Law of the Sea Treaty Dead

Three conservative cheers for Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R–N.H.) for announcing critical opposition to the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST). The LOST is a treaty being pushed by the Obama administration that would bind the U.S. to decisions of a United Nations-sanctioned governing body of the world’s oceans. Conservatives worry that U.S. Senate ratification of the Treaty would lead to an attack on American sovereignty.


Thanks to the announced opposition of these two senators, there are now 34 publicly pledged votes against LOST. To pass a treaty in the Senate, the treaty needs a 2/3rds vote or 67 senators if all vote. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has circulated a letter with 31 senators pledged to vote no on the treaty. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) has a statement on his website saying that he will also vote no bringing the number to 32. Add in Portman and Ayotte, and then you have 34 votes against the treaty.

Three more cheers for Senators DeMint and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) for working so hard to defeat LOST.  The Law of the Sea Treaty is dead for the year.

Portman and Ayotte write in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):

Recently, there has been renewed interest in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty completed in 1982 and modified in 1994. After careful consideration, we have concluded that on balance this treaty is not in the national interest of the United States. As a result, we would oppose the treaty if it were called up for a vote.

The senators argue that it is an “admirable” goal to codify “the U.S. Navy’s navigational rights and defining American economic interests in valuable offshore resources.” The LOST goes way beyond this specific outcome.


But the treaty’s terms reach well beyond those good intentions. This agreement is striking in both the breadth of activities it regulates and the ambiguity of obligations it creates. Its 320 articles and over 200 pages establish a complex regulatory regime that applies to virtually any commercial or governmental activity related to the oceans — from seaborne shipping, to drug and weapon interdiction, to operating a manufacturing plant near a coastal waterway.

The senators also worry that “the terms of the treaty are not only expansive, but often ill-defined,” potentially binding the U.S. to unwritten and unknown requirements:

Article 194, for example, broadly requires nations to “take … all measures consistent with this Convention that are necessary to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from any source, using for this purpose the best practicable means at their disposal and in accordance with their capabilities.” Article 207 decrees that “[s]tates shall adopt laws and regulations to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment from land-based sources … taking into account internationally agreed rules.” Article 293 empowers tribunals to enforce not only the treaty provisions but also “other rules of international law not incompatible with [the treaty].”


The LOST was a bad idea from the start. The treaty is bad for American energy policy and unnecessary for the U.S. Navy. It creates more problems than it solves. Thank goodness Portman and Ayotte have stepped up to the plate to protect American sovereignty and pledged to opposed this wrong-headed idea.


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