Myth vs. Fact on Law of the Sea

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Myth vs. Fact on Law of the Sea

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had its most recent hearing on the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC). The treaty, which has been in place for 30 years and has been signed by 160 countries, codifies widely accepted principles on territorial waters, shipping lanes and ocean resources. Today’s hearing is focusing on the benefits to American business that the treaty would provide. The treaty enjoys broad bipartisan support, despite a number of myths and misperceptions about what it means for U.S. power.

Myth: LOSC Rolls back American sovereignty. Frank Gaffney told the Daily Caller, “Suddenly, there isn’t a part of our society, our economy, our industrial capacity that isn’t going to be at the mercy of people who are completely unaccountable to us… This is a question of sovereignty… It’s a question of America as we have known it, and I believe President Obama is determined to try and jam this through, because he recognizes it will be the perfect complement to the other wrecking operations that he’s been running against the rest of our country.” [Frank Gaffney via the Daily Caller, 6/10/12]

FACT: LOSC would expand and protect U.S. sovereignty. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently testified, “Nothing could be further from the truth.  Not since we acquired the lands of the American West and Alaska have we had such an opportunity to expand U.S. sovereignty.” Panetta adds, “as the world’s pre-eminent maritime power, and the country with one of the longest coastlines and largest extended continental shelf, we have more to gain from accession to the Convention than any other country. If we are not at the table, then who will defend our interests?  Who will lead the discussion to influence the further development and interpretation of the Law of the Sea?  It is only by being there to protect our rights that we would ensure that our sovereignty is not whittled away by the excessive claims and erroneous interpretations of others.  It would give us the power and credibility to support and promote the peaceful resolution of disputes within a rules-based order.” [Leon Panetta, 5/23/12] 

Myth: LOSC would constrain U.S. position in Asia.  John Bolton and Dan Blumenthal, of the American Enterprise Institute, write: “With China emerging as a major power, ratifying the treaty now would encourage Sino-American strife, constrain U.S. naval activities, and do nothing to resolve China’s expansive maritime territorial claims.” [John Bolton and Dan Blumenthal, 11/9/11]

FACT: LOSC would bolster U.S. and allies in the South China Sea. Nina Hachigian, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, explains, “China’s rise adds to a growing list of reasons to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Senate ratification of the treaty, which sets out a legal framework for conduct in the world’s oceans, will put the United States in an even stronger position to preserve our freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas against any potential Chinese attempts to restrict our access, now and in the future. It will also allow us to be an even more forceful advocate for a rules-based process when it comes to territorial disputes in those waters and will lend Washington more credibility as it pushes China to follow international laws and norms.” Secretary Panetta adds, “By not acceding to the Convention, we give up the strongest legal footing for our actions. We undercut our credibility in a number of Asia-focused multilateral venues – just as we’re pushing for a rules-based order in the region and the peaceful resolution of maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere.” [Nina Hachigian, 6/12/12. Leon Panetta, 5/23/12] 

Myth: LOSC represents a transfer of wealth. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld writes in the Wall Street Journal, “the Law of the Sea Treaty remains a sweeping power grab that could prove to be the largest mechanism for the worldwide redistribution of wealth in human history.” [Donald Rumsfeld, 6/15/12]

FACT: Under LOSC U.S. would have a seat at the table, with veto power. John Bellinger, who served in the Bush administration as Legal Adviser and Senior Advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and in the Bush White House recently testified: “the provisions in the original Part XI requiring transfer of technology to less developed countries or mandating limits on deep seabed mining based on non-market factors had been eliminated.  Moreover, the United States had been given a permanent seat on the Council of the International Seabed Authority and the power to veto all decisions of the International Seabed Authority relating to budgetary or financial matters.” [John B. Bellinger III, 6/14/12]

Myth:  LOSC inhibits U.S. military and intelligence collection abilities. Peter Roff writes in US News and World Report, “The Law of the Sea Treaty would do irreparable harm to U.S. military and intelligence operations and would force the United States to hand over proprietary technology to countries actively hostile to U.S. interests.” [Peter Roff, 5/10/12]

