I hinted earlier this month that opponents of the Law of the Sea are terrified that Senate action on the treaty would expose their political weakness. Evidence is already turning up to support my claim.
Paul Weyrich wrote recently that the conservative effort to kill the Law of the Sea is all but over and that the treaty’s opponents are in for a stinging defeat. His exact words: the possibility of stopping U.S. participation in the Law of the Sea is “next to impossible.”
Hearings are expected later this month or in early July. When the treaty finally comes to a floor vote, only a small, extreme minority will vote against it.
I need to make two disclaimers about the title of this post. First, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t think “war for oil” accusations are sufficient to explain the ideological foundation for current U.S. military misadventures. Second, there is a bit of hyperbole in this title.
The facts are as follows: one of the most important reasons to join the Law of the Sea is that the treaty recognizes some important American legal rights regarding maritime resources. First, it would give the U.S. government exclusive rights to allow exploitation or conservation of resources in a large area off the U.S. coast called its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which covers an area larger than the 48 continental United States combined.
Second, it would also extend rights to U.S. firms over the American Extended Continental Shelf (ECS), or the part of the continental shelf that extends beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast.
Finally, participation in LOS would allow U.S. firms to apply for licenses with the International Seabed Authority, which guarantees the claims of these firms on sites in the deep seabed.
These are very important protections for the U.S. and they are good both for conservation and the U.S. economy. That’s why environmental groups and the oil and gas industry agree that the U.S. needs to accede to the Law of the Sea.
According to multiple, well-placed sources, Frank Gaffney has a whopper of an alternative: he thinks that force, or at least the threat of force, should be used to compel other countries to recognize U.S. rights in the sea. Gaffney believes this is preferable to accession to LOS, under which U.S. legal rights would be recognized and disputes could be settled peacefully and equitably.
On second thought, the title isn’t as hyperbolic as I first thought it was. And if you don’t think Law of the Sea prevents military conflicts over resources, a quick refresher on the “Cod Wars” between Iceland and Great Britain is in order. The short version is that between 1958 and 1976, Iceland made a series of unilateral claims to exclusive economic rights beyond its territorial waters that Great Britain didn’t recognize. The British Navy was sent to accompany its trawlers into disputed areas, and military conflicts and standoffs ensued.
We should all be shocked at the suggestion that the U.S. should use its military to protect narrow economic interests, especially when such a clear and widely recognized legal framework exists to avoid conflict. In addition, Gaffney’s approach would put tremendous strain on the U.S. armed forces. The U.S. Navy can’t be expected to send a destroyer to protect every American oil rig.
Let’s be honest: this is not a left versus right issue, nor is it even a liberal versus conservative issue. Environmental groups and oil companies are supporting LOS together. The White House, the Pentagon, and the Department of Homeland Security are supporting it. The Coast Guard is supporting it. The American Bar Association is supporting it. International cooperation, faith, and peace groups are supporting it. Every ocean industry in the country – fishing, shipping, telecommunications, and manufacturing, to name a few – are all supportive of U.S participation in the Law of the Sea.
The treaty’s few opponents are trotting out the same tired and, in some cases, factually incorrect arguments that they’ve been parroting for over a decade. The Law of the Sea pits a few extreme unilateralists against everybody else.
If there are any LOS opponents on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – I understand there are probably between 1 and 3, but no one has yet made his/her opposition public – I hope they call Gaffney as a witness for the hearings so the public can hear more about his alternative to LOS.
— Scott Paul