The Weekly Gaff: Right-Wing Activists Don’t Understand What Sovereignty Means

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In the last week, I’ve had over ten meetings with Senate staffers on the Law of the Sea Convention (I hope this explains and excuses my recent absence from this blog). In every meeting — without exception — staffers have agreed that U.S. interests are served by ratification of the Convention. Yet, every single staffer also added that they are being bombarded by calls from right-wing activists who say that ratification would mean a loss of sovereignty for the U.S.
These meetings were instructive for two reasons. First, it shows that some senators are more than willing to put politics over substance, which I think will come as little surprise to most readers. Second, it shows how badly right-wing activists misunderstand both the Law of the Sea Convention and the concept of sovereignty itself.
These activists misconstrue sovereignty as the notion that the U.S. should be able to do what it wants, where it wants, however it wants. And they reject the basic and legally indisputable premise that treaty law is expressly recognized as the law of the land under the U.S. Constitution.
Sovereignty has numerous definitions and applications, the most traditional of which is the ability to govern without external influence or meddling. Yet even that would not be eroded with ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention. In fact, it would be enhanced. The U.S. would gain formal international recognition over its claim of a 12-nautical mile territorial sea that would be subject to U.S. laws, a huge, 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone that would be subject to U.S. economic control, and exclusive economic rights in an extended continental shelf beyond that 200-mile limit. The idea that the U.S. would sacrifice control of waters beyond that point is ludicrous, as neither the U.S. nor any other country has sovereign rights in international waters.
The fact is that sovereignty is a two-way street. Other countries now suspect that America refuses to ratify the Convention because it does not respect their sovereignty. And you can bet that Indonesia, India and Malaysia, critical players in regional maritime security, will make a better effort to accommodate the navigational rights of the U.S. Navy when they are sure that the U.S. respects other countries’ sovereign rights.
At some point I’ll go into greater detail on how absenting ourselves from the treaty actually does threaten sovereignty, but not now. More on that later.
— Scott Paul
Note: For an excellent summary of opposing arguments to U.S. ratification, see the second comment in the thread below.

Comments

10 comments on “The Weekly Gaff: Right-Wing Activists Don’t Understand What Sovereignty Means

  1. philosopher says:

    One can ‘analyze’ this issue all day but in the end the present reality is that the current Republican drive to privatize everything in sight holds sway. You can see it in the posts of those who are against this treaty. The treaty is clearly in the interests of the nation as a whole and that should be our national government’s official position on everything Congress does and everything the Administration does. The problem the American people have is finding folks to elect who recognize that holding high office in Washington should entail that they keep this point in mind. Not an easy thing to do especially these days. The ‘people’ have been sorely mis-represented, especially in the last 7+ years.

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  2. Don Bacon says:

    Who is more protective of sovereignty than the Defense Department? These are the people who want to sail their gunboats in everyone’s territorial waters. What does the Pentagon say?
    “Being outside the convention, we are at a distinct disadvantage in protecting the navigation rights that are codified in the convention,” said Navy Capt. Patrick J. Neher. “One of the arguments we make over on (Capitol Hill) is, we need to lock into these rights and freedoms while we can. We would never be able to get the deal that we got in this convention if we had to negotiate it again today.”
    http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=48379

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  3. Don Bacon says:

    Who is more protective of sovereignty than the Defense Department? These are the people who want to sail their gunboats in everyone’s territorial waters. What does the Pentagon say?
    “Being outside the convention, we are at a distinct disadvantage in protecting the navigation rights that are codified in the convention,” said Navy Capt. Patrick J. Neher. “One of the arguments we make over on (Capitol Hill) is, we need to lock into these rights and freedoms while we can. We would never be able to get the deal that we got in this convention if we had to negotiate it again today.”
    http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=48379

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  4. erichwwk says:

