When U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), both vice presidential hopefuls, recently declared their opposition to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, they virtually guaranteed that it would be dead on arrival if it were sent to the Senate. A group of 34 senators, including Ayotte and Portman and led by Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), is now on the record promising to vote against UNCLOS, which is enough to make getting the two-thirds majority necessary for ratification impossible.
UNCLOS was first negotiated 30 years ago. But back then, U.S. President Ronald Reagan objected to it because, he argued, it would jeopardize U.S. national and business interests, most notably with respect to seabed mining. A major renegotiation in 1994 addressed his concerns, and the United States signed. Now, the U.S. Navy and business community are among UNCLOS’ strongest supporters. So, too, was the George W. Bush administration, which tried to get the treaty ratified in 2007 but failed due to Republican opposition in the Senate.
Today’s Republicans continue their march backwards against history, against the best interests of American commerce. Their rejection of treaty law, multilateral treaties, guarantees outlaw status for American shipping.
Today’s opponents, including Ayotte, DeMint, and Portman, focus on two issues. First, they argue, the treaty is an unacceptable encroachment on U.S. sovereignty…Yet sovereignty is not a problem: During the 1994 renegotiation, the United States ensured that it would have a veto over how the ISA distributes funds if it ever ratified the treaty. As written, UNCLOS would actually increase the United States’ economic and resource jurisdiction…
The opponents’ second claim is that the treaty would prevent the U.S. Navy from undertaking unilateral action, such as collecting intelligence in the Asia-Pacific region…According to Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, however, “The convention in no way restricts our ability or legal right to conduct military activities in the maritime domain.” On the contrary, as U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put it, U.S. accession to the convention “secures our freedom of navigation and overflight rights as bedrock treaty law…”
…U.S. allies and strategic partners in South East Asia, meanwhile, will be even more doubtful of Washington’s capacity to maintain its leadership role. It is strategic multilateralism in the Atlantic that helped the United States to win the twentieth century. Without concordant multilateralism in the Asia-Pacific, it will not fare so well in the twenty-first.
Protecting national sovereignty is a legitimate aim…for the goal to have any meaning, it must be framed so that it can be met…Those who object to the treaty have defined sovereignty in such ideological terms that they will never be satisfied. By their reckoning, the United States can never be party to an international organization, even if it has veto status in it…
Once again, President Obama is channeling Harry Truman as he tries to turn China into the bogeyman that the Soviet Union was in Congressional politics. Truman got the Marshall Plan started, internationalization of US policies through the United Nations was accomplished out of fear and cowardice – instead of reason and forethought.
Republicans hate and fear Obama more than China. The Obama administration via Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the United States believes that all maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea must be resolved multilaterally and in accordance with international law. That’s sufficient reason for Republican opposition.