U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Holds Hearing on the Law of the Sea Convention

On May 23, 2012, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on the Law of the Sea Convention that the Committee called “The U.S. National Security and Strategic Imperatives for Ratification.”

Senator John Kerry

Opening the hearing, Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Committee Chairman, said he was “deeply supportive” of the treaty and believed “it is now more urgent than ever that we ratify it because to remain outside of it is fundamentally, directly counter to the best interests of our country.” Ratification, he said, “will protect America’s economic interests and our strategic security interests.”

Kerry promised a comprehensive set of hearings so that proponents and opponents of the treaty can be heard. Kerry, however, said he would delay a Committee vote until after the November election in order to keep the debate about ratification out of the “hurly-burly of presidential politics.”

Three Obama Administration officials–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey–were the witnesses at the May 23rd hearing. Their full testimony is available online.

Secretary Hillary Clinton

Secretary Clinton said, “Whatever arguments may have existed for delaying U.S. accession no longer exist and truly cannot even be taken with a straight face.” By refusing to ratify the treaty, Mrs. Clinton said, the U.S. could fail to exploit untapped oil and gas deposits buried beneath the offshore seabed. It could lose out to Russia, Norway and other countries in staking claims to the Arctic Ocean, where melting ice is opening up untold mineral riches. And the U.S. could lose credibility in challenging China’s maritime ambitions in the South China Sea.

Secretary Leon Panetta
General Martin Dempsey

Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey focused on the national security benefits, arguing that by instituting rules and a mechanism for resolving disputes, the treaty reduces the threat of conflict in hot spots like the South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to block in retaliation for oil sanctions. Panetta’s lengthy earlier speech about the treaty was summarized in a prior post.

Two Republican members of the Senate Committee voiced opposition to ratification. Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma complained that under the treaty, the U.S. would have to transfer billions of dollars in royalties from oil and gas production on the continental shelf to an international authority, which would redistribute the money to less developed countries. Senator James Risch of Idaho said the treaty would oblige the U.S. to adhere to international agreements to stem greenhouse gas emissions. “That’s got Kyoto written all over it,” he said, referring to the climate change treaty previously rejected by the United States.

There is other opposition to ratification. Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment to a defense spending bill that banned funding for implementation of the treaty. Also opposed are The Heritage Foundation and other conservative organizations.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, however, supports ratification as offering “clear legal rights and protections” to U.S. businesses to “take advantage of the vast natural resources in and under the oceans off the U.S. coasts and around the world.”

Published by


As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

12 thoughts on “U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Holds Hearing on the Law of the Sea Convention”

  1. Comment: New York Times Reiterates Its Support of Ratification of Law of Sea Treaty

    In a May 23rd editorial, the New York Times reiterated its support for ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention. This treaty, it said, is “as sensible a document as one can imagine.”

    Editorial, Once More on the Law of the Sea, N.Y. Times (May 24, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/25/opinion/once-more-on-the-law-of-the-sea.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

  2. Comment: Analysis of Opposition to Law of the Sea Treaty
    Walter Pincus, a columnist for the Washington Post, has written a column analyzing some of the criticisms to ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention.

    Pincus, Treaty on the law of the sea is in rough Senate waters, Wash. Post (May 28, 2012), http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/fine-print-treaty-on-the-seas-is-in-rough-senate-waters/2012/05/28/gJQAzCyFxU_story.html

  3. Comment: Former Republican Secretaries of State Endorse Treaty

    U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention has been endorsed by five former Secretaries of State: Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, James Baker III, Colin Powell and Condolezza Rice. They say in a joint article that the treaty will be a “boon for our national security and economic interests.” It also “will codify our maritime rights and give us new tools to advance national interests.”

    Time to Join the Law of the Sea Treaty, W.S.J. (May 30, 2012).

  4. Comment: Former Republican Defense Secretary Opposes Law of the Sea Treaty On June 12th Republican Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. Defense Secretary in the Reagan and George W. Bush Administrations, voiced opposition to U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention.

