Recent Congressional Hearings on the Law of the Sea Convention 25 June 2012
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has met three times in the past two months to discuss ratification of the Law of the Sea treaty. The hearings focused on the advantages and disadvantages associated with ratification of the treaty, especially as it relates to the military, diplomatic ties, peaceful resolution of disputes, U.S. sovereignty, and the legal rights of private companies looking to exploit deep sea energy and mineral resources.
A full witness list is at the end of this summary.
Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA), the Committee Chair, and Ranking Member Richard G. Lugar (R-IN) began each hearing noting that they are strongly in favor of the Treaty and believe it can enjoy bipartisan approval with the amendments made since the treaty’s inception. Senator Kerry would like the committee to take an extremely careful look at the treaty and to that end a vote will not occur until after the November election. Democratic senators, some Republican senators, and industry and active military leaders are largely proponents of the treaty. All active military witnesses testified that ratifying the treaty will give our military another tool to peacefully resolve disputes relating to freedom of navigation, maintain trade routes in contested areas like the Strait of Hormuz, Iran, and allow us to police China’s and other countries’ excessive border claims.
Proponents also noted that industries dealing with and related to oil, mining, and telecommunications stand to substantially benefit from the legal certainty that the treaty can provide. Industry leaders have written letters saying that without legal certainty for high-cost, but high-return, deep sea projects they will not invest in these ventures. Proponents additionally argued that ratification of the treaty will grant us greater and more effective sovereignty in the Arctic as it opens to trading and economic interests.
The opponents to the treaty all gratefully acknowledged Senator Kerry’s open approach to studying the treaty but expressed grave concerns about U.S. sovereignty, environmental and other lawsuits from unfriendly countries, and the requirement of royalties to be paid to a non-U.S. group (with vigorous debate over the definition of a royalty vs. a tax). While some subscribe to the military’s opinions regarding freedom of navigation, they wonder if addressing these concerns must be tied up with the Law of the Sea treaty. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), among others, thought that the treaty may be an attempt by the current administration at a “back-door Kyoto Protocol” as it is unclear to opponents how to interpret language describing environmental compliance and the resolution of lawsuits that may be brought against the U.S. if we ratify the treaty. Others, notably Senator James M. Inhofe (R-OK), are concerned that we will be paying royalties to an outside group we have uncertain control over.
Proponents counter these claims by saying that the treaty’s language in essence exempts the U.S. from any possible environmental lawsuits, we stand to gain jobs and revenue as industry will not utilize deep ocean resources in the absence of the treaty, and that upon ratification we will have permanent seats on the most critical voting bodies which gives us enormous control over how royalties are allocated.
While there has been heated debate over the inner workings of the treaty and substantial disagreement on issues related to sovereignty and royalties, proponents feel that the treaty will pass. At a Capitol Hill Ocean Week discussion in early June, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) both stated they believed the treaty would be ratified. Senator Kerry indicated that there will be more hearings to allow industry leaders to testify about the effects of the Law of the Sea treaty on U.S. companies.
For more detailed information, and to watch the archived webcasts, click below:
First Hearing: The Law of the Sea Convention (Treaty Doc. 103-39): The U.S. National Security and Strategic Imperatives for Ratification
Second Hearing: The Law of the Sea Convention (Treaty Doc. 103-39): The U.S. National Security and Strategic Imperatives for Ratification
Third Hearing: The Law of the Sea Convention (Treaty Doc. 103-39)
Witnesses at the first hearing showed support of the current administration and included Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and General Martin Dempsey (Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). Witnesses at the second meeting represented the active military and included Admiral James A Winnefeld, Jr. (Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff), Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert (Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy), Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr. (Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Homeland Security), General William M. Fraser, III (Commander, U.S. Transportation Command), General Charles H. Jacoby, Jr. (Commander, U.S. Northern Command), Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, III (Commander, U.S. Pacific Command) . Witnesses at the third meeting were from previous administrations that worked with the treaty and an outside think tank and included Donald Rumsfeld (Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, The Rumsfeld Foundation), John Negroponte (Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State), John B. Bellinger, III (Former Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State, Arnold & Porter LLP), and Steven Groves (Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow, The Heritage Foundation).