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Congress needs to tell Law of the Sea Treaty to get lost

The American political system is still coming to grips with the loss of sovereignty resulting from the START treaty, rammed through the last Congressional lame duck session.

Flush with enthusiasm at how well that worked out, the Senate leadership is now repeating the pattern. 

Last Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a one-sided hearing addressing the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or, as it is more commonly known, the "Law of the Sea Treaty" (LOST).

LOST has been around in various forms for decades. When it was first completed in 1982 President Ronald Reagan refused to sign it, citing provisions that were contrary to U.S. long term strategic and economic interests. 

After a series of revisions, President Bill Clinton enrolled the U.S. in the treaty in 1994 but the United States Senate has, to date, failed to ratify it as the U.S. Constitution requires.

The Senate now taking the first step down the path toward another attempt at ratification. Led by Massachusetts Democrat Sen. John F. Kerry, it featured testimony from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of whom want the Senate to give its stamp of approval to LOST. 

No one who opposes the treaty was invited to appear.

Moreover the ideological single-mindedness on this issue between recently-defeated but still-serving Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Kerry, the chairman, meant the hearing was devoid of balance. 

Another legislative ram job seemed about to occur, even though even thought the LOST supporters don’t seem to understand the threat that it poses to American sovereignty. That is, until Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) began to challenge Secretary Clinton on some of the fine points of the treaty. 

Clinton came off as flustered and ill-informed, as it became clear to even the casual observer that the freshman Utah Republican had delved quite deeply into the treaty and its sovereignty implications, while she was captive to her talking points.

People are, for example, seemingly unaware that the treaty contains a backdoor tax increase on U.S. businesses that would be used to fund the operations of the international organization charged with overseeing it and could force America into the a Kyoto-style “cap and trade” system that would further damage the nation’s industrial productivity and move U.S. government funds offshore to yet another international body.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe – another treaty opponent – pointed out during the hearing that, according to a “conservative” estimate by the U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Task Force, the United States would transfer $70 billion to the International Seabed Authority, the organization charged with overseeing LOST.

The politics of the issue are clear. 

The internationalists, joined by the environmentalists, many in the business community and those who support the redistribution of global wealth are for it. 

Those who see a militarily and economically strong United States as the best guarantor of political freedom and opportunity are against it. 

Lee, Inhofe and South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint are showing real leadership in opposing LOST’s ratification along with a handful of their colleagues who have studied what is in the treaty and gone on record against it.

So, too, at least in the only fashion available to it, has the U.S. House of Representatives, which constitutionally has no role in the treaty process but does control the nation’s purse strings. It recently approved an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 offered by South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan that would ban federal funds from being use to implement the treaty if the Senate chooses to ratify it.

The Duncan-Jordan Amendment is a much needed “shot across the bow” against LOST.

Wanting to secure peace is an admirable sentiment, but not at the expense of U.S. naval superiority. 

Ratification of LOST would produce a forceful change in American policy dating back over two centuries that holds that a strong United States Navy is the best guarantor of freedom of the seas. 

Under LOST, the responsibility for preserving freedom of the seas would be relegated to a United Nations body whose mission is to resolve conflicts before they become shooting wars.

Let's just say we’ve been down that road before, and it did not lead to peace.

During the period between the First and Second World Wars, the global powers developed a series of treaties intended to prevent war. Beginning with the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, to a series of naval weapons limitation treaties, the United States, Japan, and the European powers placed their hopes for peace on a set of agreements that were supposed to produce a balance of naval power that would virtually guarantee the signatories would not go to war.

As history demonstrates, those efforts were futile. 

The democratic states abided by them while the dictatorships in Germany, Italy and Japan did not. They cheated in ways that were fully apparent -- but the world turned a blind eye to their dishonesty. This left the democracies at a distinct disadvantage and ill-prepared when war eventually came.

Peace, as Ronald Reagan famously said, is best secured through strength. Placing our trust in international agreements governed by bureaucratic global bodies whose representatives may not adhere to democratic values is to risk disaster. 

The Law of the Sea Treaty, as an effort to police the maritime waterways and establish a code of behavior, harkens back to the agreements that gave cover to those whose belligerence eventually led to the Second World War. 

America must rely upon itself, not international bodies under the United Nations.

Is it not foolish to believe, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggests, that Senate ratification of the treaty would produce a change in the behavior of the Chinese or the navy of any other ambitious country seeking to enlarge its power? 

As its supporters point out, the terms of the treaty have been in force for nearly a decade, yet the Chinese, who are signatories, are even now behaving in ways that run counter to its restrictions. Why should the U.S. make itself a full party to a treaty the Chinese ignore when it is in their interest to do so?

Sen. Kerry has promised additional hearings will be held at which time LOST’s opponents will be able to make their case. He also suggested that no vote on ratification would come before the November election, which sounds a lot like the health care bill or the newest START treaty all over again. 

To assume that LOST would secure “freedom of the seas” better than a strong U.S. Navy, as the Obama administration now seems to be saying in its argument in favor of ratification, is a naïve and dangerous proposition, a choice that this former Navy officer thinks the nation should not make. 

The Senate should reject the treaty if it comes up for a vote on the Senate floor, whether in the regular or a lame duck session.

Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring, a Pennsylvania-based public policy organization.

Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring, a Pennsylvania-based public policy organization.