Dont let misinformation sink the Law of the Sea treaty
As a former member of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations Conference of the Law of the Sea under President Reagan, I am continually amazed at the disinformation on this topic.
George Will’s recent column is a case in point. Contrary to Mr. Will’s assertion, the United Nations has no role in the Convention; thus, there is no “U.N. bureaucracy.” The Convention is an agreement among 162 signatory nations. Non-member nations include the U.S. — and Syria, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, Turkey and Israel.
Yes, President Reagan objected to the Convention, solely because of its seabed mining provisions.
I know, because I was working on these issues at the time while assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (International Security Affairs). The wisdom of Reagan’s objections was recognized and Convention parties fixed those objectionable articles. In fact, much earlier in 1982, President Reagan directed that our naval forces operate in conformance with all of navigational provisions of the Convention and advised other countries that if their maritime claims were in conformance with the Convention’s provisions, the U.S. would honor those claims.
Thus, for 30 years the U.S. Navy has been implementing, complying with, and using to its advantage the provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention. Navy officers and the DOD representatives were instrumental in every step of the 10-year negotiations that resulted in very robust provisions enabling our global mobility to meet national security challenges.
Those provisions provide the playbook the United States has used for multilateral maritime operations. So it makes no sense to be isolated in regard to a Convention that we rely on every day around the world.
Mr. Will is right that for centuries there has been a “law of the sea.” Specifically it is a law of “claim and counter-claim.” But the U.S. led the charge for stability and predictability in the oceans. Military planners have always sought this. Mr. Will seems enchanted with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s hyperbolic claim “of a sweeping power grab that could prove to be the largest mechanism for the worldwide redistribution of wealth in human history.”
The simple problem with that scary picture is that it’s totally false. During Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the Convention in 2003, the DOD, consistent with direction from President Bush, strongly supported joining the Convention, a time when Mr. Rumsfeld was in charge of the DOD.
Mr. Will also impugns the integrity of our current military leadership. Twelve prior chiefs of naval operations, including the incumbent, are on record supporting our joining the Convention. In Mr. Will’s imperial world, there is no recognition that the U.S. needs willing partners in fighting terrorism, interdicting weapons of mass destruction, etc. And Mr. Will’s requirement that we need better admirals is offensive and laughable.
The Convention’s strongest supporters are those who are directly affected by it and, unlike Mr. Will, understand its premise and values. Our Navy cannot simply do what it wants to do any more than any other country’s navy can simply do what it wants.
Today, the U.S. barely has sufficient forces to protect our vital interests around the globe. Amazingly, in today’s Navy there are more admirals than ships.
In a letter to the then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, former Secretary of State George Shultz on June 28, 2007 advocated ratification. He stated: “It surprises me to learn that opponents of the treaty are invoking President Reagan’s name, arguing that he would have opposed ratification despite having succeeded on the deep sea-bed issue. During his administration, with full clearance and support from President Reagan, we made it very clear that we would support ratification if our position on the sea-bed issue were accepted.”
Interesting, too, is that Mr. Will didn’t also mention strong treaty supporters such as off-shore oil industries, Lockheed Martin, telecommunications companies that maintain transoceanic cables, U.S. shipping industry and others.
So it disappointing that a nationally syndicated columnist would publish an opinion essay which seems to have been drawn from opposition talking points without considering the veracity of his one-sided and misinformed views.
Rear Adm. William L. Schachte Jr., a native Charlestoninan and current resident, is a retired former acting judge advocate general of the Navy. While on active duty, he represented the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the DOD Representative for Ocean Policy Affairs.