Summary of Hearings on the Law of the Sea (5-28-04)
The House International Relations Committee met May 12th to discuss Law of the Sea (LOS) treaty ratification, and featured both strong proponents and opponents of ratification. William H. Taft IV, Legal Adviser to the U.S. Department of State and Admiral Michael G. Mullen, Vice Chief of Naval Operations for the U.S. Navy both testified in support of ratification. They maintained that ratification would promote stability of the oceans, U.S. mobility, and national security. Opponents to ratification included Baker Spring, an F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy with the Heritage Foundation. He cited lack of sovereignty, unnecessary limitations on the exploitation of resources, international taxation potential, and risks to national security as reasons not to agree to LOS provisions.
At this hearing the witnesses presented the views of many diverse groups and their broad consensus that the United States should ratify the Law of the Sea Convention. Again and again, the experts testified that being party to this Convention is strongly in the national interest of the United States. It would restore U.S. oceans leadership, protect U.S. oceans interests and enhance U.S. foreign policy.
At a hearing composed of military, industry and environmental leaders, the issue turned toward the mechanics of approving the Law of the Sea Convention and specific concerns about wording. Military experts believe that approval of and participation in the Convention will mean U.S. ships can pass innocently through friendly waters with any type of vessel, including those that are nuclear power generated. This means that nuclear powered submarines would be able to pass through waters where they are currently restricted. Business-oriented witnesses hailed safe passage rights for oil tankers; however, as the environmental experts pointed out, foreign oil tankers passing through our waters would not have to be double-hulled as the U.S. currently requires with the Oil Pollution Act. Ascension to the Convention as it currently stands would put us at odds with some of our own laws and increase the chances of an oil spill should an accident occur.
Witnesses for the military testified that they would be able to map foreign waters and have military over flights if the Convention were approved and they would enjoy more navigational freedom than they currently have. Their chief concern was that limitations could be imposed by an international tribunal. And, echoing the concerns of former Committee Chairman Senator Jesse Helms, the military brass insisted that military activities should be exempt from the mandatory dispute resolution clause.
Industry representatives were excited about the prospect of seabed mining based on "free market principles" as long as rights that have already been purchased within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) are protected via a "grandfather" clause. Their chief concerns were future restrictions that could be placed on seabed mining as a result of the Convention and that industries currently operating outside of the 200 nautical mile EEZ may have to engage in revenue sharing.
Although they cheered the idea that this treaty would allow scientific research to be conducted by all and in all member countries, the environmental community expressed concerns about ships innocently passing through U.S. waters. Under the Convention as currently written, they may not be double-hulled. Further, ships entering our waters for innocent passage may pollute our waters and our air. The environmental experts testified that ballast water containing invasive species may be purged in a non-native area, thus unleashing new species into new habitat where it could wreak havoc. They also cautioned that ascension to the Convention must not interfere with the United States' ability to place trade sanctions on countries in violation of international environmental policies.
Sources: Hearing testimony; Senate Foreign Relations Committee website; House International Relations Subcommittee website.
Contributed by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program Staff; and Bridget Martin, AGI/AIPG 2004 Summer Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on May 28, 2004