Statement of Fred Smith: On Accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and Ratification of the 1994 Agreement regarding Part XI of the Convention
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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mixture of the codification of some long established and widely accepted navigational rules for the oceans with an outdated and counter-productive collectivist scheme to make the oceans the funding source for an UN-organized wealth redistribution plan.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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LOST is a heavily regulatory bill, creating a body charged with protecting the seas. But, everything eventually flows into the seas. Thus, the UN gains the power to look upstream and into the skies to ensure that everything that has – or might have – impact on the seas be scrutinized and disciplined. The unintended consequences of this regulatory overreach cannot be under-estimated; its potential for damage is massive. This Committee has not done “due diligence” on this topic. And, for the complacent, note that the proponents of this bill – environmental alarmists and legal enthusiasts – are adept at converting hortatory language into legal prohibitions. Did anyone expect the Endangered Species Act to become a national land use planning act? Did anyone expect Superfund to become one of the most costly green pork barrel measures in history or that the Clean Water Act would compel the Corps of Engineers to ban development throughout any area that might have been or might become at some time a “wetland?”
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The proponents of this bill know full well that it will empower their special interests to gain massive power over the economic hopes of peoples throughout the world. Development is unlikely under the clumsy management of the UN bureaucracy. Moreover, the treaty by empowering environmental elites to raise significant new legal objections against agriculture, manufacturing, transportation and even technology will gain new abilities to stop or slow economic development. Ratifying LOST would be to open not one but a myriad of Pandora’s boxes – exacerbating the problems of an already overly litigious society, an America that already finds it difficult to site and build anything. We do not build a better future by empowering the forces of stasis. The NIMBY problems that America now faces may fade as LOST moves us toward NOPE policies.
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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 principles.
Moreover, the treaty could set a bad regulatory precedent for the commercial development of space. Subjecting private space exploration and development to a similar regulatory system would discourage private ventures. By punishing entrepreneurship directed at transforming the great “frontiers” of the oceans and space, the Law of the Sea Treaty threatens potentially enormous losses well into the future.