    For those wishing to understand the basis for the “might makes right” foundation for the Chicago/UCLA/Washington, etc view of property rights (Property rights are a probability vector, with each personal course of action being a scaler, to which a probability is assigned according to the expectation that a desired action will, in fact, be realized; thus no one will accept an outcome less than what is expected to be achieved by pure force, try John Umbeck, 1981, “Might Makes Right: A Theory of the Formation and Initial Distribution of Property Rights,” Economic Inquiry, 38-59. For a much deeper and more recent analysis, try Jack Hirschleifer’s, 2001, “The Dark Side of the Force: Economic Foundations of Conflict Theory” .
    Two other general comments. One, be more careful in making a value judgment on reality being “evil”, “incorrect” etc. While ala Amartya Sen, one can evaluate what manifests, without understanding “why”, one is merely revealing one’s ignorance. It is NOT fishermen, environmental community nor the seafood that is making these decisions. Also, THAT body does is not monolithic. From the point of view of government ala Weber as the organization that has a monopoly on the use of power within a given geographical area, sovereignty, as Bob Morrow points out, is clearly compromised, and more is, by definition, lost than gained. From the point of view of society, more is clearly gained by the Law of the Sea Treaty [LOST], but from a decision maker’s point of view that is irrelevant – when one has a monopoly through the use of force, one does not necessarily get to keep the predatory gains when a compromise is reached. Thus, eg, it is optimal [from Haliburton, Bechtel] point of view to expend $5 of public funds to obtain $1 of private benefits when benefits can be privatized and costs socialized. All the moaning and groaning about optimality, maximizing social welfare. does not get one past this point. While I disagree with many of Jack Hirschleifer’s assumption (and after all, “models” are better described as “assumption synthesizers”), one can hardly claim is methodology is less serious than the attempts to dismiss his analysis. Unless one explicitly accounts for the use of force in a model, one cannot claim to have an understanding of either process or outcome.
    While my old web page on “Public Choice” (not updated since Oct, 2002)is a bit like stepping into a river that has moved on, it does contain some of the links to the historical papers leading to modern property right theory, including the links to the Encyclopedia of Law and Economics, and direct links to many of the subsets in property rights by peer reviewed “experts” on a particular aspect.
    ***************
    “Know thy Enemy”
    “The efforts of men are utilized in two different ways: they are directed to the production or transformation of economic goods, or else to the appropriation of goods produced by others”
    —Vilfredo Pareto
    “As long as you have a military class, it does not matter what form your government is: if you are to be armed to the teeth, you must obey the only men who can control the great machinery of war. Elections are of minor importance” — Woodrow Wilson

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  5. TLittle says:

    Scott,
    I disagree with your assessment that ratifying the UNCLOS does not violate a nation’s sovereignty. Sovereignty refers to a nation’s ability to have complete control over their ability to govern their people and their territory.
    Any agreement to an international convention/protocol or delegation of power in conflict resolution to an international body is an erosion of sovereignty because the nation’s ability independently govern is compromised.
    The United States is bound to most of the provisions under customary international law simply because it has chosen to and has repeatedly followed provisions of these conventions. People need to understand the U.S. has been acting in accordance with all of the UNCLOS provisions that it deems appropriate (i.e. a 200 mile EEZ). A formal acceptance of this treaty would merely be a sign of good faith to the international community. The world recognizes our 12-mile territorial claim and our 200-mile EEZ.
    Claims that ratification of the treaty erodes sovereignty are valid, warranted, and should not be dismissed.
    Scott, next take less time expounding on right-wing activists and attack the problem of why they assume the UNCLOS violates sovereignty.

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  6. Carroll says:

    Posted by Scott Paul at December 13, 2007 09:57 AM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>
    Good!… thanks. We need a better, definite global approach to the health of international seas. And the sovereignty of terrorital waters for individual countries should prevent a lot of mischief making and “misunderstandings”. So if there are restrictions or rules regarding the fishing plundering and everyone who signs onto the LOS has to abide by them so much the better.

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  7. Scott Paul says:

    Carroll:
    The treaty does create a framework for dealing with fishing. And guess what – that too is favorable to the U.S. The U.S. already has strong marine conservation laws in place, so ratification would mainly put the U.S. in a position to strengthen international environmental laws and push other countries to fulfill their obligations. That’s why both the environmental community AND the seafood lobby are promoting U.S. ratification.

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  8. Carroll says:

    Excellent post on this.
    So we see the right wingers are the real non-sovereign-ist globalist..they don’t want the US to have control of a national 12 mile sea border…they don’t want any borders for the US…LOL
    I don’t know about this to say it is 100%..but it sounds like a good deal for the US and all other countries. Does it address in any way the plundering of international waters in regard to fishing or is it strictly about terroritial extensions?

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  9. Robert Morrow says:

    Boy, that is really hollow Scott Paul. You are over at Citizens for Global Solutions, which does not even believe in US national sovereignty. So you have ZERO credibility when it comes to talking about US national sovereignty.
    Screw the UN. Screw LOST. Screw the globalists.
    The problem with all of the above is that globalism is government WITHOUT elections, WITHOUT republicanism WITHOUT democracy.
    If either of my 2 US Senators vote for that thing I and my friends will give them no end of hell. It is one of our top grassroots issues.

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  10. Daniel Adams says:

    This is exactly the point regarding the “knee-jerk” conservative, right-wing radio listner. Sovereignty to them is “might makes right.” Because the US is the sole super power, anything that infringes on the right of the US to do whatever it wants means a loss of sovereignty. While reasoning with these people is ultimately futile, it is frustrating that they can pressure a Senator that much.

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