation was founded
on, my three teenagers will be disgusted to learn that our many of
our elected leaders -- led by none other than our president, for
pity's sake -- are willing to surrender even a small measure of our
If we're to bequeath a free nation to our children, just as our
forebears did, we cannot become a nation of the LOST.
Hagelin is a vice president of The Heritage Foundation
and the author of Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a
Culture that's Gone Stark Raving Mad.
My husband and I have taught our three children that the people of the United States have a fundamental right to self-determination -- that our national sovereignty is critical if we are to remain a free people.
Senior Communications Fellow
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