Subject: law of the sea treaty
Do the Right Thing
Frist sides with right-wingers to stymie widely supported sea treaty
(from The Gristmill, by Amanda Griscom)
17 Jun 2004
How's this for a once-in-a-blue-moon scenario? Six major environmental
groups endorse a sweeping international treaty strongly supported by
the American Petroleum Institute and other industry groups.
On May 12, top dogs from the Natural Resources Defense Council,
National Environmental Trust, Ocean Conservancy, and three other green
organizations put their names on a political ad [PDF] published in the Capitol
Hill newspaper Roll Call appealing for ratification of the U.N.'s Law
of the Sea treaty -- an international accord that the American Petroleum
Institute hails as "important to our efforts to develop domestic
offshore oil and natural gas resources," according to a large pull quote
featured in the ad.
The oil and water folks, as it were, who have long refused to mix, have
since been working alongside a broad range of other interest groups to
convince Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to schedule a
Senate vote on ratification of the Law of the Sea before Congress goes into
The agreement establishes rules governing uses of the world's oceans --
specifically, waters that are more than 200 nautical miles off coasts
(waters closer to shore are considered an "exclusive economic zone"
governed by the coastal country). The treaty charts out the jurisdictions,
rights, and controls each coastal country has vis--vis the military
navigation, commercial exploitation, and environmental conservation of
these far-flung seas, which are increasingly trafficked by the fishing,
shipping, and energy industries, not to mention naval vessels.
Of particular interest to environmentalists are
the treaty's oversight laws for pollution and waste dumping, guidelines
against overfishing, and protections for whales, dolphins, and other
creatures of the deep.
What appeals to the petroleum and mining industries is the right of
access afforded by the treaty to mineral-rich nether-regions; U.S.
companies can't compete against foreign competitors for drilling and mining
rights in international waters until the U.S ratifies the treaty.
More pressing still are the interests of the military: Officials from
both the Defense Department and the State Department have testified on
behalf of the Law of the Sea during Senate hearings, arguing that it's
vital for national security.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave unanimous approval to the
treaty in February, but since then it's made no progress toward full
Mark Helmke, an aide to the committee's chair, Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), put
it to Muckraker this way: "Any rational Beltway official -- including
the president, Colin Powell, and Condi Rice -- will tell you that
ratification of the treaty is critical to the strength of our Navy, our
national security, our economy, and the global environment, and that the
failure to ratify signals to the world that the United States flouts
multilateralism." Currently, 145 countries have signed onto the Law of the
Sea, including every other member of the U.N. Security Council.
But there's one U.S. constituency that doesn't like the treaty --
arch-conservatives who reject multilateralism in all its forms on
ideological grounds. "Basically, we have a bunch of fringe, armchair,
isolationist ideologues who are holding up this treaty, and the Bush
administration's political office has made a calculated decision to let them have
their way," Helmke said.
These right-wingers -- who include Frank Gaffney, a darling of the arms
industry who heads up the Center for Security Policy, and Phyllis
Schlafly, director of the Eagle Forum and a longtime pillar of the U.S.
uber-nationalist movement -- are well-organized politically. "They get
picked up by all the conservative radio talk-show hosts who fan the flames
on this thing and dish out scare tactics that the U.N. is going to take
over every little fishing pond in the world," Helmke told Muckraker.
The armchair isolationists also have direct access to the office of
Bush political strategist Karl Rove: "These guys have been quiet while the
White House invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and even when it recently
decided to play nice with the U.N. But they're at the end of their tether.
They basically went to Bush's political strategists and said, 'We've
been good boys in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we need something to raise
money off of, to motivate our [anti-U.N.] constituency in election year.'
And they were given this."
Ironically, it was the United States that originally took the lead on
drafting this latest Law of the Sea convention in 1973 under Richard
Nixon (two previous such conventions were implemented in the 1950s and
'60s). But by the time the negotiations were completed in 1982, Ronald
Reagan was in office and he declined to sign on because of pressure from
ultra-conservatives and specific objections to deep seabed mining
provisions. "The beef that the right-wingers have is that the U.N. commission
requires all nations who are accessing deep-sea minerals to pay
royalties that provide proceeds for a global fund," said Debbie Reed,
legislative director for NET.
Bill Clinton, for his part, signed the treaty in 1994 but was unable to
get it ratified because Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) -- then chair of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- was hell-bent on sabotaging it.
When Lugar succeeded Helms in 2003, the Navy exhorted him to push the
treaty through. Lugar has since held two Senate hearings on the matter
and met twice with Condoleezza Rice to try and make it happen.
It wasn't that the Bushies weren't on board: They added the treaty to
an official list of international accords they wanted the Senate to
ratify last February, and top-level administration officials have openly
extolled the agreement. But when push came to shove, the administration
was hesitant: "After Lugar talked with Rice," Helmke told Muckraker,
"the word came back very meekly from the National Security Council saying,
'We will continue to give lip service to this, but we won't push it
Meanwhile, Frist has refused to schedule a full Senate vote on the
"Frist is the new Helms," said Reed. "He comes off as this friendly
moderate, but he's doing the right-wing dirty work."
Behind the scenes, says Reed, Frist may be doing the bidding of the
Bush administration's political office, but it's just as likely that
Frist's own office is responsible for the holdup. Frist has had two former
Helms staffers on his team, and "he has consistently voted like a
staunch unilateralist during his entire Senate career," said Heather
Hamilton, vice president for programs at Citizens for Global Solutions, an
organization that advocates international cooperation and has been a
staunch supporter of the Law of the Sea.
The repercussions of not joining the treaty could be immense: For one,
Russia right now is trying to lay claim to deep seabeds beneath melting
Arctic ice, which are newly accessible to drilling thanks to global
warming. The treaty is scheduled to be amended this fall, and its members
are begging the U.S. to come on board before then to put a stop to
Russia's bullying claims. Without a superpower, there's no one to stand up
to Russia in the negotiations.
"The ultimate irony is that these right-wingers have spent decades
being vehemently anti-Soviet," said Helmke, "and now they're letting Russia
take over Santa Claus land."
A congressional aide who spoke to Muckraker on condition of anonymity
said that Frist's recalcitrance on this issue is irking moderate
Republicans as well as Democrats: "Frist is supposed to be the leader of the
Senate Republicans, but he's doing the bidding of a radical few." If
Frist did decide to put it on the calendar, said the aide, "we could get
well over the 70 votes necessary to pass this treaty. Guaranteed."
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