July 11, 2011 | Commentary on National Security and Defense
After inking the scary new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and pushing to revive the once-dead Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Obama administration is acting like it belongs in a foreign-policy horror flick: "Stop Me Before I Sign Again!"
In the latest round of the administration's treaty-mania, it and like-minded Senate denizens, supposedly led by Sen. John Kerry, are rounding up supporters to resurrect the once-rejected, zombie-like 1982 UN Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) for another go at ratification.
LOST's navigational tenets for operating on the high seas, including establishing territorial waters and exclusive economic zones, are little disputed. But some of its "non-navigational" provisions are downright frightening.
For instance, were we to ratify the treaty, a UN agency, the International Seabed Authority, located in Kingston, Jamaica, would have a say over activities on our continental shelf.
The US government now can collect royalty revenues from oil and gas companies that wish to drill on our extended continental shelf -- the undersea areas beyond 200 miles of our coast. But if we ratify LOST, we'd have to fork over as much as 7 percent of that revenue. This means that tens (or even hundreds) of billions of dollars that would otherwise benefit Americans or even reduce our debt would be given to the ISA for "redistribution" to landlocked and developing countries. Hardly pocket change.
Worse, as only one of some 160 ISA members, we'd have only one vote as to where that money went -- so those royalties could go to any number of bad-actor, corrupt or anti-American regimes.
Plus, LOST considers the deep seabed as the "common heritage of mankind." So if you want to harvest Davy Jones' locker you'd need to ask pretty please of -- tahdah! -- the ISA.
This mother-may-I approach would likely limit or discourage private-sector economic opportunities in the deep seabed -- keeping this likely significant bounty out of global markets.
The treaty also includes a mandatory dispute-resolution mechanism among LOST members. This could put us in the cross-hairs for any number of bogus claims brought over such things as sea- or land-based pollution.
Now, proponents will tell you that all (or many) of these concerns were fixed in 1994 with adjustments to the treaty, which President Bill Clinton signed. Unfortunately, those fixes didn't secure a veto for Washington over decisions in Kingston.
LOST advocates will also tell you that we need to get onboard the pact to ensure that our international navigational rights are recognized. Fair enough.
But LOST's watery "rules of the road" are already accepted international practice for law-abiding navies and merchant marines operating on the world's oceans.
Not to mention that some treaty signatories are playing by their own rules.
China, for example, claims "indisputable sovereignty" over the whole of the more than 1 million-square-mile South China Sea -- a clear violation of LOST.
Beijing's suspect legal and historical claims have led to Chinese bullying of some neighbors, including the Philippines and Vietnam, which also assert sovereignty over some of those areas. (Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also make claims.)
Treaty opponents also worry that Team Obama might try to use LOST as a way to cut our navy's size, instead looking to the United Nations to ensure freedom of the seas. Good luck with getting Turtle Bay to do that.
Considering all this, it's no wonder that President Ronald Reagan, who supported the navigation provisions, refused to sign this deeply flawed convention. Probably best to tell the Law of the Sea Treaty to get lost -- again.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow.
First appeared in The New York Post