Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England argued in the Washington Times that the Law of the Sea Treaty would improve protections for the environment.
It could do the opposite.
The treaty requires states that cannot harvest the entire allowable catch in certain areas to make the surplus available to other nations, especially developing nations. Since the treaty makes re-acquiring harvest rights challenging once surrendered to a developing nation, coastal nations may seek to use the entire catch by whatever means are necessary. This may contribute to damage of marine resources.
Proponents of the treaty have also dismissed critics' concerns that it would subject the U.S. to judgments of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), a body unlikely to render decisions favorable to the U.S. due to its composition. John F. Turner, who served as an Assistant Secretary of State, claimed that "parties are free to choose other methods of dispute resolution."
Not entirely true.
When provisional measures – similar to temporary injunctions -- are demanded, the disputing parties must agree to a method of adjudication within two weeks or the case is automatically sent to ITLOS. Such an outcome would be likely, for example, if the U.S. seized an Iranian ship believed to be transporting terrorists or WMD.
Finally, Eagleburger and Moore have claimed that the treaty would facilitate oil and gas development.
It likely would make such development even more difficult.
The treaty requires states to "prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment," including "through the atmosphere," providing environmental activists with ample opportunities to file legal challenges, including on the grounds that the oil and gas contribute to global warming, threatening biologically-important and sensitive coral reefs.
What is needed is an honest and open discussion about the implications of the Law of the Sea Treaty – warts and all. The Bush Administration and its proxies need to be candid about what it sees as the key weaknesses of the treaty as well as it strengths.
One lesson of the Iraq conflict is that overselling the benefits of action in an effort to blunt criticism can be dangerous in the long run. This is a lesson the White House and other treaty proponents apparently still haven't learned.
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