Conservatives are asking What Would Reagan Do on the Law of the Sea. Personally, I don’t care all that much and would defer to the unanimous judgment of today’s national security, business, and environmental leadership. But some conservatives do care.
The answer to WWRD? Ratify. It’s not even close. All living Chiefs of Naval Operations, all living State Department Legal Advisors, and both of Reagan’s Secretaries of State say that his objections were solely related to deep seabed mining. They agree that Reagan would have approved of the most recent version of the treaty.
All that notwithstanding, opponents have maintained that Reagan was fundamentally opposed to the Law of the Sea. They cite an entry in The Reagan Diaries from June 29, 1982:
“Decided in [National Security Council] meeting – will not sign ‘Law of the Sea’ treaty even without seabed mining provisions.”
Most members of the Reagan administration interpret this entry to mean that it would be unfeasible to sign the treaty without the seabed mining provisions. In other words, Reagan decided that it was an all or none proposition.
So, WWRD? On January 29, 1982, Reagan said:
“Last March, I announced that my administration would undertake a thorough review of the current draft and the degree to which it met United States interests in the navigation, overflight, fisheries, environmental, deep seabed mining, and other areas covered by that convention. Our review has concluded that while most provisions of the draft convention are acceptable and consistent with the United States interests, some major elements of the deep seabed mining regime are not acceptable. I am announcing today that the United States will return to those negotiations and work with other countries to achieve an acceptable treaty.”
After listing the problems with the seabed mining provisions, Reagan continued:
“The United States remains committed to the multilateral treaty process for reaching agreement on Law of the Sea. If working together at the Conference we can find ways to fulfill these key objectives, my administration will support ratification.”
WWRD? I don’t care all that much. But, for those of you that do, is there really any doubt?
— Scott Paul
Note: If you haven’t seen it yet, Kate Sheppard has a great piece on Law of the Sea for the American Prospect. In the National Journal, Corine Hegland has an entire piece on the Reagan dispute that gets to the heart of the matter.