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Hopes Dim for US Ratification of Global Maritime Treaty

  • Michael Bowman

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. business groups are expressing disappointment over dimmed chances that the United States will ratify a decades-old global maritime pact. At least 34 Republican senators have declared their opposition to the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, denying supporters the two-thirds Senate vote they would need for ratification.

Law of the Sea Convention

Maritime defense, shipping, and natural resources extraction are but a few of the endeavors covered by the Law of the Sea Convention, which governs how nations use the world’s oceans. Among major industrialized nations, only the United States has yet to join.

The treaty must be confirmed by the Senate for the U.S. to have any say in how it operates. But the Obama administration's hopes for a Senate vote were dashed this week because of growing Republican opposition to the pact.

“This is something that is not going to happen this year," says Senator James Inhofe."There are some 35 members and many more, I might suggest, that would vote against it, should it come up.”

Sovereignty issue

Inhofe says the treaty would erode U.S. sovereignty.

“It would, for the first time in the history of this country, authorize the United Nations to have taxing authority over the United States of America,” he added.

The Obama administration says the treaty does not allow any U.N. taxes. U.S. business groups support ratification, saying the treaty will expand opportunities for American companies and protect their maritime interests. The Senate opposition is disappointing to Joe Cox, who heads a group representing America’s commercial shipping industry.

“It is extremely frustrating, because the way we view the sovereignty issue is the U.S. would actually be expanding its sovereignty capabilities by acceding to the treaty,” he said.

Rumsfeld says U.S. shouldn't endorse

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld discusses his new memoir with members of the Union League Club in Chicago

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld discusses his new memoir with members of the Union League Club in Chicago

Cox says the United States could veto any royalties charged on companies that extract resources from the seabed. But that does not satisfy critics, like former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

“I do not believe the United States should endorse a treaty that makes it a legal obligation for productive countries to pay royalties to less-productive countries based on rhetoric about common heritage of mankind,” he said.

Joe Cox believes treaty detractors miss a larger point.

“Cooperating with other nations on international issues is not detracting from American exceptionalism," he said. "In fact, I think it is highlighting American exceptionalism. But we have to be there to do it.”

Panetta supports

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 13, 2012.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, left, accompanied by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 13, 2012.

The current U.S. Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta supports the treaty.

“As the world’s strongest, preeminent maritime power, we are a country that has one of the longest coastlines and one of the largest extended continental shelves in the world," Panetta said. "We have more to gain by approving this convention than almost any other country.”

A spokeswoman for Democratic Senator John Kerry, a treaty proponent, says Kerry still hopes the convention will be ratified, perhaps after the November elections.
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