U.S. ratification of UNCLOS would further advance collectivist idea of "common heritage of mankind"
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The Treaty is a weird mixture of the codification of some long established and widely accepted navigational rules for the oceans with an outdated and counter-productive collectivist scheme to make the oceans the funding source for an UN-organized wealth redistribution plan. The Treaty would create a socialist entity to develop the oceans viewed as “the common heritage of mankind.” The entity (the “Authority” and other bizarre language no longer heard even in North Korea) would gain its resources and knowledge by forcing private firms – likely US – to “share” with “all mankind.” That “what’s yours is mine” aspect of LOST will limit mankind’s ability ever to benefit from the potential resources of this vast area.
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This redistributionist, collectivist language, I’ve suggested, is archaic and this is not surprising. The treaty was drafted during the height of the G-77 – when many saw world poverty as the result of the west’s wealth. People in Africa, Asia, and South America were poor because we were rich; make us poorer and they will become richer! In that era, only foreign aid and other wealth redistribution schemes were viewed as offering any hope of alleviating world poverty. LOST was typical of the flawed policy prescriptions of that era. But the world has learned much over the last decades. Most now recognize that Foreign Aid, while occasionally useful in emergency relief situations, can too often stifle the entrepreneurial forces and political reforms which offer the only hope for sustainable economic growth. The work of Lord Peter Bauer, recipient of the Cato Institute Friedman Prize, showed that too often foreign aid is simply the transfer of wealth from the poor in the rich world to the rich in the poor world, that such wealth transfer programs hurt, rather than helped the poor. LOST was crafted in this era and it shows. Even the World Bank and its other international institutions increasingly recognize that the key to addressing poverty is for the affected nation states to move toward economic freedom, private property, a predictable rule of law, a reduction in domestic violence. To enshrine collective political management of the oceans does nothing to advance this cause.
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Even if no minerals are ever lifted commercially from the ocean floor, the Law of the Sea Treaty retains its coercive, collectivist philosophical underpinnings. It will have a negative impact on entrepreneurship even if no mining ever occurs. The worst principle is the declaration that all seabed resources are mankind’s “common heritage” under the control of a majority of the world’s nation states. American ratification would help validate some of these discredited collectivist notions.
Among the precedents enshrined by the LOST is that the nation states—not peoples—of the world, in the words of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Min Mohamad, collectively own “all the unclaimed wealth of this Earth.”14 Granting ownership and control to Third World autocracies with no relationship to the resource nor any ability to contribute anything to their development makes neither moral nor practical sense.
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Although American ratification of the LOST would not be enough to resurrect the NIEO, it would subject the United States to the treaty’s restrictive regulatory regime and enshrine in international law some very ugly precedents. One is that the nation–states (not peoples) of the world collectively own all the unclaimed wealth of this earth. Granting ownership and control to petty autocracies that have no relationship to the resources and no ability to contribute anything to their development makes neither moral nor prac- tical sense. Much better on both counts is the simple Lockean notion that mixing one’s labor with resources—by developing complex machinery capable of scouring the ocean floor, for instance—grants one a property interest in them.
The Lockean standard would better suit the interests of developing peoples. The LOST may purport to promote international justice, fairness, and cooperation, but, in fact, it advances none of those things. Rather, it rais- es to the status of international law self-indul- gent claims of ownership to be secured through an oligarchy of international bureau- crats, diplomats, and lawyers. And the treaty’s specific provisions still mandate global redistribution of resources, create a monopolistic public mining entity, restrict competition, and require the transfer of technology. Those principles, even in the attenuated form of the revised treaty, reflect the sort of statist panaceas that were discredited by the historical wave that swept away Soviet-style communism.
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Libertarians—what are they concerned about? Libertarians are concerned about preserving the free market and free-market principles and opposing redistribution as economic policy. Clearly, this particular treaty, despite the 1994 revisions that were pointed to, still effectively establishes redistribution policies regarding the exploitation of sea-based assets—minerals, oil, whatever resources you would want to talk about." Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute has said that UNCLOS "embodies the most odious features of centralized planning."' And he reaffirmed that following the 1994 changes. He said, notwithstanding the 1994 revisions, UNCLOS "remains captive to its collectivist and redistributionist origins."10
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Some advocates of the LOST have argued that a universal accord would promote seabed mining. A truly market-oriented accord might do so; not, however, a system that includes the ISA, the Enterprise, the Council, revenue sharing, international royalties, Western subsidies for the Enterprise, a Council veto for land-based minerals producers, and the like. Yet all of those anti-development provisions remain in the revised text.
That the treaty would favor political over productive activity should come as no surprise. The LOST was created in a different era. It was intended to inaugurate large and sustained wealth transfers from the industrialized states. The structure was therefore crafted to advance ideological, not economic, goals. Since then, however, most developing states have moved away from collectivism, and the promise of undersea mining has largely evaporated. Yet the original collectivist framework remains. Even the State Department acknowledges that the new "agreement retains the institutional outlines of Part XI," which contains the seabed mining provisions.10 The treaty has become a solution in search of a problem.