Boiling down the UNCLOS “debate”

While Gail Collins’s shtick on the political attention being paid to the Convention on the Law of the Sea does her readers a bit of a disservice considering its actual importance, her column in Saturday’s Times does a pretty good job of boiling down the “debate.”

Bill Clinton wanted the treaty, but gave up trying to find 67 votes in the Senate. Nothing much has happened since, except 155 other countries have ratified it, including several that didn’t exist when it was first passed. The United States, of course, is not the only nation holding back because of well-considered reservations. I hear Libya made some excellent points. And our side also includes all the parts of the Axis of Evil we have yet to invade.

While the pros will tell you all about the importance of having a rational system for arbitrating disputes over the Alaskan continental shelf, the cons spin up conspiracy theories about how the International Seabed Authority will force us to give up our cars and cancel the war on terror.

Just take my word. The Navy wants the treaty. Greenpeace wants the treaty. The oil and gas industry wants the treaty. George W. Bush wants the treaty.

The fact that the U.S. Navy backs the treaty is a point that the “Captain” seems to have missed. And while Pejman Yousefzadeh feels better that Tyler Cowen has reservations about UNCLOS, I’m a little more comforted by the fact that everybody who has a dog in this fight — the military, the environmentalists, industry, the President, and rational thinkers in general — supports the convention.

The number of people who really care about stopping the treaty is not large. But even if there were only 200, what if 120 of them go to the Iowa caucus? John McCain, who used to support the treaty, recently waved the white flag on a conservative Web site. “I think that we need a Law of the Sea,” he blogged. “I think it’s important, but I have not frankly looked too carefully at the latest situation as it is, but it would be nice if we had some of the provisions in it. But I do worry a lot about American sovereignty aspects of it, so I would probably vote against it in its present form.”

The other candidates have issued statements that seem to reflect an inability to come up with any rational arguments. Rudy Giuliani said he “cannot support the creation of yet another unaccountable international bureaucracy that might infringe on American sovereignty and curtail America’s freedoms,” and Fred Thompson roused himself long enough to announce that “the efforts of treaty proponents would be better spent reforming an ineffective, unaccountable and corrupt United Nations.” Mitt Romney’s spokesman just said Mitt has “concerns.”