Can the U.N.’s Law of the Sea Treaty not only be delayed but defeated outright in the Senate? That’s the question that conservatives are delightfully pondering as a remarkable series of events has put the pact, supported by the Bush Administration and the liberal leadership in the Senate, in serious jeopardy. Perhaps the most significant development is the announcement by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell that he will oppose the White House and vote against the treaty.
As opponents of the treaty make their case in advertisements and on cable TV and talk radio, Republican senators are increasingly hearing from their constituents that they don’t want the treaty ratified because it will undermine American sovereignty and hand more power over to the United Nations.
In the same way that the people prevailed in the Senate in the matter of defeating the illegal alien amnesty bill, it is entirely possible that the U.N. power grab known officially as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) could be rejected.
The views of the American people were on the minds of the top Republican senators who participated in a dramatic news conference in the Senate Press Gallery on Wednesday, on the occasion of United Nations Day, to declare that they would actively oppose the treaty and defeat it on the Senate floor.
“If you want a U.N. on steroids, you want the Law of the Sea Treaty,” Senator Trent Lott (Miss.) declared at the news conference. Lott is the Senate Republican Whip, his party’s number two leadership position.
“There aren’t the votes to pass it,” Senator Jon Kyl (Ariz.), stated confidently. If it is brought to the Senate floor, he warned, the American people would send a “resounding” message of “no” to the chamber. Kyl is chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, directs the communications operations of Senate Republicans, and is the third-ranking member of the Republican Leadership.
They were joined by Senators Jim DeMint (S.C.), John Ensign (Nev.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), and James Inhofe (Okla.). Ensign serves as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Since a treaty requires 67 votes for passage, only 34 votes are required to kill it. Most, if not all, of the Senate Democrats are expected to vote for it. So the big question has been how many Republicans could be counted on to follow the White House/State Department line and vote for the treaty. Senator Richard Lugar (Ind.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a big promoter of the pact for years. He is usually fawned over by the liberal media as a foreign policy expert.
But the treaty has been hurt by its affiliation with a world body widely known for its corrupt practices and scandals, including rapes of women and children by its “peacekeepers.” In this context, another late-breaking development has been the revelation that a former top official of the treaty organization known as the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has documentary evidence of corruption by top officials of the entity and is willing to share it with the Senate. Nithi Sam-Thambiah told this columnist that he has documents proving mismanagement of the ISA and improper payments to the ISA Secretary-General and other officials.
The U.N. On Steroids
The GOP senators’ press event came on the same day that a full-page ad was published in the Washington Times, sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve American Sovereignty and my own America’s Survival, Inc., featuring an enlarged picture of the U.N. building above the New York City skyline under the big bold headline, “Do you want a U.N. on steroids?” Citing controversial provisions of the treaty, as well as President Reagan’s rejection of the pact, the ad argued for the defeat of UNCLOS by the U.S. Senate. It also urged people to call their Senators to oppose the pact by calling a toll-free number to the Capitol switchboard 1-800-828-0498.
The Capitol Hill event marked a new phase in the decision by Senate Republicans to oppose their own President and try to sink UNCLOS. Earlier in the day, Senator McConnell’s announced opposition to the pact had been greeted with thunderous applause at a conservative gathering. He is considered someone with the leadership and credibility necessary to bring other Republicans to his side in this struggle.
McConnell’s decision was an important development also because conservatives were fearing quick ratification of the dangerous treaty. With the announced opposition of McConnell and the determination of other top Senate Republicans to defeat the pact, its fate is now in question. Some think Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, could even decide to indefinitely postpone a vote in his committee.
A vote had been scheduled on Wednesday, United Nations Day, but Senator David Vitter, a member of the committee, requested and received a postponement until the next business meeting. It’s not clear when that will be. Vitter has asked for more hearings, noting that the two hearings which have been held featured supporters of the treaty over opponents by a margin of 9-2.
With mounting opposition from Republican senators, will Biden quickly reschedule a vote in his committee? Or will he wait?