    His main point is opposition to the treaty’s creation of “a United Nations-style body called the ‘International Seabed Authority.’ ‘The Authority,’ . . . would be involved in all commercial activity in international waters, such as mining and oil and gas production. Pursuant to the treaty’s Article 82, the U.S. [and all other treaty members] would be required to transfer to this entity a significant share of all royalties generated by U.S. companies—royalties that would otherwise go to the U.S. Treasury.” Moreover, according to Rumsfeld, the treaty “empowers the Authority to redistribute these so-called international royalties to developing and landlocked nations with no role in exploring or extracting those resources.”

    Rumsfeld says that the “most persuasive argument for the treaty is the U.S. Navy’s desire to shore up international navigation rights. It is true that the treaty might produce some benefits, clarifying some principles and perhaps making it easier to resolve certain disputes. But our Navy has done quite well without this treaty for the past 200 years, relying often on centuries-old, well-established customary international law to assert navigational rights. Ultimately, it is our naval power that protects international freedom of navigation. This treaty would not make a large enough additional contribution to counterbalance the problems it would create.”

    Rumsfeld, Why the U.N. Shouldn’t Own the Seas, W.S.J. (June 12, 2012), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303768104577460890850883780.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEFTTopOpinion.

  5. Comment: Former Republican Official Disputes Rumsfeld’s Opposition to the Law of the Sea Treaty

    In the Wall Street Journal, Kenneth Adelman, a defense and state department official in Republican administrations, disputes Donald Rumsfeld’s recent article opposing the Law of the Sea Treaty. Adelman says that modifications to the original treaty had recognized the validity of Rumsfeld’s objections to its original provisions and thereby made them irrelevant.

    Moreover, Adelman asserts that upon U.S. ratification of the treaty, it “would have a permanent seat in the governing body with a veto.” The “International Seabed Authority, which has been operating for nearly 20 years now,” would after U.S. ratification by subject to a U.S. veto over how monies were spent. The treaty has an international dispute resolution system, but the U.S. has long participated in many, like the World Trade Organization.

    Adelman, Objections to the Sea Treaty Have Been Met in Changes, W.S.J. (June 17, 2012), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303734204577466702691029774.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_MIDDLEThirdBucket

  6. Comment: Questions for Former Republican Official on Law of Sea Treaty

    A former Deputy Secretary of Defense and former Chief Counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard J. Douglas, has responded to Ken Adelman’s rebuttal of Donald Rumsfeld’s opposition to the Law of the Sea Treaty. Douglas says the U.S. is not specifically ” mentioned in the treaty or its appendices, much less afforded a “permanent seat” anywhere” and that the “word ‘veto’ appears nowhere in the text.”

    Douglas, Where Are Those Words in the Treaty?, W.S.J. (June 21, 2012), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303703004577474783582366666.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_MIDDLEThirdBucket#printMode

  7. Comment: Important Source of Commentary About the Law of the Sea Treaty

    I just learned about Opinio Juris, a forum for informed discussion and lively debate about international law and international relations: http://opiniojuris.org/.

    It has a large number of postings about issues regarding the Law of the Sea Treaty, which it abbreviates as UNCLOS. Here is a search of that blog for such postings: http://opiniojuris.org/?s=UNCLOS.

  8. Comment: Rebuttal of Criticism of Law of Sea Treaty

    Caitlyn Antrim, who served as a deputy U.S. representative to the U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea in 1982, challenged the assertions of Richard J. Douglas that the U.S. would not have a veto in the governing body of the Convention on the Law of the Sea that was mentioned in my June 21, 2012 comment to this post.

    She says that even though the word “veto” does not appear in the treaty, it nonetheless exists. Under the treaty’s implementation provisions, the “U.S. has a permanent seat waiting for us on the Council of the International Seabed Authority, guaranteed by the specification of the ‘State, on the date of entry into force of this Convention, having the largest economy in terms of gross domestic product,'” which is the U.S. “Proposals on the four most critical issues must be approved by consensus” of the Council, which means if the U.S. opposes any proposed measure on those issues, it can block or veto the measure.

    In addition, the assembly of the Seabed Authority may approve a Council “proposal or return it, but it may not revise nor replace it, nor may it act on its own initiative.”

