Foreign Policy

Senate Republicans Kill “Boon to Business” Sea Treaty

Republicans in the senate have reached the vote threshold required to block passage of a bill authorizing the president to sign a treaty governing internal waters and territorial disputes, which Secretary of State Clinton says would be "a boon to business," that's been in place since Ronald Reagan's administration.

WASHINGTON (AP) - A treaty governing the high seas is all but dead in the Senate as two Republican senators announced their opposition Monday, giving conservative foes the necessary votes to scuttle the pact.

Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire - both mentioned as possible running mates for likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney - said they had serious concerns about the breadth and ambiguity of the Law of the Sea treaty and would oppose it if called up for a vote. The Constitution requires two-thirds of the Senate - 67 votes - to ratify a treaty; Portman and Ayotte bring the number of opponents to 34 along with Sens. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

The development was a blow to the Obama administration, military leaders and the business community led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who had argued that the treaty would improve national security and enhance U.S. standing in the world. They had pressed for ratification of the treaty, which was concluded in 1982 and has been in force since 1994. The United States is the only major nation that has refused to sign the pact.

Every administration dating back to Saint Reagan in 1982, the Department of Defense, and even the Chamber of Commerce, which is not known as a liberal bastion, supports the treaty. Every administration since Reagan has also abided by the treaty despite not signing it. But we can't have nice things because, well, just because.

Historically Republicans have opposed the treaty out of concerns for "signing over our sovereignty," which is nonsensical, but modern opposition to the treaty mostly stems from wild anti-U.N. conspiracy theories about world government. There is no practical explanation for their opposition.

To the opposition's leader, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), this list of supporters is clearly meaningless.

[John] Kerry had a series of hearings with star witnesses, starting with Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, making a rare joint appearance. Four admirals, including the chief of naval operations and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and two generals also urged senators to support the treaty. And last month, business leaders, including the head of the Chamber, testified on behalf of the pact.

Why aren't the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the chief of naval operations, and the head of the Chamber of Commerce concerned about "signing over our sovereignty?"

Because those are just buzzwords that hold no real meaning.

The 1982 treaty established "a system for resolving disputes in international waters and recognizes sovereign rights over a country's continental shelf out to 200 nautical miles and beyond if the country can provide evidence to substantiate its claims." The new sense of urgency for signing the treaty is due to the recent availability of natural resources in previously-unexplored waters. Not signing the treaty could put U.S. energy companies at a disadvantage, which is the primary motivation for the Chamber of Commerce's support.

Portman and Ayotte, two vice presidential hopefuls, were the deciding votes to kill the bill.

  • D_C_Wilson

    Don’t worry, the republicans have a plan. When China is drilling on the North American continental shelf, they’ll blame Obama.

  • Grant Beaudette

    It’s amazing how often republicans can apply the up and coming political strategy of screaming “Agenda 21! Agenda 21!” and hiding under the covers.

  • muselet

    As recently as late last year, the Rs were howling that everyone in Washington should “listen to the generals”.

    Maybe they draw the line at admirals …