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Mon, May 20

Guest Commentary: Law of the Sea Treaty is bad for the U.S.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently approved a troubling treaty called the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, also known as the Law of the Sea Treaty or LOST.

If ratified by the whole Senate, the treaty could have dangerous consequences to our economy, national security, and sovereignty.

The 300-page treaty, which was first written 25 years ago, purports to create "a structure for the governance and protection of all of the sea, including the airspace above and the seabed and subsoil below." In fact, it declares the ocean floor "the common heritage of mankind" and would essentially put it under U.N. jurisdiction for "the benefit of mankind as a whole."

For instance, if ratified, the treaty would force U.S. companies - for the first time ever - to pay revenue-sharing contributions (i.e. taxes) to an international body (the International Seabed Authority) for commercial activities it conducts on the seabed.

There are no taxation limits or U.S. oversight mechanisms, and many consider it another example of the United Nations penalizing developed countries for the benefit of less-developed nations.

Moreover, these annual payments and fees could threaten the way we gather resources from the seas. Thomas Bowden, an analyst at the Ayn Rand Institute, explained the broader implications of this policy in a recent Wall Street Journal column.

He wrote: Like any other hard-to-reach resources, these undersea minerals are completely valueless where they now rest.

What is it that makes such resources actually valuable? It is the thinking and action of inventors, engineers, explorers and entrepreneurs who devote their mental energy to the task of finding and retrieving them.

These undersea pioneers don't just find wealth, they create wealth - by bringing a portion of nature's bounty under human control.

Under the proposed treaty... ocean mining companies - whose science, exploration, technology, and entrepreneurship are being counted on to gather otherwise inaccessible riches - are treated as mere servants of a world collective.

These economic concerns represent only a few of the questions about the treaty, which also implicates our national security.

There are real concerns that the treaty would hamper U.S. and allied efforts to interdict dangerous shipments of weapons of mass destruction as part of our current Proliferation Security Initiative.

Under this initiative, the U.S. has proliferation-related high-seas interdiction agreements with countries like Panama (which controls major waterways for international shipping).

If the U.S. ratifies LOST, the legality of such seizures could then be decided by an international tribunal (under the auspices of the United Nations) created by the treaty.

Additionally, provisions of the treaty could restrict U.S. intelligence gathering and submarine activities.

Although the treaty includes language exempting non-wartime "military activities" in international waters, it fails to define the term.

To clarify this language, the United States has proposed a condition for ratification that would allow the United States to define the term for itself; this would, however, amount to an exemption for signatories that is prohibited by the provisions of the treaty.

As a result, the U.S. is faced with a "take it or leave it" choice, and if the treaty is ratified, a U.N.-controlled international tribunal would make the final decision on permissible U.S. naval activities.

President Ronald Reagan, the first president faced with the decision to sign the treaty, was right not to do so.

His concerns extend from the "common heritage to mankind" principle to restricting the world's supply of minerals.

His most serious concern deals with how disputes under the treaty are resolved by an international tribunal, and hence, how it threatens U.S. autonomy and sovereignty.

By submitting a U.S. company to the decisions made by an international maritime court, it sets a troubling precedent that could give way to other U.N.-controlled courts (e.g. the International Court of Justice) to exert its jurisdictions over U.S. entities.

It's clear that there are too many unanswered questions and consequences for the United States with this treaty.

Therefore, I firmly oppose its ratification.

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