Defense & National Security

Law of the Sea Treaty ‘inimical to our sovereignty’

Law of the Sea Treaty 'inimical to our sovereignty'

Just as the Law of the Sea Treaty became a hot topic of policy debate this spring, a new entity emerged to throw its weight behind the treaty. The American Sovereignty Campaign, a coalition launched May 9 at a forum hosted by the Pew Charitable Trust and the Atlantic Council, took out web and print ads in publications across the political spectrum and went to work publishing opinion editorials in newspapers from Sarasota to Toledo.

The campaign’s message was clear: ratify the treaty now. The rationale for assuming a name that had long been appropriated by advocates on the other side of the issue was less so.

Frank Gaffney, director of the Center for Security Policy, is fuming.

Since 2007, Gaffney has been the head of the Coalition to Preserve American Sovereignty, a group founded to help defeat passage of the treaty. Now, the group calls itself the True Sovereignty Coalition, and its message remains the same: don’t cede American authority over to an international bureaucracy; leave the treaty unsigned.

“What you have is a transparent, Orwellian appropriation of a term that has a common meaning, in the interest of obscuring the fact that this treaty is antithetical to that meaning,” Gaffney said.

“I think (proponents) recognize that the treaty is clearly inimical to our sovereignty, that it has in a number of different respects a really diametrically opposite impact than promoting sovereignty. And that’s the kiss of death for this treaty. They have to obscure that.”

Steven Groves, an international law expert at the Heritage Foundation who has also opposed the treaty, used the same word—Orwellian—without prompting.

“It’s the same group that has been in favor of the treaty for a couple of decades now,” Groves said. “In what can only be described as an Orwellian twist, they’ve co-opted that term and trying to brand themselves as champions of American sovereignty.”

Groves said the treaty would encroach on American sovereignty by collecting royalties from production taking place on our continental shelf and redistributing them to member countries through the International Seabed Authority. Language within the treaty, he said, may also expose the U.S. to international lawsuits and litigation.

If nothing else, the tactic is an effective means of confusion. I observed a reporter pick up materials distributed by TASC at a Senate committee hearing on Law of the Sea and leaf through them, expecting a “counterpoint” to the treaty argument.

But a recent member of The American Sovereignty Campaign said the name signifies a different interpretation of the treaty itself.

At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the latest organization to join the campaign, Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten said the treaty promotes sovereign rights for the U.S. by establishing an international legal framework with agreement on how countries can claim surrounding seabeds and the continental shelf for proprietary use.

“It secures sovereign rights for the United States and states that have coastal areas,” Josten said. “It provides certainty and stability, both of which are crucial for countries to make investments. We believe failure to move forward and approve the Law of the Sea convention will place not only U.S. government but also U.S. industry at a disadvantage.”

Josten made clear he could not speak for the campaign, but said the name was not an attempt at Orwellian obfuscation.

“The Pew was the outfit that came up with the name and the purpose was deliberate,” he said. “We believe this treaty was to protect U.S. sovereign rights, but not weaken sovereignty rights.”

Repeated calls to Frances Cox, press contact for The American Sovereignty Campaign, were not returned.

Proposed middle ground on LOST — Paul Wolfowitz “still thinking.” 


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