May 7, 2009

UNCLOS vs. The Senate

Via Scott Paul, some encouraging news on the Law of the Sea Convention (or UNCLOS):
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) is crafting a strategy to ratify the long-stalled Law of the Sea Treaty this year -- a move that ocean and foreign policy experts say is increasingly important as climate change reshapes the Arctic.

Kerry said this week that he is working to find time for a hearing and votes on the treaty, which governs navigation, fishing, economic development and environmental standards on the open seas.
UNCLOS has been in Senatorial limbo for about 15 years, so it's encouraging to hear that Sen. Kerry is leading a charge to finally ratify it. On the other hand, it seemed like the treaty had a good shot back in 2007, and in 2004 -- my understanding is that it had the votes for ratification even back then. And yet, nothing has happened. I could understand why the Republicans sat on the issue when they had the majority, given their captivity to the far right and its hatred of multilateralism. But why, with the Democrats in charge, there's been no movement whatever on the treaty, is a mystery.

On the other hand, it may not be such a mystery, given how the Senate works. Norm Ornstein recently wrote about how the abuse of the Senate's rules has made even overwhelmingly popular legislation nearly impossible to pass. I don't know if this has been the case, but I suspect that fear of someone like James Inhofe bringing Senate business to a halt has been a major factor in the lack of action on UNCLOS. The Greenwire article mentions that finding time on the Senate calendar is a big question for moving ratification forward; but it seems to me that the Senate leadership could find the time if they wanted to have a vote. In other words, I fear that ratification opponents care a lot more about stopping it than supporters do about passing it. Again, this is speculation on my part -- one other factor could be that the Republican Senators who have said they support ratification might cave under right-wing pressure. Fortunately, this time around ratification requires only eight GOP votes, at least.

1 comment:

  1. Scott Paul may have it all wrong.

    Neither the Senate nor the House has done their homework, since neither have adequately vetted the more than 45 environmental provisions, regulations, protocols and annexes which comprise approximately 1/3 of the treaty's 200 pages.

    As regards, the Council on Foreign Relations report on UNCLOS accession, there are several factoids which are not true.

    See: CFR Report Uses Climate Change, Piracy & Continental Shelf as Bogeymen to Promote UNCLOS Ratification Without Congressional Hearings

    ITSSD Journal on the UN Law of the Sea Convention, at:

    Legally speaking, Senators and Congressmen (and women) are obliged, pursuant to their oath of office, to support the US Constitution. This means, in part, that they must provide both their constituents and the American public at large with a constitutionally guaranteed 'right to know' what is within that portion of the UNCLOS, and the extent to which the environmental component will affect their constitutionally guaranteed private property rights, US national economic & technological security, US military preparedness and US sovereignty. And, they must undertake such due diligence PRIOR to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations submitting the treaty to a floor vote of accession.

    There is at least one law review article that addresses these issues. It is entitled,
    "What Goes Around, Comes Around: How UNCLOS Ratification Will Herald Europe's Precautionary Principle as US Law". An authorized pre-publication advance copy of this article, which will appear in the forthcoming issue of the Santa Clara Journal of International Law, is now accessible on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) at: