Like Lazarus, the international Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) keeps rising from the dead. Back in the mid-1970s its proponents first touted it as a way to bring order to the use of the world's oceans in navigation, rights to seabed minerals and protection of marine environments. Ronald Reagan, then a private citizen, looked at the plan closely and realized it had clear disadvantages for U.S. sovereignty and used his daily radio commentary and newspaper column to oppose it.
By 1982, in Jamaica, this creation of the United Nations was signed, but Reagan, by then president, said he would veto it if the Senate were to vote to ratify it. The Senate has never done so, but it is periodically resurrected, most recently by the Obama Administration. It has brought up the big guns to sell it on Capitol Hill and has attempted to make it appear that opponents are irrational bitter-enders.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that by failing to ratify LOST, the U.S. could fail to develop offshore oil and gas deposits under the ocean bed. Funny, that's what we're failing to do now. Signing the treaty would not change the Obama Administration's fierce determination to prevent offshore drilling.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta argues that the treaty will provide a good way to reduce threats of conflict in such places as the South China Sea. China and its neighbors have been arguing over various rock outcroppings in that region's ocean for decades and no one has gone to war. He also cited the Strait of Hormuz as another "hot spot" that LOST might help resolve. How so? Iran threatens to block it if sanctions become too onerous. Secretary Panetta hasn't yet revealed his secret for how this scrap of paper would dispose of that threat.
For over 200 years, the U.S. Navy has protected the nation's maritime interests without our having signed such a treaty. There are already international laws governing navigational rights and the Navy has effectively guaranteed them.
The most suspicious and problematic part of the Law of the Sea Treaty is Article 82. It explains why many of the 162 nations that have ratified it are so enthusiastic about it. It would create a UN-sponsored International Seabed Authority to be based in Jamaica. If the UN itself is any example, the ISA would create of a large new superstructure staffed by Third World bureaucrats.
Here is what it would mean: Developed nations -- especially the United States -- would pay royalties on oil and gas development on the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles to the ISA. U.S. royalties would be billions of dollars -- if not trillions. The ISA's main job would be to distribute that money to, as the treaty says, "developing States" and "peoples who have not attained full independence" The ISA would be overseen by the "assembly" in which the U.S. would have one vote. As would Zimbabwe, Belarus, Cuba and Sudan. According to Transparency International, 13 of the world's 20 most corrupt nations are parties to LOST. Some are considered state sponsors of terrorism, and there is nothing to prevent them from getting money from the U.S. Treasury, via the ISA, if we were to sign the treaty.
In addition, if we were to sign, you can bet that environmental groups, in pursuit of their anti-prosperity agenda, would use LOST to sue U.S. businesses from developing the seabed.
Senator John Kerry (D-MA), who would like to be Secretary of State in a second Obama Administration (if there is one), is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has been holding hearings to sell the bill to his colleagues; however, he has promised to keep the issue out of "the hurly-burly of presidential politics" by putting off a vote until after the November election.
The best way to protect U.S. sovereignty and interests is to make sure that the next Senate has a Republican majority and the Oval Office no longer has Mr. Obama in it.
Peter Hannaford is a member of The Committee on the Present Danger. He was closely associated with the late President Ronald Reagan for a number of years. His latest book is Reagan's Roots: The People and Places That Shaped His Character.