Bush administration officials are urging the U.S. Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The treaty, which sets rules for use of the world's oceans, was submitted by President Clinton 13 years ago, but has been stalled by conservative opposition. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The far-reaching treaty establishes legal, economic, environmental and security rules governing the world's oceans.
More than 150 nations, including the European Union, have adopted the accord, which went into force in 1994 - the year President Clinton submitted it to the Senate.
The Bush administration is pressing senators to approve the pact.
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said U.S. strength is not found in force of arms alone, but also in strong alliances and international institutions, which help promote freedom, prosperity and peace. "This convention needs to be in our arsenal," he said.
Also making the case for Senate ratification is Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. "Joining the convention would promote international cooperation on initiatives of great security importance, such as facilitating interdiction of weapons of mass destruction," he said.
Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat and former U.S. Navy Secretary, is among the lawmakers supporting the treaty.
"The convention balances the interests of coastal states with the long-standing rights of freedom of navigation as the world's premier maritime power and a country with long coastlines, we have a long interest in both. I believe the convention strikes the right balance and effectively protects our security, economic and environmental interests," he said.
Webb notes that the United States initially opposed the pact in 1982 because of rules governing seabed mining, but that it dropped its opposition when those provisions were changed in negotiations.
But three years ago, after a Senate panel unanimously approved the accord, conservative Republicans blocked the treaty from coming to a vote in the full Senate, arguing the pact would undermine U.S. sovereignty.
Leading the fight at the time was Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican. Inhofe says he is still opposed.
"I don't agree with the Law of the Sea Treaty. I think there are a lot of deficiencies. When you look at the level of the super-bureaucracy that we would be answering to, I have some serious sovereignty questions," he said.
Bush administration officials are seeking to ease critics' concerns, saying the treaty would secure U.S. sovereign rights over extensive maritime areas.
Navy Admiral Gary Roughead has been nominated by President Bush to be Chief of Naval Operations.
"It enhances, it codifies, what we need to be able to operate. More importantly, by being party to the treaty, it will give us a seat at the table, as that treaty is discussed, provisions are considered, because I believe that if you are not at the table, you do not have a voice. I believe our efforts in the maritime domain need to be influenced by what we think, what we believe, and what is in the best interest of our country," he said.
Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, is also taking issue with the critics.
"There are no down sides to this treaty. It contains expansive terms which we use to maintain forward presence and preserve U.S. maritime superiority. It also has vitally important provisions which guard against the dilution of our navigational freedoms and prevent the growth of new forms of excessive maritime claims," he said.
Such excessive maritime claims include an incident last month when Russia planted a flag in the Arctic seabed to stake a claim to disputed territory near the North Pole. The area is believed to be rich in minerals and energy resources.
Treaty advocates say the pact is playing a key role in resolving the dispute.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, hopes the Senate can vote on the accord before the end of the year. Ratification requires the support of two-thirds majority of the Senate, or 67 votes.