    Antrim, Law of the Sea, Vetoes And the Constitution, W.S.J. (June 25, 2012), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304782404577488680006893926.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_MIDDLEThirdBucket.

  9. Comment: Another Rebuttal to Rumsfeld’s Opposition to Law of Sea Treaty

    John Norton Moore, who served in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, including serving as U.S. ambassador for the Law of the Sea, asserts that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s opposition to U.S. ratification of the Law of the Sea treaty is uninformed.

    Moore says that in 1981 he wrote the new President Reagan “that the Law of the Sea Treaty negotiations had been a resounding success for the U.S., but that Part XI, dealing with seabed mining, contained flaws requiring renegotiation.” President Reagan agreed. When the treaty was adopted in 1982 with Part XI unchanged, Reagan dissuaded key allies from signing.

    Twelve years later, Part XI was renegotiated to meet all U.S. objections.

    “The treaty, favorably reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2004 and 2007, was on President Bush’s priority list but has never been put to a vote. It is now once again before the Senate, with overwhelming support from military and business leaders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Financial Services Roundtable.”

    The time for U.S. ratification of this treaty, Moore says, is now.

    Moore, Conservatives and the Law of the Sea Time Warp, W.S. J. (July 8, 2012), http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304141204577509501647789674.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_LEFTTopOpinion#printMode

  10. Comment: Law of Sea Treaty Appears To Be Dead in Senate

    On July 16th two Senators- Kelly Ayotte (Republican of New Hampshire) and Rob Portman (Republican of Ohio)–announced their opposition to the Senate’s giving its advice and consent to U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. In a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada) they said they had concluded the treaty was not in the U.S. national interest and, therefore, oppose its ratification. “No international organization owns the seas.” They added, “We are confident that our nation will continue to protect its navigational freedom, valid territorial claims and other maritime rights.”

    Also on July 16th Senator Johnny Isakson (Republican of Georgia) sent a letter to Senator Reid in which Isakson said he would oppose the treaty in the Foreign Relations Committee and in the full Senate.

    Last week July 12th) thirty-one Republican Senators had signed a joint letter to Senator Reid announcing their opposition to the treaty.

    As a result, there are 34 Senators who have declared their opposition to this Senate action. Because the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority or 67 votes to endorse the treaty, this may mean the treaty is dead in this session of Congress (100-34 = 66).

    Jodi Seth, a spokesman for Senator John Kerry (Democrat of Massachusetts), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested that the Committee could still take action on the treaty this year after the November 6th election. She said on July 16th,“It’s not news to anyone that right now we’re in the middle of a white-hot political campaign season, where ideology is running in overdrive.” She added, “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.”

    This opposition to the treaty apparently has been orchestrated by Heritage Action for America, a 501(c)(4) organization that takes “the conservative policy visions outlined by our sister organization, The Heritage Foundation,” and makes ” them a reality.” It takes action to “ensure members of Congress hear directly from their constituents, including over 700,000 members of The Heritage Foundation and millions of others around the country who believe in our principles and share our vision of America’s future.”

    Austin Wright, Law of the Sea treaty sinks in Senate (July 16, 2012), http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=A0858957-8AFC-4716-B0A2-3D4B0003018D; Senator Rob Portman, Press Release: Senators Portman and Ayotte Sink Law of Sea Treaty (July 16, 2012), http://www.portman.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=a886f01e-1b08-4c51-bf7e-4bad33194c0b; Letter, Senator Isakson to Senator Reid (July 16, 2012), http://isakson.senate.gov/documents/07-16-12LawoftheSea.pdf; Heritage Action for America, Senators Oppose LOST in Letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (July 12, 2012), http://heritageaction.com/stoplost/senators-oppose-lost-in-letter-to-majority-leader-harry-reid; Heritage Action for America, Heritage Action on Sinking of the Law of the Sea Treaty (July 16, 2012), http://heritageaction.com/2012/07/heritage-action-sinking-law-sea-treaty; Heritage Action for America, About, http://heritageaction.com/about-heritage-action; Heritage Action for America, Save American Sovereignty: Stop LOST, http://heritageaction.com/stoplost.

Leave a Reply