Gaffney Lost on Law of the Sea

by Martine Apodaca

The UN Convention on Law of the Sea, which came into force in 1994 and has been ratified by 154 countries and the European Community, has been gathering steam in the U.S. Senate, is widely supported by both government and business leaders, and appears to be on track for ratification by the U.S.

This seems to be frightening a fringe group led by Frank Gaffney, a neocon columnist for the Washington Times and the National Review online, who has launched a nonsensical attack on the effort for U.S. ratification, claiming that the bid is a “UN power grab” and that US accession would transform the UN into a “world government” and force the United States to surrender sovereignty and immense resources in the sea and on the sea bed. Those unfounded views are reflected in Gaffney’s column yesterday in the Washington Times.Gaffney apparently thinks he knows how to protect U.S. national and security interests better than the President, the Secretary of the Navy, and the combined leaders of the U.S. petroleum, fishing, mining, and shipping industries. That’s not a bet that the U.S. Senate should take.

Rather than acknowledge and debate the vast military, economic, and environmental benefits of UNCLOS, Mr. Gaffney chooses to scare-monger about “international taxes” and “world government.” UNCLOS establishes neither. Mr. Gaffney also doesn’t acknowledge that an international race for oil, fish, diamonds and shipping routes has begun and is being accelerated by global warming as the arctic ice cap recedes. At stake are a possible 460,000 square miles of Arctic seabed that could hold as much as 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas, valuable commodities like gold, diamonds, fishing stocks, and lucrative freight routes.

The race is on.

Other nations are moving to take advantage of this situation. In August 2007, Russia planted its national flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole, calling international attention to a dubious claim to ownership of the North Pole and the Lomonosov Ridge — with substantial potential oil, gas, and mineral deposits. The Canadians are staking claims in the arctic as well. In August 2007, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper set off on a three-day tour of the region and announced plans to build two new military bases to reinforce Canada’s territorial claims, and the Canadians are spending $7 billion on new arctic patrol vessels.

The U.S., however, has taken itself out of the race; only nations who are party to the Convention can make such claims — or challenge the claims of others. Thus, while nations struggle for control of the arctic, the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines.

In truth, Mr. Gaffney is nearly alone on the far fringes in opposition to the Convention. Perhaps that is why he is making such desperate and outlandish arguments.

I’ve left Gaffney’s sovereignty claims until last because they are perhaps the most ridiculous.

The Convention has, in fact, been called, correctly, a U.S. land grab because it expands U.S. sovereignty and sovereign rights over extensive maritime territory and natural resources off its coast. It provides a 12-mile territorial sea subject to U.S. sovereignty, U.S. sovereign rights over resources within a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, and U.S. sovereign rights over offshore resources (including minerals) to the outer edge of the continental margin, which extends well beyond 200 miles in several areas, including up to 600 miles off Alaska. This Convention clearly expands our sovereignty.

The Convention has a built-in, dispute-resolution forum where nations can come together to peacefully and efficiently settle disagreements. The deep seabed mining provisions would not apply to any areas in which the U.S. has sovereignty or sovereign rights. Further, these rules will facilitate mining activities by U.S. companies. Investors would have the legal certainty of the convention to protect their claims and investments. And the navigational provisions ensure that U.S. military and commercial vessels have worldwide maritime mobility with the backing of international law and not subject to the whims of any nation.

Senate ratification of the convention is inarguably in America’s best interest. Scaremongering to the contrary is simply irresponsible.