GOP Opposition Scuttles Law-of-Sea Treaty

July 17, 2012

Wall Street Journal

Senate Democrats’ hopes of passing the Law of the Sea Treaty sank Monday, when a pair of Republican senators announced their opposition to ratification.

Sens. Bob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire penned a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) saying, “we have concluded that on balance this treaty is not in the national interest of the United States.”

The treaty, completed in 1982, seeks to codify big chunks of customary international maritime law, including freedom of navigation and access to deep-sea energy resources. It is supported by a wide swath of business interests, environmentalists, and military officials in the U.S.; most countries have ratified it.

The announcement Monday that Sens. Portman and Ayotte — both considered possible running mates for GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney – would vote “no,” puts the final nail in the treaty’s coffin, for this Congress at least. Previously, 32 other senators had expressed theiropposition to the treaty, which needed 67 votes for ratification. The Senatetook up the issue again this spring, five years after its last failed effort.

Like the other lawmakers opposed to the bill, Sens. Portman and Ayotte zeroed in on what they see as the treaty’s erosion of U.S. sovereignty, both in terms of international arbitration of disputes and the possibility that a supranational body could impose binding rulings on the U.S.

“In short, we are deeply concerned about the treaty’s breadth and ambiguity, the inadequate U.S. input in the treaty’s adjudicative bodies, and the automatic enforcement of tribunal judgments in the United States,” they wrote. “On balance, we believe the treaty’s litigation exposure and impositions on U.S. sovereignty outweigh its potential benefits.  For that reason, we cannot support the Law of the Sea treaty and would oppose its ratification.”

The office of Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, dismissed the public statements as election-season politicking, and vowed to keep fighting for the treaty.

“No letter or whip count changes the fact that rock-ribbed Republican businesses and the military and every living Republican Secretary of State say that this needs to happen, and that’s why it’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ for the Law of the Sea,” said Kerry spokeswoman Jodi Seth.

Republicans are trumpeting their opposition to the treaty even though it would boost U.S. access to undersea resources and domestic energy production is important to GOP campaigns this year.

In the Arctic, where warming temperatures are opening up greater areas for offshore oil and gas exploration, sorting out who owns what energy resources threatens to be a contentious point in future years. All Arctic nations except the U.S. are signatories of the Law of the Sea treaty, which gives ratifying states clear title to the resources on its continental shelf.

“Not since we acquired the lands of the American West and Alaska have we had such a great opportunity to expand U.S. sovereignty,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at a news conference earlier this year urging support for ratification.

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