Law of the Sea Treaty vs. the Free Economy

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According to Stewart M. Patrick, writing in The Atlantic, almost everyone agrees that the United States should ratify the law of the Sea Treaty. After all, says, Patrick, “the Reagan administration signed the treaty.” At least 162 other countries belong to the treaty as well, and most respectable people favor it. Patrick laments, however, that the treaty is opposed by “a vocal conservative minority of purported defenders of U.S. sovereignty, still trotting out long-discredited talking points.” The author of these remarks, Stewart Patrick, is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance. Unlike the opponents of the treaty, he could never be mistaken for a defender of U.S. sovereignty.

We might ask if Stewart Patrick is right. Contradicting his claim, the National Center for Public Policy Research says that the Reagan administration – far from signing the treaty – rejected the Law of the Sea Treaty because of its “redistributionist” provisions. Explaining the reason for this, U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese has said the treaty “was out of step with the concepts of economic liberty and free enterprise….” In fact, the treaty puts forward the concept of resources “vested in mankind as a whole….” According to David A. Ridenour, in an article on ratification of the treaty, “The Law of the Sea Treaty calls for technology transfers and wealth transfers from developed to undeveloped nations. It also requires parties to the treaty to adopt regulations and laws to control pollution of the marine environment.”

In fact, Article 69 of the Treaty says, “Land-locked States shall have the right to participate, on an equitable basis, in the exploitation of an appropriate part of the surplus of the living resources of the exclusive economic zones of coastal States….” Article 124 also gives land-locked states the right of access to and from the sea. There are also provisions empowering the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which presently sits in Hamburg, Germany. According to Ridenour, “If the U.S. chose to act on intelligence information that a foreign-flagged ship … was carrying terrorists and boarded the ship, the U.S. could expect to have to answer to ITLOS.”

In an interview with Ginni Thomas at the Daily Caller, the Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney said the treaty “was all about a socialist enterprise to convert the world’s oceans as a new way to redistribute wealth.” Far from being in the interest of the oil and gas industry, Gaffney says “its mandatory dispute resolution mechanisms and its stacked deck arbitration panels” are even against the interests of the U.S. Navy and the American people. “It will be the EPA on steroids. It won’t be our EPA, it will be an international EPA,” Gaffney explained. “And suddenly there isn’t a part of our society, our economy, our industrial capacity, that isn’t at the mercy of people who again are unaccountable to us.”

How can there be redress of grievances when your livelihood is destroyed by orders from the ITLOS in Hamburg? It is hard enough coping with regulations from domestic agencies. Already America has taken incalculable economic damage from bad legislation and regulation. Entire industries have been ruined – like the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest. Through regulation it is possible to ruin a country’s economy. Why add another layer of regulation to the mix? Of course, there are always arguments to justify a treaty or a set of regulations; but a regulatory regime can hurt people, especially if that regime can pronounce verdicts without considering local interests. The Law of the Sea Treaty has an undoubted negative potential. If certain environmental groups are clever enough to make use of the treaty to achieve their goals, then entire industries could suffer – with the loss of many jobs. If President Reagan opposed the Law of the Sea Treaty in the 1980s, we should consider the logic of his opposition. More than that, there is a nation’s right to use its own territory. “This is a question of sovereignty,” noted Gaffney.

Sovereignty, of course, is not as valued as it once was. We have supposedly moved beyond sovereignty. But as the world economy shrinks, as conflicts grow sharper, sovereignty will return. This is what history teaches us. In the meantime, the push for international tribunals will continue – and mischief will be done. The free economy is less and less free over time.

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About JR Nyquist

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