A Pathetic Pact for Safety on the Seas

by DR. PETER BROOKES May 26, 2012

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing recently, Team Obama started its drive for ratification of the 1982 UN Law of the Sea Treaty - or LOST.

Why push for a treaty that the country rejected decades ago?

From climate agreements to arms-control pacts, this administration hasn't met a United Nations treaty it felt the United States couldn't - indeed, shouldn't - fall in love with, despite the risk of political, economic or
security heartbreak.

So Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will trudge to Capitol Hill today to tell us why we should join the same treaty President Reagan passed on 30 years ago.

Senators will likely be told that we're at a "strategic turning point" with new rising powers; that we need a credible voice at the "table of nations" to defend our maritime interests - and, of course, that we can't solve the world's problems alone.

Ratifying LOST is being sold as a panacea - sure to help us deal with the Chinese in the South China Sea, the Russians in the Arctic and Iranians in the Persian Gulf - maybe even cure the common cold . . .

Of course, thinking LOST can do all this is a stretch.

For instance, China, a LOST signatory, claims "indisputable sovereignty" over the entire South China Sea - more than 1 million square miles. (LOST allows for 12-mile territorial waters and a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone - or EEZ - from a country's coastline.)

Beijing has flouted LOST for years while building a mighty military machine, especially a navy, to assert its claims. It's fantasy believing that an American signature on a piece of paper will change China's mind about the South China Sea and EEZ freedom of navigation.

Then there's Russia. We supposedly need to be inside the LOST "tent" to counter Moscow's and others' claims in the Arctic, where climate change might allow harvesting of once-inaccessible natural resources around the North Pole.

(US government surveys suggest about one-third of the world's yet-to-be-discovered, recoverable natural resources are below Arctic ice floes.)

In fact, we're already a member of the Arctic Ocean Conference - which is doing a good job of resolving the claims by the five circumpolar states (the United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway) in the High North.

And Iran? Tehran isn't even a member of LOST. So how is a LOST membership going to stop Iran from imperiling the Strait of Hormuz? Don't see it.

The subtext to all of this, of course, is that US defense spending is plummeting - $500 billion to $1 trillion over 10 years - and Team Obama may be looking to the UN to protect our interests on the high seas, since it'll be tougher to do so ourselves.

Call it national-security "outsourcing."

The Obama team will also try to avoid the inconvenient fact that signing LOST also signs us up for the International Seabed Authority, or ISA - a UN office that will collect royalties from US energy firms that drill on our continental shelf.

That's right: The treaty allows the ISA to "tax" these US companies and redistribute the funds globally to who-knows-who.

Lots of countries are eager for us to join LOST because they want us to help protect their interests in treaty meetings and the maritime domain. Fair enough.

But their inability to deal with the likes of China, Russia and Iran argues powerfully for us preserving our military strength - particularly our navy - rather than relying on a treaty. Diplomacy is most effective when backed up by the potential use of force.

Instead of encouraging us to join another frustrating UN treaty, which undermines US sovereignty and which some already violate, Team Obama should be telling us its plans for maintaining America's global power, especially on the high seas.

Follow me on Twitter: @Brookes_Peter    

Dr. Peter Brookes is a Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation and is a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He writes a weekly column for the New York Post and frequently appears on FOX, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR and BBC. He is the author of: "A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Rogue States." Mr. Brookes served in the U.S. Navy and is now a Commander in the naval reserves. He has over 1300 flight hours aboard Navy EP-3 aircraft. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy; the Defense Language Institute; the Naval War College; the Johns Hopkins University; and Georgetown University.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. 

Twitter: @Brookes_Peter

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