Don’t Resurrect the Law of the Sea Treaty

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For more than 20 years, the United States hasrefused to become a party to the Law of the SeaTreaty. Advocates of the treaty, a comprehensivemeasure governing navigational rights on the seaand mineral rights on the seabed, claimed that U.S.failure to join the convention would result in chaoson the high seas. It has not. Very few Americansknow anything about the treaty, and even advocatesare hard-pressed to explain how the UnitedStates would benefit from its adoption.

A round of changes to the document won thesupport of the Clinton administration, whichsigned the treaty in 1994, but those changesfailed to attract sufficient support from theSenate. The LOST has languished unratified formore than 10 years.

The logjam appears to have broken, withprominent Republicans, and the president himself,signaling support for ratification. But thechanges made to the LOST over the years have notaltered its fundamental principles, which are collectivistin nature and inimical to U.S. interests.Most objectionable is Section XI, that portion ofthe treaty governing seabed mining. The provisionsof Section XI may have the effect of foreverdiscouraging such operations, even where theremight be huge benefits. Regulations are to beadministered through a complicated system ofcommittees and agencies within the InternationalSeabed Authority, a creation of the UnitedNations that has ultimate jurisdiction over theagreement.

Funding for the ISA, and for enforcement ofthe LOST, would flow disproportionately fromthe United States. The ISA’s current budget ismodest, but the revised agreement changed noneof the underlying institutional incentives that biasvirtually every international organization, mostobviously the UN itself, toward extravagance.

Some supporters of the treaty insist that theLOST is essential to establishing the rule of lawon the high seas and will, therefore, aid in thefight against global terrorism. If the stakes arethat high, it is crucial that the treaty be a goodone. America’s interests will be best served if theSenate rejects the LOST.