Cliff May
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At some point this year, President Obama is expected to ask the Senate to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, known to its critics as LOST. Every living former secretary of state has endorsed LOST. The U.S. Navy is on board. So are many business groups. Can they all be wrong? As former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld said this month in an op-ed and testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “Yes.”

LOST has been kicking around for decades. The “Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations had all gone along with it,” Rumsfeld noted, before it landed on the desks of President Reagan and then–British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Both were adamant in their opposition, seeing it as a “sweeping power grab” by international bureaucrats seeking to create “the largest mechanism for the worldwide redistribution of wealth in human history.”

The late Jeane Kirkpatrick, ambassador to the U.N. under President Reagan, testified against the treaty in 2004, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that it would “diminish our capacity for self-government, including, ultimately, our capacity for self-defense.”

Ratification of the treaty would make the U.S. a member of the “International Seabed Authority,” an “autonomous international organization” that was established in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1994. The Authority currently has 161 member states including Zimbabwe, Belarus, Cuba, and Sudan, and if the U.S. joins we will have an equal voice — though we will be obliged to contribute 22 percent of the budget, under the same formula used for U.N. funding.

But that’s the least of it. Accession, Rumsfeld stressed, means giving the Authority the power to “regulate American citizens and businesses,” even though it “would not be accountable politically to the American people.”

The U.S. would accept the Authority’s control of all ocean resources. We would agree to transfer to the Authority a share of all wealth Americans produce, now and forever, from the seas, including from the American continental shelf, the seabed contiguous to our coasts. These payments would be called “international royalties” but with equal accuracy they could be called a new tax on Americans — one paid not to the U.S. Treasury for the benefit of Americans, but to an institution of global governance. This would set a historical precedent, one with far-reaching implications.

“Over time, hundreds of billions of dollars could flow through the ‘Authority’ with little oversight,” Rumsfeld told Congress. “The United States could not control how those revenues are spent. . . . It would constitute a massive form of global welfare, courtesy of the American taxpayer.”

Worse, this welfare would go not directly to the poor but to international bureaucrats who would have the power to pass it on to dictators, despots, and even state sponsors of terrorism. Article 82 of the treaty calls for “equitable sharing,” taking into account “the interests and needs of developing States, particularly the least developed.” (“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” Karl Marx wrote in 1875. Marx was not so radical as to include “interests.”)

There’s also this: Once the billions begin to flow, opportunities for corruption will be plentiful. Have those supporting ratification forgotten the U.N. “oil-for-food” scandal (exposed largely by the Foundation for Defense of Democracy’s Claudia Rosett while most of the major media turned a blind eye)? Are they under the impression that the U.N. has reformed since then?

Steve Groves, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, also testified before the Senate, pointing out that accession to LOST “would expose the U.S. to lawsuits regarding virtually any maritime activity.” He added: “Regardless of the lack of merits of such a case, the U.S. would be forced to defend itself against every such lawsuit at great expense to U.S. taxpayers.”

Lawsuits could be launched against American businesses nowhere near an ocean. Section 207, “Pollution from land based sources,” requires that members “shall adopt laws and regulations” to prevent, among other things, “global warming” and increasing ocean acidity. So if the Authority thinks an electric-power facility in West Virginia is causing climate change, a lawsuit can be launched to shut it down.

Such cases would be heard not by American courts but by international tribunals. Decisions would be legally enforceable with no possibility of appeal. In other words, the judgment of a “Seabed Chamber” would have the same legal authority as the judgment of the U.S. Supreme Court. This, too, would represent a historic Rubicon crossed.

In sum, by ratifying LOST, Americans will be relinquishing wealth and power. More significantly, Americans will be surrendering American sovereignty. We will be empowering transnational bureaucrats, many of whom will be beholden to regimes hostile to us.

So why would anyone support ratifying LOST? In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice argue that by joining the club we would gain a seat at the table, and would “strengthen our capacity to influence deliberations and negotiations involving other nations’ attempts to extend their continental boundaries.” The way we influence the U.N. General Assembly and Human Rights Council? Really?

It will require 34 senators to block the treaty. Senator Jim DeMint is attempting to persuade that many to state, unambiguously and on the record, that they will not vote for ratification. He still has a way to go: At the moment, every Senate Democrat favors LOST, as do a surprising number of Republicans.

In recent years, the United Nations and its affiliated organizations have failed at peacekeeping, genocide prevention, economic development — one mission after another. Time and again they have undermined America’s interests and trampled American values. To now grant them power over the world’s oceans — two-thirds of the world’s surface — would be madness. But is anyone confident that madness is not the destination toward which the West is now heading?

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Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.