The Treaty that has no Name

The otherwise estimable Barbara Slavin of USA Today writes an entire article about the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), without actually mentioning the treaty by name. Slavin explains how the White House sees “black gold” under the Arctic ice–and references a treaty that would firm up American oil companies’ claims to excavate–but she never explicitly states that it is the Law of the Seas Treaty, which sets rules the use of the world’s oceans, to which she is referring.

Nevertheless, the article is good. It shows how the Senate’s non-ratification of the treaty is undermining American interests. Oil and mineral extraction companies, for example, are wary about the legal firmament of their Arctic claims absent Senate ratification of the treaty. Slavin quotes John Bellinger III, the State Departments’ top lawyer, and Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen–both of whom urge the quick ratification of the treaty, which the US signed back in 1982. Though the piece does not mention it (this is a short USA Today article after all) the military also advocates for US ratification because doing so would help it more freely navigate the ocean.

But oil companies and the military are not the only advocates of US ratification of the Law of the Seas. Major environmental groups also see great value in the treaty, which contains provisions for protecting fish stocks and sets marine environmental standards. The treaty has the unanimous support of the Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

So what is stopping its passage? Slavin cites one senator in particular who opposes the treaty on strict ideological grounds. “There’s still a little sovereignty left in America,” says the Senator. “Let’s hold onto it.” With the kind of wide ranging support the Law of the Seas Treaty enjoys, however, that kind of atavistic opposition to the treaty cannot hold for too much longer.