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Former US Officials Weigh In on Global Sea Treaty

CAPITOL HILL - Top officials of the former Bush administration have aired disagreements on whether the United States should join a global maritime treaty known as the Law of the Sea Convention. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday.

More than 160 nations belong to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which governs how nations may use the world’s oceans and the resources they contain. All major industrialized nations have ratified the treaty except the United States.

According to Donald Rumsfeld, that is how it should remain. The former defense secretary took issue with the treaty’s collectivist treatment of seabed mineral resources.

"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. The wealth distribution idea incorporated in the Law of the Sea Treaty is especially objectionable, because the mechanism for redistribution is poorly designed. It uses a newly-created multinational seabed authority. The authority would not be effectively accountable to the American people any more than any U.N. agency is accountable,” Rumsfeld said.

Contrasting Rumsfeld’s opposition to the treaty was a top diplomat of the former Bush administration, John Negroponte, who argued the Law of the Sea Convention would bolster the United States economically and militarily.

“The United States would gain legal protection for its sovereignty - sovereign rights and jurisdiction in off-shore zones, the freedom of maneuvering action for its military forces, and protection for economic and marine research interests at sea. U.S. firms would be able to obtain essential internationally-recognized and exclusive rights to explore and exploit deposits of strategic minerals on the ocean floor beyond national jurisdiction and secure recognized title to the recovered resources,” Negroponte said.

The former Bush administration backed ratification, as does the Obama administration today. But Senate action has been delayed for decades and remains on hold, at least for now. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, has said a vote will not be held before the November elections. Kerry nevertheless backs the treaty.

“Ratifying the treaty will lock in the favorable navigational rights that our military and shipping interests depend on every single day. It will strengthen our hand against China and others who stake out claims in the Pacific, the Arctic, or elsewhere. It will give our oil and gas companies the certainty that they need to make crucial investments to secure our energy future. And it will help secure access to rare earth minerals which we need for weapons systems, computers, cell phones, and the like,” Kerry said.

Lawmakers opposed to ratification argue the Law of the Seas Convention would erode U.S. sovereignty by subjecting it to a global authority on maritime matters.