FACT: LOSC secures freedom of navigation, does not inhibit intelligence collection. John Negroponte, America’s first Director of National Intelligence under the Bush administration tells congress: “Let me be clear as the first Director of National Intelligence that joining the convention in no way hinders our intelligence gathering to include not impairing in anyway our submarine activities.” And Secretary Panetta adds, “The Convention in no way harms our intelligence collection activities or constrains our military operations.  On the contrary, U.S. accession to the Convention secures our freedom of navigation and over-flight rights as bedrock treaty law.” [John Negroponte, 6/14/12. Leon Panetta, 5/23/12] 

Myth: LOSC would mean a UN tax on the US. Christian Whiton writes for Fox News, “The treaty would give the UN its first capacity to levy taxes directly on Americans, and shift money from the US Treasury to an unaccountable UN bureaucracy in Jamaica.” [Christian Whiton, 6/12/12]

FACT: There are no taxes under the convention. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses this common refrain, in her testimony, saying “Other critics have suggested that the Convention gives the United Nations the authority to levy some kind of global tax. This is also untrue.  There are no taxes on any individuals, corporations, or anyone else under the Convention.” [Hillary Clinton, 5/23/12]

Myth: President Reagan opposed the LOSC. Roff writes, “Reagan objected to several of the treaty’s provisions and refused to sign it without amendments changing it, but like a bad penny, it keeps turning up.” [Peter Roff, 5/10/12]

FACT: Bush administration concluded 1994 amendments satisfied Reagan’s concerns. Bellinger explains, “The Bush Administration reviewed the specific concerns that President Reagan had raised about the Convention, which focused on Part XI of the Convention, regarding deep sea-bed mining.  We concluded that all of these concerns had been satisfactorily addressed by the amendments made to the Convention in 1994.” In fact, President Reagan had stated in 1982 that the “The United States remains committed to the  multilateral treaty process for reaching agreement on the law of the sea,” and if U.S. concerns were addressed, “my Administration will support ratification.” [John B. Bellinger III, 6/14/12]

Myth: America has gotten along just fine without the treaty, there is no need for it .Secretary Rumsfeld argues, “our Navy has done quite well without this treaty for the past 200 years, relying often on centuries-old, well-established customary international law to assert navigational rights.” [Donald Rumsfeld, 6/15/12]

FACT: Current and anticipated events make LOSC vital to U.S. interests and power. Senator John Warner (R-VA), former chairman of the Armed Services Committee and Navy Secretary, and Thomas Donahue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, explain that, “current events make Senate approval increasingly urgent. Russia and other nations are poised to encroach on what should be within our extended economic zone in the U.S. outer continental shelf. America must now secure its legitimate claims to these valuable offshore resources. Ratification would give America a firmer hand in dealing with the risks of Cuba’s proposed effort to drill for oil off the coast of Florida, Iran’s threats to peaceful commercial and military transit through the Strait of Hormuz, and possible threats to commercial shipping and military transport through critical straits and chokepoints throughout the world.” [John Warner and Thomas Donohue, 6/6/12]


What We’re Reading

Russia endorsed the Kofi Annan plan for a political transition in Syria.

Bomb attacks killed at least 12 people in Baghdad, as Prime Minister Maliki considers early elections.

Turkey deployed rockets and anti-aircraft missiles on the border with Syria in a response to the downing of a Turkish plane.

Egyptian officials who had negotiated a gas deal with Israel have been sentenced to time in prison.

China is showing signs of increasing frustration at the bellicose behavior of its longtime ally, North Korea.

An Indian national returned after spending thirty years in a Pakistani prison on espionage charges.

Judges in the Hague acquitted Karadzic of one count of genocide, but ten other war crimes and genocide charges are still standing.

Chancellor Angela Merkel headed to Brussels for talks with European Union leaders, facing isolation, despite Germany’s powerful position.

Amnesty International reported that arms sales from China, Ukraine and Sudan are fuelling conflict in South Sudan.

Campaigning ended in the Mexican Presidential election.


Commentary of the Day

Juliette Kayyem asserts Iran and Egypt are not destined to be very close allies, even if diplomatic relations improve.

Minxin Pei writes that Chinese leadership selection based on personal patronage contributes to its inability or unwillingness to make much-needed economic reforms.

Peter Bergen calls for declaring victory in America’s war with al Qaeda.


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