Law of the Sea Treaty supports US interests
By JOHN WARNER AND THOMAS J. DONOHUE | Stars and Stripes | Published: June 6, 2012
The expansion of U.S. territory by international treaty dates back to the earliest years of our republic. In 1783, the Treaty of Paris marked the end of the American Revolution and internationally recognized the United States’ hard-fought independence from Great Britain. Just 20 years later, President Thomas Jefferson and the Senate doubled the size of the nation with the Louisiana Purchase. In 1867, the Senate approved the “Alaska Purchase,” in which Czar Alexander II of Russia ceded more than half a million square miles of territory to the U.S.
These foundational decisions have since provided incalculable economic and security benefits for the nation. America now has an opportunity for another great expansion of national sovereignty, in this case over the extended continental shelf, but only if the Senate approves the Law of the Sea Treaty.
Recently the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff joined business leaders and national security experts to publicly call for the U.S. Senate to approve the Law of the Sea Treaty. The speakers represented a broad, diverse and distinguished group of leaders and experts who understand why Senate approval is imperative to expand U.S. territory beneath the oceans, protect vital national security interests, develop new commercial interests and create jobs.
By approving the treaty, to which 161 nations are already party, the Senate would secure exclusive American access to the full U.S. extended continental shelf. This would mean, for example, a 600-mile extension beyond the coast of Alaska — three times the current internationally recognized 200-mile limit — securing for America a seabed area the size of California that contains enormous natural wealth, including abundant oil and natural gas resources and extensive mineral deposits, particularly vital rare earth minerals used in advanced technology products.
Other nations are in the process of claiming resources off their own coasts, but American industry and investors cannot pursue our opportunities without the needed international recognition of America’s legal rights to exploit seabed resources that treaty ratification would provide.
Further, the United States would gain a permanent seat — and a permanent veto — on the international body that regulates access to ocean mineral resources in international waters. We need our government actively involved in this body to defend U.S. claims and interests. Failure to approve the Law of the Sea Treaty would pose a strategic commercial and security disadvantage for the nation.
Senate approval would also assure U.S. armed forces the legal right to move through and over the world’s oceans (including hot spots such as the South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz), and give the U.S. access to an internationally recognized system for resolving commercial disputes in foreign waters while protecting its exclusive right to address military disputes directly and on its own terms.
That is why former U.S. presidents and secretaries of state, together with Joint Chiefs of Staff, current and former Navy, Coast Guard, Army, Marine and Air Force service chiefs, have consistently endorsed the Law of the Sea Treaty over the years. President George W. Bush’s administration strongly supported it.
Critics argue that America has gotten along just fine without the treaty, but current events make Senate approval increasingly urgent. Russia and other nations are poised to encroach on what should be within our extended economic zone in the U.S. outer continental shelf. America must now secure its legitimate claims to these valuable offshore resources.
Ratification would give America a firmer hand in dealing with the risks of Cuba’s proposed effort to drill for oil off the coast of Florida, Iran’s threats to peaceful commercial and military transit through the Strait of Hormuz, and possible threats to commercial shipping and military transport through critical straits and chokepoints throughout the world.
Both the Louisiana Purchase and Alaska Purchase were controversial in their time. It is clear now, however, that those acts of government guaranteed a secure and prosperous future for America. Today’s Senate has the constitutional obligation to deliver the next great expansion of U.S. sovereign rights. For America’s national interests, we ask them to give advice and consent to the Law of the Sea Treaty.
John Warner, a Virginia Republican, is a former secretary of the Navy and former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.