Conservatives Disregard Traditional Allies to Oppose the Law of the Sea
Big Oil, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Lockheed Martin, some of the world’s biggest communications corporations, and the top brass of the U.S. military have been lobbying skeptical members on Capitol Hill to support an initiative they all feel is fundamental to U.S. interests—ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Until we ratify the treaty, no U.S. companies will operate on the extended continental shelf. Aside from a small pocket of territory in the western Gulf of Mexico where we have bilaterally negotiated a boundary with Mexico, companies cannot be granted the certainty that leases of these regions would not be challenged in international courts.
Without becoming party to the treaty and gaining a seat at the negotiating table where decisions are made about how to partition out extended-shelf claims, we will be unable to assure industries that the international community will recognize a U.S. lease. Businesses, even those with extremely deep pockets such as Big Oil and Lockheed Martin, have been very clear: If we don’t ratify, they won’t operate. Companies want to create those jobs, generate revenue, and increase domestic production. But no certainty means no investment. No treaty means no security, no jobs, no dollars, no resources. It’s that simple.
And it’s not just about oil and gas. Rare-earth metals are compounds integral to the production of modern devices including cell phones, hybrid cars, and even precision-guided missile systems. Currently more than 95 percent of rare-earth metals are produced in China, which has begun restricting its export.
But nodules found on the deep seabed—well outside even extended continental shelves—have “economically significant” amounts of rare-earth metals, and Lockheed Martin and other companies would like to begin exploration to determine the viability of tapping this source. Access to these areas that are beyond any national claim of jurisdiction will have to be regulated by an international body—in this case, the ISA—which explains Lockheed Martin’s support for U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea.
The United States has a clear choice: Agree to limited revenue sharing under the treaty and bankroll more than 93 percent of total revenue from extended continental shelf and high seas activities, or get nothing at all and lose the ability to challenge claims made by other nations.
One of the ISA’s key functions is to redistribute royalties generated from resource production on the outer continental shelf to other countries. Treaty opponents have suggested the ISA could agree to a distribution formula that would pay out royalties to U.S. enemies.
True, the treaty does contain revenue-sharing provisions. Companies are allowed to operate royalty free for the first five years of production, then are subject to payments to the ISA of 1 percent of production value beginning in year six and increasing 1 percent per year after that, maxing out at 7 percent in year 12. But this is where opponents’ trumped-up fears about paying terrorists parts ways with reality.
As Secretary Clinton pointed out at the Foreign Relations Committee hearing, the treaty specifically provides the United States with a permanent seat on the ISA council, a key decision-making body, effectively giving us veto power over how distribution would occur.
Yes, as the Heritage Foundation reports, final decisions would be made by the ISA’s general assembly. But the assembly would only be voting on policies the council recommended unanimously, meaning we could block any proposal from even getting to a vote at the general assembly. This de facto veto power means the United States would always be able to prevent royalties from being distributed to countries we have designated as state sponsors of terrorism.
To put this in terms treaty opponents can better understand, it would be as if every senator on the Foreign Relations Committee had to approve the Law of the Sea treaty before it could be considered by the full Senate for ratification. Under those circumstances, would the treaty ever see a ratification vote?
Ask Sen. Risch. Then think about how likely it would be for the United States to approve a payment formula that would send cash to Somalia or the Palestine Liberation Organization. It’s just not going to happen.
But some, like Sen. James Risch (R-ID), have posited that ratification would compromise our sovereignty by forcing the United States to abide by other treaties and impose overly restrictive environmental regulations. Insinuating that ratification of Law of the Sea could force the United States to join other international agreements on climate change or other environmental protections, Sen. Risch told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing last month that the Law of the Sea treaty had “Kyoto written all over it,” a reference to the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement linked to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. In response, Secretary Clinton cited the State Department legal team, saying, “there is nothing in the [Law of the Sea Convention] that commits the United States to implement any commitments on greenhouse gases under any regime, and it contains no obligation to implement any particular climate change policies.” While Sen. Risch and his allies would likely disagree with such claims, they cannot deny that diplomats such as Secretary Clinton are the very people who would establish the U.S. position. So whose opinion should carry more weight: protectionist fear mongers or actual diplomats and policymakers?