Thompson Jumps on Bandwagon
Meanwhile, in the wake of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee making political mileage by opposing the treaty in national debates and during campaign appearances, another candidate, former Senator Fred Thompson, has issued a statement saying he was opposing the treaty as well.
“I oppose the ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty at this time,” Thompson said. “The Treaty threatens U.S. sovereignty and gives a U.N.-affiliated organization far too much authority over U.S. interests in international waters. The American people also deserve ironclad assurances that the problems with the treaty highlighted by President Reagan more than two decades ago have been fixed. At a time when customary international law in this area has proven sufficient, I believe the efforts of treaty proponents would be better spent reforming the United Nations. Until such reforms are complete, I see little reason for the U.S. to move forward on the Law of the Sea Treaty.”
However, candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney have not taken a stand.
Lott Attacks U.N. Bureaucracy
Senator Lott, who told the Capitol Hill press conference that he had studied the treaty for years, said it would authorize U.S. participation in a “huge new bureaucracy” and that American taxpayers would end up paying 25 percent of the total cost. He noted that, under the provisions, money and resources provided to the treaty organization would be “shared with the rest of the world,” a form of foreign aid.
Speaking to the U.S. Navy’s support of the treaty, Lott said that Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had conceded that one of the treaty’s tribunals could make adverse rulings against the U.S. military. In any event, Lott said, the treaty is “a lot bigger than the military,” a reference to its provisions that cover all kinds of activities on land and sea. He said the alternative to the treaty is “a strong robust Navy” that can protect American interests on the high seas.
Senator DeMint, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the treaty was defective because while the U.S. would follow it, other nations would not.
Senator Ensign warned of further entanglements with international bodies, in light of the fact that liberal members of the Supreme Court have been citing foreign rulings and international law in their rulings. He noted that a majority of members of some arbitration panels under the treaty can be picked by the Secretary-General of the U.N.
Senator Sessions noted that the U.S. can remain a non-party to the treaty and still cooperate with other nations on maritime issues.
Senator Inhofe emphasized the danger of the International Seabed Authority developing an independent source of revenue through fees and royalties on U.S. companies seeking access to oil, gas and minerals in international waters. Inhofe said this global tax would make the U.N. even less accountable than it is now. It would make it practically impossible, he argued, for the Congress to withhold money from the U.N. in order to induce reforms or changes in the world body.
Several of the senators noted that President Reagan had rejected the pact. In this regard, Steven Groves of the Heritage Foundation has written a special report, “Why Reagan Would Still Oppose the Law of the Sea Treaty,” noting the evidence of the former president’s opposition to the pact on several grounds.
Groves notes that Senator Lugar, a treaty supporter, had claimed, “It is telling that the President [Reagan] did not raise any objection to any provision of the Convention outside the deep seabed mining section. President Reagan made no demands for any other changes in the treaty.”
Groves cites evidence that Lugar’s statement is “demonstrably false.”
Lugar has played fast-and-loose with the truth on other occasions, such as when he attacked America’s Survival, Inc., for an ad opposing the treaty but refused to permit my organization to respond.
Meanwhile, Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch and I have signed a letter of complaint (PDF) to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking for a review of misleading testimony provided to the Senate by Legal Adviser John B. Bellinger III and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. They insisted that the treaty has no provisions covering industrial and economic activities on land affecting the oceans when Senator Vitter, by citing the actual text of the document, proved that the truth was the exact opposite.
Meanwhile, President Bush took advantage of “United Nations Day” by issuing yet another proclamation in “honor” of the world body. This document called the U.N. a “great institution” and an “important body” that needed some reforms.
Leading conservative foreign policy experts have concluded that the Bush Administration is increasingly out-of-touch with the American people on many domestic and global issues, ranging from illegal immigration to international law and the United Nations.
A White House spokesman said on U.N. Day, however, that the administration is sticking with the U.N.’s Law of the Sea Treaty, despite evidence of increasing conservative and Republican Senate opposition to it. Such a decision can only further erode whatever is left of the President’s conservative base.