Dumped by Reagan, Sea Treaty Now Up for Passage

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT


(CNSNews.com) - An international treaty that President Reagan vetoed in the early 1980s is being re-visited in the Senate this week where State Department and Defense Department officials are expected to push for its ratification.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was designed to establish rules governing military and commercial use of the world's oceans. The rights and responsibilities of each nation are outlined in the treaty text. To date, over 150 countries have signed on to the Law of the Sea.

Proponents claim the treaty will protect U.S. interests while also safeguarding natural resources. However, former Reagan administration officials and conservative activists continue to express misgivings.

On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear testimony from John Negroponte, deputy secretary of state; Gordon England, deputy secretary of defense; and Admiral Patrick Walsh, vice chief of naval operations. An additional hearing will be held in October where opposing viewpoints will be heard from non-governmental witnesses.

"The Navy does support the treaty," Candice Tresh, a spokesperson for the Navy at the Pentagon, told Cybercast News Service. "We've been following the procedures for about two decades now."

She also said the Navy viewed the treaty as beneficial for U.S. national security interests. Moreover, she was not aware of any overriding concerns pertaining to international bodies empowered by the treaty, such as the United Nations.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking minority member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emphasized the importance of "moving quickly" to approve the treaty before election year politics interfere. The treaty would "plug a large hole" in U.S. national security, he wrote in a recent essay.

Moreover, he contends, a new agreement on the deep seabed mining provision has "resolved all of President Reagan's stated concerns."

But Cliff Kincaid, president of America's Survival, an organization that monitors the U.N., disagrees. Reagan's objections extended beyond the mining provision and concerned important questions of national sovereignty, Kincaid told Cybercast News Service.

The late James Malone, who served as Reagan's special representative during the treaty negotiations, outlined some of the additional objections in his 1995 Senate testimony.

"The collectivist and redistributionist provisions of the treaty were at the core of the U.S. refusal to sign," Malone said at the time. "Today, not only are the seabed mining provisions inadequately corrected, and the collectivist ideologies of a now-repudiated system of global central planning still imbedded in the treaty, new and potentially serious concerns have arisen."

Among the concerns Malone listed was the creation of a "huge bureaucracy to govern the world's oceans" that would most likely ally against American interests.

Although the treaty has been turned back multiple times, it now appears to have momentum, said Kincaid. Top officials from President Bush on down have expressed support, he said.

In a statement in May, President Bush said that UNCLOS "will secure U.S. sovereign rights over extensive marine areas, including the valuable natural resources they contain." Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokesperson, said her agency also supports the treaty.

The U.S. military has become compliant in large part as a result of the undue influence of international lawyers, said Kincaid. "Too many JAG officers have bought into the idea of a global community," he said.

Another major factor driving policy at the Pentagon concerns the current state of the U.S. Navy, said Kincaid.

"The reason the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard are supporting this treaty is they think it somehow provides for navigational rights on the high seas," he said.

"But this position papers over the real problem, which is the decline in the number of ships we have. Under Reagan we had 594, and now we're down to 276 ships, and it's scheduled to decline over the next 10 years to 180. What we need are more ships, not more lawyers and not more international tribunals," Kincaid added.

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