Written by Mike Brownfield
Back in 1982, President Ronald Reagan decided not to sign a treaty known as “Law of the Sea” (LOST), a United Nations convention that would raid America’s treasury for billions of dollars, then redistribute that wealth to the rest of the world by an international bureaucracy headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica. But today, the Obama Administration has revived that treaty, and tomorrow Senator John Kerry (D-MA) will hold hearings designed to illustrate its supposed benefits and generate support for its ratification. Without a doubt, Reagan’s decision should stand, and LOST should remain relegated to the trash bin of history.
The rationale for LOST is that it supposedly brings order to the world’s oceans, defines the rights and responsibilities of nations as they navigate and conduct business across the seas, protects the marine environment, and allows for the development of natural resources of the deep seabed. On the surface, these all sound like worthwhile goals. The thing is, the United States doesn’t need to join another United Nations treaty to make it happen.
For more than 200 years before LOST was adopted in 1982 and for 30 years since then, the U.S. Navy has successfully protected America’s maritime interests regardless of the fact that the United States has not signed on to the treaty. The United States’ navigational rights and freedoms have been secure, and they are best guaranteed by a strong Navy.
LOST is not without consequences, either. One of the more nefarious and insidious of its provisions is Article 82, which requires the United States to forfeit royalties generated from oil and gas development on the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles – an area known as the “extended continental shelf.” That money, which one estimate says could be worth many billions, if not trillions of dollars, would go to the International Seabed Authority, a new international bureaucracy created by the treaty and based in Jamaica. Heritage’s Steven Groves explains that from there, America’s money could be shipped to the Middle East, Africa, China, and even state sponsors of terror:
LOST directs that the revenue be distributed to “developing States” (such as Somalia, Burma … you get the picture) and “peoples who have not attained full independence” (such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization … hey, don’t they sponsor terrorism?). The assembly – the “supreme organ” of the International Seabed Authority in which the United States has a single vote to cast – has the final say regarding the distribution of America’s transmogrified “international” royalties.
The assembly may vote to distribute royalties to undemocratic, despotic or brutal governments in Belarus, China or Zimbabwe – all members of LOST. Perhaps those dollars will go to regimes that are merely corrupt; 13 of the world’s 20 most corrupt nations, according to Transparency International, are parties to LOST. Even Cuba and Sudan, both considered state sponsors of terrorism, could receive dollars fresh from the U.S. Treasury.
In addition to shipping America’s money overseas to unsavory recipients, LOST could have other negative consequences, as well, by exposing U.S. industry and manufacturing to baseless international lawsuits. In fact, environmental activists and international legal academics are actively exploring the potential of using international litigation against the United States to advance their agendas. And for those who say LOST is a tool for mediating international disputes, take a look at the Philippines, which signed on to the treaty and yet today is finding itself browbeaten by China and its claims in the South China Sea. (U.S. Navy Photo: Mass Communications Specialist Third Class Amanda Kilpatrick)
If America truly wants to preserve its rights on the sea, then it needs to bolster the one tool that has guaranteed those rights throughout history — a strong U.S. Navy. Unfortunately, under President Obama’s watch, the United States is seeing its fleet diminished in size and ability. A lone piece of paper will not defend America’s interests on the sea, and neither will transferring billions of dollars to an international authority in Jamaica for redistribution the world over. LOST should not be ratified and signed, and instead Washington should turn its attention to ensuring that the U.S. Navy has the resources it needs to protect America’s interests on the high seas.
Mike Brownfield is Assistant Director of Strategic Communications at The Heritage Foundation. He serves as editor of The Foundry, Heritage's public policy news blog, as well as the "Morning Bell," one of Washington’s most widely read and influential e-newsletters. Mike hails from Southeast Michigan and practiced law in Chicago, Illinois.