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September 04, 2007

President Bush is L.O.S.T.

Followers of foreign relations have been buzzing for the past few months about President Bush’s support for the Law of the Sea Treaty. In May he asked the Senate to ratify, but it looks like his office has supported the treaty for longer than that (PDF). Of course, this corresponds to the Administration’s abandonment in the last year of core Republican principles.


The Law of the Sea Treaty was negotiated in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but never ratified. The treaty has several objects, but the key provisions create rights of access to, from, and through the seas; allow countries to extend their territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles from their coasts; establish the now-standard 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zones; and lay down environmental rules governing the high seas.

President Reagan objected to a part of the treaty regulating under-sea mining rights, but agreed with the other provisions, declaring that they were part of customary international law. (That was questionable at that time, but is certainly the current situation for major portions of the treaty.) Other treaty opponents pointed out the objectionable International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, yet another international court.

President Clinton actually signed the ailing treaty in 1994, but treaty opponents in the Senate (thank you, Jim Inhofe) were unimpressed with claims that the treaty had been “fixed” through four years of negotiation. Proponents of LOST still hold up the 1994 revision as evidence that the treaty is fine. Former Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Vern Clark, and Chief U.S. Delegate to the U.N. Thomas Pickering did just that in an op-ed for the NY Times in July. They wrote:

With the modifications enacted in 1994, the treaty now meets all the criteria established by President Reagan in 1982 to make the treaty in the interest of the United States.

They ignore the fact that President Reagan’s weren’t the only objections to the treaty. Moreover, in their recounting of all the great things accomplished by the treaty, they ignore the fact that we already benefit from those provisions that President Reagan declared customary international law. There’s little reason to sign on to a superfluous treaty and every reason to oppose being tied down by international obligations that we don’t intend to keep.

Pro-sovereignty (to put it mildly) law professor Jeremy Rabkin has entered the fray this week with an article in the Weekly Standard. His major objection focuses on the treaty requirement that all legal disputes relating to the treaty be referred to binding arbitration. He writes:

The United States has a great stake in upholding general rules of restraint on the high seas, both to protect our own ocean-borne commerce and to reassure others that we can use our power wisely. But in a crisis or a special case, where national security seems to require some exception to the general rule, do we want to leave ourselves dependent on permission from some international body?

This is the type of specific issue I would like to see the Republican candidates questioned about in the debates. Rather than a general “what do you think about international law?” which lets them regurgitate the talking points drawn up by their policy staff, they should be telling us whether they would also seek to have LOST ratified.

Sam Brownback, as part of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, voted in 2005 to send the treaty to the floor for ratification, but later said he was “re-examining” the treaty in light of “very serious concerns about its impact on the United States.”

Chuck Hagel has been a staunch supporter of the treaty, saying:

It's the right thing to do. Every president since it was signed, Republican and Democrat, has supported it. Secretary Rumsfeld, every Navy officer, every chief of naval operations. I mean, I don't know what more credibility you want than having our military leaders support it.

Dishonest Hagel doesn't tell you that there have only been two presidents since it was signed, one Democrat and one Republican.

John McCain wrote a letter with Republican paragon Olympia Snow to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms in 1998 which “urged favorable consideration of the Convention on the Law of the Sea by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations as soon as possible.”

I’m still looking to see what Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani think about it.

digg this
posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:38 PM

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