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February 19, 2005
Law Of The Sea Treaty -- LOST In The Senate?

The Bush Administration has broken with past conservative precedent and offered support for the controversial Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST), a United Nations convention that has hung around for almost a quarter-century after Ronald Reagan scotched it. The American Conservative Union yesterday threatened to make LOST a "litmus test" for conservatives in the 2006 elections if the Senate GOP leadership insisted on ratifying it:

Leaders of the conservative movement yesterday openly broke with the Bush administration over the Law of the Sea Treaty, which they say sacrifices U.S. sovereignty.

They warned Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and other members of his party in Congress that their continued backing of the treaty could cost them the support of conservative voters.

"The conservative movement is opposed to the Law of the Sea Treaty and to the administration's support of the treaty," American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene said at a press conference, held during a break in sessions on the second day of the 32nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which has held hearings on the treaty, said that if ratified, the treaty could force the United States to concede too much power to the United Nations.

He also said it could undermine America's ability to protect itself from terrorist attack by restricting shipboard inspections.

Frank Gaffney at the Center for Security Policy has long been an opponent of LOST. He argues, as does much of the conservative movement, that giving the UN taxation powers will not only reduce American sovereignty but also give more money to an organization that already struggles with corruption and ineptitude with the money it gets now: is unimaginable that the United States would choose to expand the power and influence of the United Nations at a time when evidence of the latter's corruption, malfeasance and inherent anti-Americanism is growing by the day. Yet, that would be the effect of our joining one of the UN's offshoots--the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a supranational organization created by Part XI of the Law of the Sea Treaty. Reagan specifically cited Part XI when he refused to sign LOST, and for good reasons.

In a move without precedent and with ominous implications, the International Seabed Authority would have the power to impose what amounts to taxes on American citizens. The UN has long sought means to generate revenues without having to rely on donations from member states. If the United States were to become a party to LOST, the Treasury would be charged by the ISA for permits and other fees associated with American commercial exploitation of the seabeds.

Right now, the UN has to either get money from direct member contributions to its general fund, of which the US pays almost 25%, or in management fees of the various aid programs which Turtle Bay runs. That amounts to the only accountability the United Nations has to its member nations, and as we've seen in the Oil-For-Food debacle, that hardly works as it is. Like the royal monopolies of ages past, the UN now wants an independent source of income to protect itself from even that paltry measure of responsiveness to its membership, which would leave the Secretariat in a position to conduct all sorts of mischief.

LOST also established an independent tribunal of the type the Bush Administration rejected with the International Criminal Court. Naval disputes could be self-referred to the tribunal and member nations held to their verdicts, just like the ICC. The LOST Tribunal, which sounds like a perfect name, would set its own rules and act as its own government:

The Jamaica-based international organization that we would be supporting in this fashion would have not only the equivalent of an executive and legislature, but also a judiciary, known as the Law of the Sea Tribunal. While there are, theoretically, some limits on the authority of the other two branches of this supranational institution, discretion about the extent of the tribunal's jurisdiction is exclusively in its hands. ...

Particularly worrisome is the fact that the Law of the Sea Tribunal has already indicated its intention to define its jurisdiction broadly. It is predictable that, were the United States to become subject to its edicts, the tribunal would become a preferred venue for non-governmental organizations and unfriendly regimes seeking to use the court's authority to compel changes in U.S. military and civilian policies.

Treaty proponents argue that problems like this can be mitigated if the United States "has a seat at the table," by virtue of being a party to LOST. Actually, membership would not assure that there would be a U.S. representative on the tribunal, since not all states' parties can have nationals serving as judges at any given time.

Worst of all, the treaty serously restricts our ability to protect ourselves against sea-based terrorism. LOST places new restrictions on searches at sea of suspected terrorist traffic, and it also eliminates the Proliferation Security Initiative on which such searches are based. PSI as administered by the US would have to give way to the LOST Tribunal, which may or may not be terribly interested in protecting Americans from terrorism. With the UN granting membership on key human-rights and counterterrorism committees to nations like Syria, Libya, and Cuba, the prospect of security from such an organization should give little comfort to US citizens at home or abroad.

Gaffney and the rest of the conservative activists are right. LOST should get tossed, and at the first possible moment.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 19, 2005 9:16 AM

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