Ed Meese: Reagan Would Still Oppose Law of the Sea Treaty

The so-called Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) is a bad idea whose time should never come up — at least for the United States and for those who believe in economic liberty and national security. That was the view of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and would remain his view today if he were with us to express it. The actual title of the treaty is “the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea.† As its name suggests, it gives to the United Nations, through its subordinate organizations established in the treaty, unprecedented economic powers and expansive authority over the commercial and maritime interests of the nations of the world. As Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., former Defense Department executive and President of the Center for Security Policy, has stated, “…it is unimaginable that the United States would choose to expand the power and influence of the United Nations at a time when evidence of the latter’s corruption, malfeasance and inherent anti-Americanism is growing by the day.† How did such an idea get started? It began in the 1970s, when Socialism was still raging and considered by some elitists as “the wave of the future.† The United Nations still wore the mantle of hope. Jimmy Carter claimed that the world’s energy supplies would be diminished in just 20 years. Time spent in our cars waiting for rationed gas gave some the sense that perhaps the world’s resources should be subject to greater regulation. No doubt that to diplomats in Foggy Bottom or Manhattan’s East Side, the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) that they painstakingly negotiated, complete with its 17 Parts, 320 Articles, and nine Annexes, was the answer to their dreams. Proponents of this giant step toward world-level bureaucracy probably could not imagine that the new American president, Ronald Reagan, could reject the treaty and fire the people responsible for negotiating it. But he did. LOST was the creature of a negotiation process dominated by the Soviet bloc and the “non-aligned movement.† It placed its hope on the United Nations bureaucracy. And it was out of step with the concepts of economic liberty and free enterprise that Ronald Reagan was to inspire throughout the world. Time has proven President Reagan right. Less imaginable is that 23 years later LOST is again being seriously considered by a Republican president and a Republican Senate. It was a bad idea in 1982; it is an unconscionable one now as we protect against new enemies and the internationalist whims of our Supreme Court. A 1994 limited agreement pertaining to deep-sea mining, negotiated by the Clinton administration, but not part of the treaty itself does not make the treaty as a whole any more acceptable. America’s adherence to this treaty would entail history’s biggest transfer of wealth and surrender of sovereignty. LOST vests in the new international entity the power to regulate seven-tenths of the world’s surface area; to impose production quotas for deep-sea mining, oil production and other harvesting; and to regulate ocean research and exploration. LOST creates a multinational court system to render and enforce its judgments. This is particularly alarming after a majority of the United States Supreme Court, in Roper v. Simmons, included an unratified international convention as justification for the judicial revision of a portion of our Constitution. Soon the high court will decide whether to honor a decision by the International Court of Justice, under another treaty, that would challenge the conviction of 51 convicted felons and murderers in our prisons who are foreign nationals. Significantly, LOST creates the authority for an international authority to levy taxes against member countries, ultimately to be paid by taxpayers. This brings the world closer to what United Nations bureaucrats have long wanted — a source of unlimited income. Most importantly, the treaty was drafted at a time when positions and actions of nations were relatively predictable. But today new enemies are involved. The sorts of at-sea interdiction efforts central to our new Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) would be prohibited under LOST. The treaty effectively prohibits two functions vital to American security: intelligence-collection in, and submerged transit of, foreign territorial waters. Mandatory information-sharing would afford enemies data that could be used to facilitate attacks. Obligatory technology transfers would equip adversaries with sensitive and militarily useful equipment and knowledge. Why has a bad idea, once thought to be dead, now again raised its ugly head? Unfortunately, misguided internationalists have teamed with unrealistic business interests to support the resurgence of LOST. Some advocates believe that this giant step toward the rigidity of world government would be beneficial for mankind. They minimize the importance of national sovereignty and the value of free market economic decision-making and individualized business negotiations. There are those in the American oil industry who believe that an international organization will fairly allocate permits for the exploration and exploitation of undersea deposits and they like the idea that the U.S. taxpayers will pay the associated costs. But experience and common sense demonstrates that whatever inconvenience and expense may be involved in negotiating drilling rights with individual governments on straight business principles cannot justify the creation of a massive international authority susceptible to ideological pressures and potential corruption. Moreover, much of what the oil industry needs can be achieved through bilateral treaties and the involvement of the international financing system. Representatives of the U.S. Navy claim that LOST would provide navigation rights that would benefit our country. But the existing 1958 Law of the Seat Treaty already provides such rights without subjecting our naval forces to the compulsory dispute resolution by a UN tribunal, as required by the new treaty. Indeed, LOST provides the opportunity for legal mischief by those forces, both foreign and domestic, who would seek to limit the Navy’s activities. In short, LOST is an invitation to trial lawyers and their environmentalist front groups to go international, not only against the private sector but also against our military. The challenge should be clear for those who would follow the principles and implement the vision of Ronald Reagan. The best interests of the United States and of global freedom and opportunity demand that the Law of the Sea Treaty proposed for ratification be sunk, never to surface again.