Conspiracy Theories Stall Law of Sea Treaty, Lugar Says

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear testimony Thursday that largely argues against the U.S. signing on to the United Nations' Law of the Sea Treaty.

Last week's testimony was largely pro-treaty, but Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking minority member of the committee, said then that conspiracy theories about the U.N., international lawyers, and U.S. sovereignty have hampered congressional progress on the issue.

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea sets rules governing military and commercial use of the oceans by the world's nations. To date, more than 150 countries have signed on to the treaty.

President Reagan vetoed the treaty in the early 1980s, citing U.S. national interests. Lugar and other supporters claim new agreements reached in 1994 under President Clinton resolved the treaty defects cited by Reagan.

Treaty supporters claim it will protect U.S. interests while also safeguarding natural resources.

However, Cliff Kincaid, president of America's Survival, a group that monitors the U.N., said the debate over the Law of the Sea Treaty in the Senate has been very one-sided and misleading.

Lugar, for instance, invoked the notion of conspiracy theories to discredit America's Survival and treaty critics who value American sovereignty, Kincaid told Cybercast News Service.

"He [Lugar] even attacked my ad," said Kincaid. "But when we asked to testify, we were denied." The advertisement from America's Survival was published in The Washington Times to coincide with the Sept. 27 testimony.

"The U.N.'s Law of Sea Treaty is the biggest giveaway of American sovereignty and resources since the Panama Canal Treaty," the ad asserted. "It lays the groundwork for another U.N. corruption scandal worse than oil-for-food by setting up a scheme to facilitate payoffs based on revenue derived from global taxes or fees."

Lugar took notice and read from the ad during the hearing. He then said that the treaty has not progressed far on Capitol Hill, in part, because congressmen are responding to citizens who have an incorrect view of the U.N.'s role and its authority as it pertains to the treaty.

"Rightly or wrongly there are large groups of Americans who do not like the United Nations, and as far as they are concerned our involvement with the United Nations is anathema," said Lugar.

Although the U.N. served as a vehicle for country-by-country negotiations about the treaty, each individual nation involved took charge of the particular provisions and agreements relative to them, said John D. Negroponte, deputy secretary of state, in his written testimony last week.

Moreover, it does not necessarily follow that a treaty is incompatible with U.S. interests simply because negotiations between countries transpire under the U.N. banner, stated Negroponte.

But the international agencies established through the treaty have more than just a cavalier connection with the U.N., said Kincaid.

The International Seabed Authority (ISA) and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) both participate in the U.N. Joint Staff Pension Fund. Moreover, ISA and ITLOS maintain written agreements and financial ties with the U.N., he said.

Kincaid also expressed concern over treaty provisions that, in his estimation, would provide a "back door" for implementing Kyoto-type penalties on the U.S. for greenhouse gas emissions. He also sees the potential for a new "global tax" that would be imposed on U.S. companies and administered by the U.N.

The treaty provision that allows for the taxation of U.S. corporations mining the ocean would establish, for the first time, an independent revenue source for the U.N., said Kincaid.

Concerns over sovereignty, the role of the U.N., and potential for a global tax system were raised by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who sat-in for Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), to chair the hearing.

Gordon England, deputy secretary of defense, and Admiral Patrick Walsh, vice-chief of Naval Operations, joined Negroponte in offering testimony in favor of treaty ratification. State Department Legal Advisor John Bellinger also testified.

Negroponte and Bellinger denied that a global tax was attached to the treaty. But U.S. companies successful in oil drilling ventures would pay a specified fee to be distributed among other participating states, they explained.

U.S. companies were apparently comfortable with this arrangement, because it established legal certainty where it previously didn't exist, Negroponte said.

"There is no U.N. entity, there is no U.N. bureaucracy," said Bellinger.

Contrary to what America's Survival and other treaty opponents have argued, U.S. national security, national sovereignty, and economic interests would be enhanced if the Senate moved forward on ratification, Admiral Walsh said.

"From an economic point of view, the U.S. has the most to gain," he said. "Our exclusive economic zone goes about 200 nautical miles - we have one of the largest coastal lines in the world ... some people actually say this is a U.S. land grab because so many rights are accrued to the U.S."

The legal foundation put in place by the treaty would provide U.S. armed forces with additional mobility and latitude, stated Deputy Secretary of Defense England. He also said the treaty was written in a way to ensure that international tribunals do not gain leverage or jurisdiction over the U.S. military.

For his part, Lugar urged treaty opponents and Senate colleagues to carefully consider the arguments of top U.S. military officials who support the treaty. Furthermore, serious and far reaching national security and economic consequences will continue to fester if the U.S. further delays ratification, said Lugar.

"Articles and statements opposing the [Law of the Sea] Convention often avoid mentioning the fact of the military's long standing and vocal support," said Lugar.

"This is because to oppose the Convention on national security grounds requires one to say that military leaders who commanded fleets in times of war and peace and who have devoted their lives to naval and military studies have illegitimate opinions," he added.

"Those critics who do mention the military's support struggle to spin conspiracy theories as to why the military would back the treaty," Lugar said. "One explanation that has been offered is that somehow military commanders have been misled by their service lawyers."

Kincaid makes that argument.

International lawyers operating within the Judge Advocate General (JAG) offices of the U.S. Navy have exerted significant influence that is detrimental to U.S. interests, said Kincaid. Top military officials now feel a need to defer to international bodies because the number of Naval vessels has declined significantly since the Reagan years, he added.

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