The Senate won’t move on the Law of the Sea until after the August recess. Holding hearings on the Convention this month, ensuring that it won’t compete with appropriations bills for floor time in the fall, would’ve been the right move. But with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Joe Biden on the campaign trail, scheduling isn’t all that easy. Leaders in both parties and the President want action, so this will become a test of Biden’s leadership in the fall.
I missed what sounds like a fascinating panel at the American Enterprise Institute on Law of the Sea – fascinating mostly because the event organizers got more than they bargained for. Jeremy Rabkin, the LOS opponent on the panel, reportedly became increasingly flustered as LOS supporters debunked his arguments point by point.
CQ reports on the testy Q&A:
After one long commentary by Rabkin, Navy Capt. Pat Neher, who heads International and Operational Law in the Judge Advocate General’s office, leapt to his feet and declared: “I simply cannot sit still anymore for this nonsense.” He added that Navy interdiction efforts are “huge operational successes,” thanks to the provisions of both the United Nations convention and a 2003 agreement now including 88 nations to thwart terrorists from arming themselves.
Another State Department legal adviser, Ashley Roach, further advised Rabkin that the treaty was “very clear” in not referring to weapons of mass destruction. “I disagree with your interpretation,” replied Rabkin. “You can’t read,” Roach muttered in reply.
Another account of the meeting reveals even more interesting details:
I must admit that Prof. Rabkin delivered the single most important line of the night:
“The Senate won’t ratify the Convention if it is controversial, and I’m doing everything I can to make a controversy.”
Rabkin knows that a rational and substantive debate of the Convention will support its ratification, so he is promoting an alternative – a non-rational, non-substantive approach aimed at creating a blocking minority of senators who either believe something might be wrong with the convention or use the controversy as cover for voting against it.
After the event I began to wonder what AEI had anticipated when they planned and scheduled it. I seriously doubt that the organizers of the event anticipated that it would be so heavily weighted toward supporters of the Convention. I don’t believe I have ever seen an organization convene an event in which the organization has a stake in one side of the issue where the participation was so heavily weighted to the opposing side. That strikes me as bad planning – where were other AEI staff who oppose the Convention – for that matter, where were AEI Fellows and Scholars such as John Bolton and Robert Goldwin? Do other opponents, such as Frank Gaffney, only come out if they will be in the spotlight?
I was very glad to see the large turnout of Convention supporters for this meeting. I think it would be conservative to say that at least 75% of the audience was supportive of ratification and many of them were in uniform.
Finally, the last and most important development regarding Law of the Sea is former Secretary of State George Schultz’s letter to Dick Lugar, indicating that he supports U.S. accession to LOS and that President Reagan would have as well. The letter reads:
The treaty has been changed in such a way with respect to the deep sea-beds that it is now acceptable, in my judgment. Under these circumstances, and given the many desireable aspects of the treaty on other grounds, I believe it is time to proceed with ratification.
It surprises me to learn that opponents of the treaty are invoking President Reagan’s name, arguing that he would have opposed ratification despite having succeeded on the deep sea-bed issue. During his administration, with full clearance and support from President Reagan, we made it very clear that we would support ratification if our position on the sea-bed issue were accepted.
So there. Creating a controversy irrespective of the merits of ratification is the only tactic Professor Rabkin, Frank Gaffney and their ilk have left.
— Scott Paul