The Senate Foreign Relations Committee assembled a high-profile cast of witnesses today in Chairman John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) passionate quest to push the U.S. to sign and ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty.
But none other than former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld showed up to testify — and oppose the United Nations convention as unwise and un-American.
Kerry began the full day of hearings with an op-ed on The Huffington Post trying to push the bipartisan nature of the treaty. “It’s an issue that President George W. Bush and I actually agreed on — strongly, unequivocally,” Kerry said, adding that last week all living former Republican secretaries of State gave a nod to the treaty in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
He highlighted earlier testimony of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who called the treaty, signed by every permanent member of the UN Security Council except the U.S., “the bedrock legal instrument underpinning public order across the maritime domain.”
Kerry said the treaty needs to be settled because of economic concerns related to maritime claims, such as exploiting resources from the ocean seabed, and the national security component.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was concluded in 1982 and defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in regard to business including natural resources management and environmental protection, and establishes baselines for territorial water, a state’s contiguous zone, and its exclusive economic zone.
John Negroponte, Bush’s first director of national intelligence, and the State Department’s former top lawyer in the Bush administration, John Bellinger, argued for the treaty today, saying that the Navy needs the protection offered by the treaty’s territorial conclusions and oil and gas companies need the protection for their deepwater claims.
“Let me emphasize that the Bush administration did not decide to support the Law of the Sea Convention out of a blind commitment to multilateral treaties or international organizations,” Bellinger said of the 2002 decision to support ratification. “No one has ever accused the Bush administration of an over-abundance of enthusiasm for the United Nations or multilateralism.”
Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) argued that the treaty “is the rare initiative that would contribute to all three objectives” of job creation, energy security and military needs.
But Rumsfeld countered Bellinger’s argument that “the benefits outweigh the concerns.”
“It was 30 years ago that President Reagan asked me to meet with world leaders to represent the United States in opposition to the Law of the Sea Treaty. Our efforts soon found a persuasive supporter in British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher,” the former defense secretary said. “Today, as the U.S. Senate again considers approving this agreement, the reasons for their opposition, I believe, remain as persuasive.”
Rumsfeld called Thatcher’s response to the convention “unforgettable.”
“She said what this treaty proposes is nothing less than the international nationalization of roughly two-thirds of the earth’s surface,” he said. “The major idea underlying the Law of the Sea Treaty is that the richest of the oceans, beyond national boundaries, are the common heritage of mankind. And thus supposedly owned by all people. Actually, it means they’re un-owned.”
Rumsfeld called “an idea of enormous consequence” the fact that “anyone who finds a way to make use of such riches by applying their labor or their technology or their risk-taking are required to pay writ royalties of unknown amounts, potentially billions, possibly even tens of billions over an extended period, an ill-defined period of time, to the new International Seabed Authority for distribution to less developed countries.”
Saying that this principle has “no clear limits,” he mused that it could set a precedent for space exploration, too.
Aid to underdeveloped countries, he added, “has been and probably should be a sovereign choice for each nation” and the “mechanism for the redistribution is poorly designed” in the treaty.
Even if the U.S. assumed its seat on the authority post-ratification, it wouldn’t ensure accountability “to the American people any more than any other UN agency is accountable.”