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Bush Supports Landmark Maritime Treaty

In a May 15 statement, President Bush urged the Senate to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Treaty, which governs the world’s oceans and oceanic resources. Some aspects the treaty regulates include maritime pollution, offshore fishing and drilling, the ability to travel through coastal countries’ waters, and high sea interdictions. This controversial treaty has been debated since the Reagan Administration.

Proponents of the treaty, including energy companies, the military, and environmentalists cite many positive reasons why the United States should ratify the treaty that 154 countries have already signed. The Law of the Sea Treaty sets a global standard for marine environmental protection -- all signing nations are legally bound to prevent pollution and protect fish populations and the marine environment in general. The treaty also ensures the U.S. Navy and commercial ships’ right to travel freely through foreign countries’ territorial waters. Additionally, the treaty’s Law of the Sea Tribunal provides a peaceful method of settling quarrels over natural resources and territory. Finally, the treaty provides each signing country with exclusive rights to managing the resources near its coast. When mapped out by the United Nations Law of the Sea, the United States’ zone is larger than that of any country in the world, 3.36 million square miles (larger than the 48 contiguous states combined), enabling the U.S. to claim more oil and mineral resources on the continental shelf near Alaska.

There are also many opponents to the Law of the Sea Treaty and several of their reasons to not sign the treaty are direct responses to proponents’ reasons to ratify it. First, some of the treaty’s environmental provisions would allow non-U.S. environmental groups to file lawsuits in U.S. and international courts in attempts to manipulate domestic U.S. environmental policy. Second, opponents state that legally-recognized navigation rights are not necessary because they are not presently jeopardized by any law or military able to oppose the United States. Third, the Law of the Sea Tribunal, which is not necessarily democratically elected, would be able to command the U.S. to free a vessel held on suspicion of illegal activity -- including those interdicted due to transporting illegal weapons or terrorists. Other concerns over the treaty include the U.S. not having any control over the funding of the project and the treaty applying eminent domain to intellectual property, enabling the United Nations to seize technology if it so desires.

Regardless of the concerns over the treaty, President Bush wants the United States to ratify it. In his May 15 statement, he said, “First, I urge the Senate to act favorably on U.S. accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea during this session of Congress. Joining will serve the national security interests of the United States, including the maritime mobility of our armed forces worldwide. It will secure U.S. sovereign rights over extensive marine areas, including the valuable natural resources they contain. Accession will promote U.S. interests in the environmental health of the oceans. And it will give the United States a seat at the table when the rights that are vital to our interests are debated and interpreted.”