Big News: Bush Will Push the Law of the Sea

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It looks like George W. Bush is going to finish what his father started.
In 1982, negotiations concluded on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS for short). President Reagan instructed the U.S. to accept and comply with the treaty, except for provisions in Part XI, which deals with deep seabed mining. A little over fifteen years ago, under President George H.W. Bush, U.S. negotiators successfully amended Part XI, satisfying all of President Reagan’s concerns with UNCLOS.
Last week, President George W. Bush outraged the most extreme conservative leaders, telling them that he will publicly call on the Senate to ratify UNCLOS. The administration has supported the treaty for years, but President Bush has never personally weighed in.
The Senate has had the votes to approve UNCLOS for over a decade, but it’s never gotten through. Jesse Helms, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was responsible for holding it up for the better part of that period. Senator Dick Lugar took over as Chairman and got the Committee to approve the treaty unanimously (19-0) in 2004, only to be thwarted by Sens. Bill Frist and Jim Inhofe, who refused to allow a floor vote.
A Bush statement would be a big victory for a number of government agencies and military branches that have been long underwhelmed by the political capital the White House has been willing to spend on UNCLOS. In particular, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Legal Advisor John Bellinger come out the big winners in the administration. Senator Lugar, who made UNCLOS a personal cause, will be elated. Senator Inhofe and conservative leaders Frank Gaffney and Phyllis Shlafly, who have fought this tooth and nail for years, emerge as the big losers.
I recently heard a story about a meeting between Bellinger and a group of high-level European diplomats that got me really fired up about UNCLOS. Bellinger promised the Europeans that the Bush Administration wanted to cooperate more closely and take a more multilateral approach in its foreign policy. The Europeans responded that so long as the U.S. refuses to join the Law of the Sea – the most common-sense international agreement on the map – they will view these promises with a great deal of skepticism (for me, it’d take more than just UNCLOS to convince me of this supposed change of heart).
Full disclosure: I’ve been working quietly over the past four months to pull together a coalition and get the Senate moving on UNCLOS. The diversity of the treaty’s supporters is nothing short of incredible.
Amazingly, to get UNCLOS passed, peace organizations are sitting side by side with veterans and national security specialists. Environmental groups and representatives of the oil and gas industry are working hand in hand. The coalition behind the Law of the Sea takes “strange bedfellows” to a new level.
In addition to the Navy, environmental groups, and a major, Congressionally-mandated oceans commission, every major ocean industry – from oil and gas to fishing to marine manufacturing to shipping – strongly supports U.S. participation in UNCLOS.
For an explanation of why this is important for the U.S., plus some more information, see here.
If President Bush comes out with a statement as he says he will – and I’m hearing it could be as early as tomorrow (Tuesday) – Senator Biden will hold hearings and move UNCLOS swiftly towards a floor vote.
That will be a huge embarrassment to the 15 or so senators who plan to vote against the treaty, as well as the likes of Gaffney and Schlafly. Their fundamental and irrational fear or international institutions will show how out of touch they are with an American public that is angry with the recent unilateralism and clamoring for greater international cooperation.
Or, to put it more bluntly, there are a few senators up for re-election who have still not decided how to vote. Voting against the treaty would make these senators part of an extreme out-of-touch minority whose distrust of multilateralism outweighs U.S. economic and national security interests, not to mention global environmental protection. UNCLOS may not be a high-profile political issue, but opposing it will have electoral consequences.
— Scott Paul

Comments

12 comments on “Big News: Bush Will Push the Law of the Sea

  1. tower defense says:

    Two twisted mangled wars, a failed SS initiative,failed Medicare part D, open borders, and now he wants us to live under some UN mandate uniting the globe in one world government. Is Bush an American? Does he believe in sovereign nations?

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  2. Ben says:

    “I think you’d have to agree that the big veterans groups and the big peace groups rarely coordinate strategy with one another.”
    More’s the shame, really – but point taken. I was perhaps unfair in omitting the second comparison, but “peace groups are to veterans as Big Oil is to Greenpeace” seemed to be the gist of it.

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  3. Scott Paul says:

    Ben,
    I appreciate the comment, but I think it’s pretty clear I wasn’t insinuating that peace organizations dislike veterans. And I think you’d have to agree that the big veterans groups and the big peace groups rarely coordinate strategy with one another.
    I similarly don’t believe that oil industry folks dislike environmentalists, but cooperation between them is rare, too.
    There’s more news coming soon on Law of the Sea – check back soon.
    Scott

    Reply

  4. Ben says:

    “Amazingly, to get UNCLOS passed, peace organizations are sitting side by side with veterans and national security specialists.”
    This is only amazing if you are of the rather farcical opinion that “peace organisations” dislike (or worse?) veterans.
    And by ‘farcical’ I mean “insulting and derogatory”.

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  5. liz says:

    Two twisted mangled wars, a failed SS initiative,failed Medicare part D, open borders, and now he wants us to live under some UN mandate uniting the globe in one world government. Is Bush an American?> Does he believe in sovereign nations?
    will someone please show this man the door, he stayed well past his time.

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  6. BC says:

    The N Korea deal – talking to Iran – accepting UNCLOS – accepting fuel efficiency – maybe, just maybe, the administration is stumbling out of the dark and blinking its eyes in the daylight of pragmatism and diplomacy? (OK, weak metaphor.) Rumsfeld is gone, Cheney is having health problems and may be out of favour. Rove and the political side are distracted and weakened by the DOJ mess. After six years we’ve learned not to get our hopes up too far, but maybe this weird trend towards common sense bears watching?

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  7. john somer says:

    I can understand the fears of Colorado Republicans for their lovely coastline….:-) More seriously, the Law of the SEea convetions weere agreed upon about thirty years ago and most Europeans wopuld assume,as I did, that the US had ratified it. Shouldn’t there be a constitutional amendment to the effect that any treeaty that the Senate has not ratified or rejected for ten years be automatically ratified ?

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  8. NeilS says:

    “..Their fundamental and irrational fear or international institutions will show how out of touch they are with an American public.”
    Actually here in Colorado that fear will resonate with a lot of people; certainly much of the local Republican party.

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  9. JohnH says:

    Republicans’ quandry is much ado about nothing–image over substance. They don’t want to look like they’re endorsing a treaty, even if the action has no meaning. They must know that the administration will simply ignore the treaty, like it does the Geneva Conventions, whenever convenient. Or it will simply issue a signing statement to gut it of any meaning. Or issue regulations that contravene the its terms. “Bush observing the law” has long since become an oxymoron. The only issue is whether he appears to be doing something major Republican underwriters don’t like, and whether there are still any underwriters stupid enough to believe in thoseappearances.

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  10. Ross Smith says:

    Might be a good question to ask the GOP candidates at their debate tomorrow night: do you support ratification of UNCLOS?

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  11. Carroll says:

    Bush has done a couple of things not in character with the rest of his obtuseness. He did try to get ‘some” aid to the new Palestine gov..which congress prevented. He also did try to expedite food aid to Africa by o.k.ing using suppliers other than American, which would have been quicker and cheaper, but that too was shot down by American agr interest.
    I don’t know enough about the details on this to make a comment, I will have to read up. But in general whatever Gaffney is for I am against, and whatever he is against I am for.

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  12. Tom S says:

    Amazing! That would appear to be the only thing that President Bush has advocated that is not in some way unilateralist.

    Reply

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