Rumsfeld on Hill to Stand Fast Against Kerry's Law of Sea Treaty Drive

Rumsfeld acknowledged the Navy's desire to "lock in some navigation rights" with the treaty, which has been signed by 161 countries.

"The U.S. Navy has done quite well without this treaty for the past 200 years and certainly during the 20 or so years since it's been in effect, relying often on customary international law to assert navigation rights," he said. "In my view, the Law of the Sea Treaty would not make a large enough additional contribution regarding navigation rights or business certainty to counterbalance the problems it would create."

Negroponte detailed the revisions achieved through negotiations in the years after the convention, arguing that it now "fully satisfies the criteria articulated in 1982 by President Reagan."

"As you have heard recently from the secretaries of state and defense, the chairman of the JCS and our maritime service chiefs, there are real costs to remaining outside the treaty," he said. "For the benefit of our country, I hope this is the year that we finally become party to the Law of the Sea."

The first panel of the day consisted of Adm. James Winnefeld (USN), vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Adm. Jonathan Greenert (USN), chief of Naval operations; Adm. Robert Papp (USCG), commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard; Gen. William Fraser III (USAF), commander of the U.S. Transportation Command; Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr., commander of the U.S. Northern Command; and Adm. Samuel Locklear III (USN), commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.

Touting the panel as "24 stars in all," Kerry said he couldn't remember when so many military leaders were before the panel at one time.

"Some say that joining the convention would result in a loss of sovereignty for the United States," Winnefeld said. "I believe just the opposite to be true. Some would say -- some of those op-eds and the like would say that joining the convention will open U.S. Navy operations to the jurisdiction of international courts. We know this is not true."

Greenert said that recent "interference" with operations in the Western Pacific and concerns about Iran closing the Strait of Hormuz "underscore the need to be able to use the convention to clearly identify and respond to violations of international law that might attempt to constrain our access."

"Remaining outside the convention is just inconsistent with our principles, our national security strategy and our leading position in maritime affairs," the admiral said.

There is no guarantee of smooth sailing for the treaty, though, if it advances past committee -- and Kerry plans to hold more hearings first -- and to the floor of the upper chamber.

Twenty-seven senators have so far signed a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) opposing the treaty; 34 opponents would kill the treaty's chance of passage.

"We understand that Chairman Kerry has renewed his efforts to pursue Senate ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We are writing to let you know that we believe this Convention reflects political, economic, and ideological assumptions which are inconsistent with American values and sovereignty," states the May letter to Reid from the Republicans.

"If this treaty comes to the floor, we will oppose its ratification," they vowed.

Kerry said at today's hearing that he was "thrilled" to see that it was Republicans arguing over the treaty while Democrats were unified behind it.

The senator said that the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act doesn't set out latitude and longitude markers, so "the only way we can achieve certainty with respect to those demarcations is through an international agreement of some kind."

Kerry also argued that the aid to underdeveloped nations mandated in the treaty was necessary due to aid cutbacks in the U.S. budget. "And the question is, you know, what are we all going to do about that?" he asked. "The idea that there may be some resources coming from something like this that goes to some of these countries may be a saving grace."

Rumsfeld held fast to his assertion that the treaty would propel the U.S. down a road it doesn't want to take.

"Very simply, I do not believe the United States should endorse a treaty that makes it a legal obligation for productive countries to pay royalties to less productive countries, based on rhetoric about common heritage of mankind," Rumsfeld said.