In recent days, top U.S. cabinet officers have traveled around the world on high-profile diplomatic missions. Ironically, in the process of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to the Arctic Circle and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s travels in Asia, they both undercut the case for the United Nations’ controversial Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) – a case they had jointly made prior to departing in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Mrs. Clinton took part in a meeting of the Arctic Council whose eight members have territory in that region. Of these, just five – Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark’s Greenland and the United States – actually have coasts on the Arctic Ocean, and therefore are able to claim rights to the resources offshore.
To be sure, the Secretary of State used the occasion of her joining the other Arctic nations for the purpose of forging a new region-wide search-and-rescue (S&R) agreement to express the Obama administration’s commitment to LOST. She assured her colleagues that the President is determined to overcome opposition in the Senate and the country in order to get the treaty ratified.
Still, this S&R agreement suggests the obvious: It is far easier to achieve understandings in a group of eight – or, better yet, five – nations that have similar, if not identical, interests and a shared understanding of the stakes, than among agroup of 150-plus nations, most of whom do not. If that is true for an accord governing assistance to downed planes and ships lost at sea, it surely is the case when it comes to the disposition of potentially many billions of dollars worth of undersea oil and gas deposits.
Meanwhile, our Defense Secretary was off in Asia trying to shore up America’s alliances in the region without actually saying that China is a threat that needs to be countered there. So he eschewed the President’s much-touted strategic “pivot” from the Middle East and South Asia to the South China Sea – supposedly involving a move in force to parry the PRC’s aspirations for hegemony. Instead, Mr. Panetta employed less offensive terms like “rebalancing” and made commitments about a future U.S. presence in the theater that were deeply discounted in light of ongoing, and forthcoming, sharp cuts in defense spending.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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