GOP creates rocky seas for critical treaty

  • By William Burke, Edward Miles and Warren Wooster
  • Friday, July 23, 2004 9:00pm
  • Opinion

The president supports it. The military supports it. So do the fishing, shipping, oil and gas industries, as well as environmental groups.

So, what’s the problem? Despite a diverse pool of impressive support, ratification of the 1982 Law of the Sea treaty is being held up by a small group of far-right Republicans who see the agreement as just one more step toward global government.

Their unfounded fears of the United States ceding too much control to an international body should not blow members of Congress off the right course. The treaty has many benefits for all of us in Washington state, one of which is the war on terrorism, and should be ratified.

The LOS treaty establishes rules governing uses of the world’s oceans, including the airspace above and the seabed below. It establishes a country’s jurisdiction, rights and controls over to activities off its coasts, and protects the freedom of all countries to navigate and use the oceans without interference.

Our armed forces rely on the ability to navigate freely on and in the world’s oceans to protect U.S. security interests worldwide. The treaty enshrines key rights of navigation and flight.

Adm. Vern Clerk, the chief of naval operations, has stated that “the convention supports U.S. efforts in the war on terrorism by providing important stability and codifying navigational freedoms, while leaving unaffected intelligence collection activities. Future threats are likely to emerge in places and ways that are not yet known. For these and other as yet unknown operational challenges, we must be able to take maximum advantage of the established navigational rights codified in the Law of the Sea convention to get us to the fight rapidly.”

Security on the high seas and in our ports is a paramount concern. We can’t afford to sit on the sidelines while other nations agree on the Law of the Sea. Moreover, during this time in history, the U.S. needs to increase its international cooperation with other countries.

Being party to the Law of the Sea treaty would greatly strengthen President Bush’s Proliferation Security Initiative. The initiative was the creation of international agreements and partnerships that allow the United States and its allies to search planes and ships carrying suspect cargo and seize illegal weapons or missile technologies.

The PSI further protects Washington ports, but the United States must first accept the LOS treaty to use it to promote and/or facilitate the PSI with other nations. At least one nation has threatened to pull out of PSI if the United States does not accept the LOS treaty promptly.

The treaty sat stalled in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 10 years. Finally, this year the committee voted 19-0 in favor of ratification.

Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is ignoring the committee’s unanimous support. He has so far refused to bring the treaty to a vote by the whole Senate.

President Bush, who supports the treaty, has refrained from pushing the Senate to act, apparently wary of antagonizing the conservative base in the Republican Party.

As of now, 145 nations will have a seat at the negotiating table. Unless the Senate acts, and acts soon, the world’s only superpower will not be at the table. If we are not at the table, there will be no one to protect our interests.

William Burke is a University of Washington professor emeritus of law and marine affairs. Edward Miles is a UW professor of marine studies and public affairs. Warren Wooster is a UW professor emeritus of marine affairs and fisheries. Wooster and Burke served as expert advisers on the U.S. delegation that negotiated the LOS treaty. Miles was a participant observer in the negotiations and has published a book analyzing the negotiation and conclusion of the treaty.

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