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Should the Senate Ratify the U.N. Sea Treaty? PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Wednesday, 06 February 2008 02:08

There has been vigorous debate about whether the U.S. Senate should ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, also known as the Law of the Sea Treaty, or LOST by its critics). The treaty has a wide-range of supporters in the United States. These reportedly include elements within the Pentagon who believe that UNCLOS would prevent foreign states from adopting arbitrary policies that interrupt normal naval operations. A primary objection of opponents is that UNCLOS would establish a dangerous precedent by authorizing the U.N.'s International Seabed Authority to collect taxes.

Would the provisions set forth in UNCLOS yield net gains for the United States? Opinions differ widely. It may be impossible to answer this question with certainty, and I won't even try. Instead, I think we should ask ourselves whether any treaty adopted by the U.N. is worth the paper on which it is printed.

Any treaty is only as good as the honor of those who adopt it. The record of the U.N. does not inspire confidence.

• The U.N. voted to establish the state of Israel in Palestine. Almost ever since, the U.N. has adopted reams of discriminatory resolutions and sought to impose conditions that threaten Israel's very existence. This shows the U.N. to be fickle, even treacherous. Apparently, even most of the European states have no objection to Jews being annihilated as long as it doesn't happen within their own borders.

• The U.N. devised an "oil for food" program ostensibly to weaken the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein and to prevent innocent Iraqis from suffering. It later came to light that France, Germany, Russia, and others were only too happy to profit from illicit deals and bribes that propped up Saddam and strengthened his cruel, tyrannical rule. If even some of our supposed friends will cheat on a "humanitarian" agreement, what hope of compliance with treaties can we realistically expect?

• U.N. relief workers have been found to demand sexual favors from poor, defenseless individuals in order to receive the food and other desperately needed aid that had been donated to help those unfortunates.

Despite the specious record of the U.N., idealists who crave peace make common cause with realists who crave power to lobby for more and more authority to be vested in the U.N. Liberals who think that a business monopoly is a threat to the human race desire a political monopoly that they fantasize will be benevolent and just.

Liberals believe that if there were no more sovereign states, then there wouldn't be any more war. Well, there might not be "wars" in the traditional sense if a global government with an effective monopoly on force were ever created, but there would still be plenty of violence. Look, when the Soviet communists finally subdued internal armed resistance, there were no wars between the constituent republics, but the Soviet Union was still a very violent place. The state waged its own sort of war against all the subject peoples, with tens of millions executed or banished to Siberia as "enemies of the state." As destructive as war is (an estimated 45 million lives lost to war in the 20th Century), war is not nearly as deadly as governments that have fallen into the wrong hands (responsible for more than 120 million deaths in the 20th Century).

Do we really want to trust the U.N. - which not many years ago had such bloody, oppressive regimes as those of Cuba, Syria, Libya, and Sudan on its Human Rights Commission - to uphold the provisions of UNCLOS? The U.N. can't even abide by the most important agreement in its history: the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 3 affirms, "Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person"; Article 4, that nobody shall be held "in servitude"; Article 7, "All are equal before the law ... ." A list of undemocratic governments that have violated those rights and committed the most heinous atrocities against their own citizens, and yet have been accepted as equals in the halls of the U.N., would fill a long paragraph. What grounds do we have for trusting such characters to honorably uphold and abide by the terms of UNCLOS? This seems to be an egregious case of wishful thinking.

Why are we wasting time with such a futile exercise? Given the track record of many of the U.N.'s member states, one can only conclude that they would love to hamstring the United States, figuring that we might make concessions and try to abide by the treaty even while other signatories flout it. Who needs a treaty like that?


Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

Comments (4)Add Comment
written by Arsen, February 06, 2008
I really need something up to date that says Law of the Sea will pass that is from last week. :)
written by Caitlyn L Antrim, February 07, 2008
It appears that you are mistaking title for substance. The "United Nations" in the title refers only to the fact that the Convention was negotiated at the UN. In fact the Convention is an agreement among states as to the rights of coastal states (to manage their territorial sea, their offshore fishing resources and the minerals of the continental shelf) and the rights of seafaring states (to free navigation on the high seas, including within the economic zone, passage through straits used for international navigation, and innocent passage through the territorial sea). The United Nations does not have a role here - rights and responsibilities belong to states. In some cases there are provisions for arbitration of disputes, but there are exceptions for military activities, boundary delimitation and actions under Security Council resolutions. Even then, disputes are tightly limited and the rules lean in our favor.

Only three cases provide for international bodies, and we intentionally decided to create new bodies rather then utilize the UN. One body is made up of geologists expert on reviewing limits to the continental shelf, another is an international tribunal that states may, but need not, choose to resolve disputes, and the third is the International Seabed Authority. The Authority as negotiated in 1982 was the reason for President Reagan's objections. It's powers and Authority, and the oversight role of the US, were renegotiated to our complete satisfaction in 1994. The US, once we join, will have a _permanent_ seat on the executive council and we will be able to veto any rule, regulation or amendment dealing with operations, budget or distribution of funds. In addition, the finances of the Authority are audited by commercial accounting companies. The entire staff of the authority is only 38 people, most of whom are clerks, administrative personnel, drivers and security personnel.

If you don't like the UN, then you should give a new look at the LOS Convention because the convention not only avoids giving the UN power, it establishes an alternative body that incorporates features we would like to see added to the UN - particularly the permanent US seat, the introduction of chambered voting that enhances the influence of developed countries, and the requirement for consensus in financial decisions that gives the US a veto (but only if we join and attend so we can use it).

The Convention is in place and running. As directed by President Reagan, we observe the convention as much as we can as a non-party already. As to the seabed provisions, the republican congresses failed to fund the US regime for seabed minerals that had been established in 1980. As a result, their is _no_ US seabed mining industry, even as Germany became the 8th consortia to be authorized by the Authority to have exclusive exploration rights for their minesite in the Pacific.

Attack the UN all you want. But you will find that the US negotiators of the LOS Convention anticipated your concern and avoided giving the UN any role in the Law of the Sea Convention.
written by Robert McManus, February 07, 2008
This is truly an idiotic screed: For starters, the UN has NO substantive responsibilities under the LOS Convention. (It's called UNCLOS because the conference that negotiated it was convened pursuant to a UN General Assembly Resolution in the 1960s.) Mr. Hendrickson admits he "won't even try" to figure out whether the treaty yields net gains to the US. This is an abdication of intellectual rigor that staggers the imagination, coming as it does from a putative educator. Less lazy individuals have answered that question affirmatively, including the Chief of Naval Ops (and all living former CNOs), the Joint Chiefs, the secretary of state, the president, the American Petroleum Institute, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (twice!), the Bush-appointed US Oceans Policy Commission (unanimously), and all living former chief counsels of the State Dept. Unlike Mr. Hendrickson, I am familiar with the ACTUAL PROVISIONS of the treaty, and would be hapy to answer questions, with ACTUAL REFERENCES to the text. (I call this odd technique "scholarship.") For reasons I can't fathom, the far-right opponents of this treaty consider it some sort of saliva test, and deem its defeat sufficiently important to lie about its provisions in the press (or, as in Hendrickson's cae, to argue some irrelevant point about the UN).
law student
written by hkn, September 01, 2010
Illogic article!

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