Saturday, July 14, 2007

Clark & Pickering: A Treaty That Lifts All Boats

Vern Clark (Former Chief of Naval Operations) & Thomas R. Pickering (Former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations & Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs) have an op-ed in today's New York Times entitled A Treaty That Lifts All Boats. This continues the discussion of whether the Senate should provide its advice and consent to ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention. (Other recent op-eds can be found in previous posts.) Here it is:

As the world’s most significant maritime power, the United States protects its national security interests by full freedom of navigation around the globe. The seas make up about 70 percent of the surface of the earth. Yet we have not ratified an international treaty that would enable our armed forces to defend us at home and abroad with legal certainty, and would vastly increase our sovereign rights off the coasts of the United States.

That treaty is the Convention of the Law of the Sea, and the Senate should ratify it during this session of Congress as President Bush has requested. Joining the treaty is a national security action that would protect our country and its interests.

The treaty provides our military the rights of navigation, by water and by air, to take our forces wherever they must go, whenever it is necessary to do so. Our ships - including vessels that carry more than 90 percent of the logistic and other support for our troops overseas - are given the right of innocent passage through the territorial seas of other states. In addition, the treaty permits American warships to board stateless vessels on the high seas.

The treaty also provides an absolute right of passage through, over and under international straits and through archipelagoes like Indonesia. These rights - the crown jewels of the treaty - did not exist before 1982, when the Convention was concluded. Our security and economic interests are tied directly to these rights.

Another provision in the treaty establishes the breadth of the territorial sea - the area within which a state may exercise sovereignty - at 12 miles. This allows the United States to extend its territorial sea from three miles to 12 miles, while making several other nations reduce their excessive claims.

Our national security interests alone should be sufficient to persuade the Senate to act now. But the Convention also advances the economic interests of our country. It gives us an exclusive economic zone out to 200 miles, with sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the living and non-living natural resources of the zone.

Coastal states are given sovereign rights over the continental shelf beyond 200 miles if the shelf meets specific geological and other scientific criteria. Under the Convention, our Arctic continental shelf could extend out to 600 miles.

Our nation will be in a much stronger position to advance its military and economic interests if we ratify the treaty. We can guide and influence the interpretation of rules, protecting our interests and deflecting inconsistent interpretations. The agreement is being interpreted, applied and developed right now and we need to be part of it to protect our vital interests in the area of security and beyond.

The treaty is more favorable to our security interests now than we could achieve if we started all over again today. Yet as the debate over ratification takes place, you will see and hear arguments against it that are confected of half-truths and imagination.

The treaty does not authorize a "United Nations navy" or "United Nations taxes." We are not giving away American sovereignty by ratifying it, nor would joining it hinder our intelligence activities. An international institution would not control the
world’s oceans.

The Reagan administration objected to certain treaty provisions related to seabed mining. But a 1994 agreement fixed all flaws in the original Convention. The treaty now guarantees appropriate American influence with a permanent seat on the decision-making body. It eliminates earlier provisions that would have required countries to share technology. And it generally facilitates access to mining on reasonable commercial terms. With the modifications enacted in 1994, the treaty now meets all the criteria established by President Reagan in 1982 to make the treaty in the interest of the United States.

Twelve years ago we missed the opportunity to ratify the treaty in its present form. Our national security, if anything, is more reliant on worldwide access to the sea and the air on an open and undisputed basis than it was then.

The Convention of the Law of the Sea is by all lights in our national interest and has earned bipartisan support. President Bush and his administration have spoken out favorably. The Clinton administration also fully supported ratification.

We need to convert this important consensus into that simple action of advice and consent in the Senate, thereby preserving and protecting our national security and other interests embodied in this important treaty.