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May 18, 2007

Sovereignty at Stake: Losing Under a


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.

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 Sea."

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, tough.

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 Americans.

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 activities?

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 self-determination.

If we're to bequeath a free nation to our children, just as our forebears did, we cannot become a nation of the LOST.

Rebecca 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.

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