A Memorial Day Disservice

Dan Holler

5/28/2012 12:01:00 AM - Dan Holler

Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations committee turned the proud men and women of our military into a political football. During a hearing on the long-stalled Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST), two top Obama administration officials constantly invoked the military a reason to ratify fatally flawed treaty.

In her written testimony, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “no country is in a position to gain more” from the treaty because “as the world's foremost maritime power, the United States benefits from the Convention's favorable freedom of navigation provisions.” She also declared the treaty would “secure U.S. sovereign rights over extensive marine areas.”

It is a savvy public relations move that proponents of the U.N. treaty have decided to play the national security card and hijack the winning message of sovereignty. There is just one problem with these arguments, though: they are not true.

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) asked General Martin E. Dempsey, USA, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whether America is “at risk as a result of failure to ratify this treaty.” In a measured tone, the General Dempsey responded, “based on our current application of customary international law, we will, of course, assert our sovereignty and our ability to navigate” and “our ability to project force will not deteriorate.”

Defined in its most simplistic terms, sovereignty is the freedom from external control. And while 162 countries have been willing to cede their freedom to an international organization based in Jamaica, America has refused to do so for three decades. What President Ronald Reagan, and countless Senators, understood is that an international treaty does not guarantee America’s sovereignty, but rather it would erode our freedom.

Even when then-President George W. Bush pushed the treaty, the sovereignty argument won the day and stalled the treaty. Proponents learned their lesson, forming the “American Sovereignty Campaign” to push for the ratification of LOST. On top of a crafty campaign name, they are also advertising on conservative websites that have been critical of the treaty.

It’s a crafty campaign, but as The Heritage Foundation has explained repeatedly, LOST will undermine America’s sovereignty, not restore it. One international law expert described the treaty in stark terms:

“It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that, as a result of production technology on the deep seabed and subsoil, U.S. Senate ratification of LOST would mean the largest abandonment of territorial rights by any nation in history. More than that, LOST would put those territorial rights to a very specific purpose.” (emphasis added)

Senator-turned-lobbyist Trent Lott brought a different spin to the issue of territorial rights, though. In justifying his flip-flop on the treaty (he was vehemently against it before he before it), Lott said, “the world has changed from an economic and military standpoint. … Some people say ‘we have the biggest, baddest navy fleet in the world, we’ll go and do what we want to,’ [but] we ought to be careful about how we think about that.”

Just days prior to Memorial Day, lawmakers and lobbyists use the military – and the Navy in particular – to tout a treaty that would undermine American sovereignty because they apparently no longer have faith in its ability to carry out necessary missions.

While General Dempsey obviously rejects that vision, the treaty’s most prominent lobbyist does not; and make no mistake, Trent Lott is no ordinary Senator-turned-lobbyists. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta praised Lott’s lobbying effort, saying, “Seeing Trent Lott in the room, I feel a hell of a lot better about the chances for ratification.”

The administration, senators and lobbyists should stop using the military to justify the treaty. Senators must understand the Navy’s support for the treaty is extremely narrow, focused on navigational rights, which are the least controversial provisions. A new legal regime created by LOST, which covers seabed mining, international lawsuits and more, is extremely dangerous.

Instead of transferring billions – and potentially trillions – of dollars to an unaccountable international bureaucracy, lawmakers should focus on ensuring America’s Navy has the necessary resources to protect our national interests.