March 08, 2005

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Out to sea

By Ed Feulner

Thanks to American intervention, the fate of Iraq and Afghanistan now can be determined by their own citizens, rather than by brutal tyrants. Ironically, though, while the Bush administration spreads democratic rule overseas, it may be taking a critical step to undermine American sovereignty.
    During her confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked if the administration would favor signing on to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. "The convention, as it now stands, serves our national security interests, serves our economic interests, and we very much want to see it go into force," Miss Rice replied. This just goes to prove that, in Washington, a bad idea never goes away. It is just tabled until everyone forgets why it was such a bad idea.
    The facts are simple and are the same today as in 1982 when President Reagan first rejected the Law of the Sea treaty and Donald Rumsfeld (then a special presidential envoy on the treaty) said why: It does not serve our national security or economic interests, and we should make sure it isn't ratified.
    Admittedly, Miss Rice isn't the treaty's only supporter. Last year, it passed the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Even some members of the U.S. military are on board. As Michael Mullen, then vice chief of naval operations, told a House committee, "We must be able to take maximum advantage of the established and widely accepted navigational rights the Law of the Sea Convention codifies to get us to the fight rapidly."
    But, in fact, the Navy stands to gain little from the treaty. As Adm. Mullen also testified, the U.S. already complies with large parts of the agreement: "If the U.S. becomes a party to the Law of the Sea Convention, we would continue to operate as we have since 1983. The convention's rules in this regard do not change the rules the Navy has operated under for over 40 years under the predecessor 1958 treaties to which the United States is a party, governing the territorial sea and high seas." Treaty or no treaty, we'll keep doing what we're doing.
    Though there's not much for us to gain, there's plenty to lose. In October 2003, Defense Department official Mark Esper told the Senate other nations could use Law of the Sea treaty to curtail American military operations, though these maneuvers are supposed to be exempt. China, for example, likely would quickly try to use the treaty to stop U.S. naval war games.
    It's not only the military that's at risk, though. If ratified, the treaty would create virtual governments outside American control but would exercise power over American interests.
    For example, Section 4 of the treaty would establish the International Sea-Bed Authority to exercise executive and judicial control over almost all the world's oceans and seabeds -- nearly 70 percent of the planet. Its new authority would have power to tax American interests engaged in various maritime endeavors. Only U.S. lawmakers should be able to decide how -- and how much -- to tax Americans.
    If the treaty went into effect, the result would resemble the United Nations: The U.S. would foot the bill for about 25 percent of the organizations set up under the treaty. But blocks of nondemocratic nations could limit our actions easily.
    Let's be frank: These international bureaucracies don't work. The U.N. already is dealing with a sex scandal in the Congo, genocide in Sudan and the Oil-for-Food fiasco in Iraq. Why would we want to create more unaccountable international bureaucracies and put them in charge of our oceans?
    As former Secretary of State George Shultz noted last year, nations create international organizations to serve their common interests, not to govern them. The current system works well and is in our national interest. It's time to sink the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, once and for all.
    Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.

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