The Law of the Sea Treaty (“LOST” to opponents, “UNCLOS” to supporters) is up for a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this Thursday, November 1. The State Department pushed this treaty in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was President. He rejected it, primarily because of Part XI of the Treaty, which regulates minerals on the seabed outside any sovereign state's territorial waters. It establishes an International Seabed Authority (ISA) to authorize seabed exploration and mining and collect and distribute the seabed mining royalty. President Reagan strongly objected to the provisions of Part XI, saying that they were unfavorable to America's economy and security. The provisions of the Treaty were not free-market friendly and were designed to favor the economic systems of the Communist states.
During the Presidency of George H. W. Bush the Treaty was not considered. President William J. (Bill) Clinton supported the Treaty but never forcefully enough to secure ratification in the Senate. The fact that he had a Republican Senate for six of the eight years of his Presidency was a consideration.
Then came the Presidency of George W. Bush. During his first term he did not push the Treaty. His second term has been different, however. Beginning in 2005 Bush made a determined effort to ratify LOST. Fortunately, Senate Majority Leader William H. (Bill) Frist, M.D. (R-TN) did not permit the Treaty to reach the Senate floor.
Now the Treaty is up for consideration again. Things have changed. The Democrats control the Senate and have held several hearings on LOST in the Foreign Relations Committee. Many thought the Treaty would pass through the Committee without difficulty. But Senator David B. Vitter (R-LA) had a different idea. He asked tough questions of the witnesses at the hearings. In fact, the word “tough” is not adequate to describe what Vitter did to those witnesses. They could not answer Vitter’s questions. It was an embarrassment.
The result of those hearings was to slow passage of LOST. Vitter has asked for more hearings. He does not know if he will receive them. Senator James M. Inhofe (R-OK) is pushing for hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Some even want hearings before the Senate Finance Committee because the Treaty gives the United Nations authority to tax economic activities in the deep seabed, the first time in American history that an entity outside of the United States Government could demand taxes from American citizens arising from activity in the deep seabed.