The Cable

Clinton: Ratify Law of the Sea Treaty this year

The U.S. Senate should ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty before the end of the year because it is in Amerca's economic and national security interests, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify today.

The treaty is "critical to the leadership and security of the United States" and joining it is "a priority for the Department of State and for me personally," Clinton will tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning, according to prepared remarks obtained in advance by The Cable. Clinton will testify alongside Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey in what will be the first in a series of hearings convened by SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA).

"U.S. interests are deeply tied to the oceans," Clinton will say. "No country is in a position to gain more from the Law of the Sea Convention than the United States."

She will argue that the United States benefits from the treaty's maritime freedom of navigation provisions and she will maintain that American business will benefit from the treaty's provisions governing mining rights along U.S. coastlines.

"Off the north shore of Alaska, our continental shelf could extend 600 miles into the Arctic," she will say.

Clinton will argue that U.S. companies are ready to participate in deep seabed mining but that the United States needs to be a party to the treaty so that American businesses can take advantage of mining opportunities outside the country's exclusive economic zone.

"It is no wonder then that there is such a strong and wide-ranging coalition supporting U.S. accession," Clinton will say, according to the prepared remarks. "The U.S. military has consistently and unequivocally supported the convention for its national security benefits. Affected U.S. industries, including shipping, fisheries, telecommunications, and energy, have consistently supported U.S. accession for its economic benefits. Non-governmental organizations concerned with the protection of natural resources have consistently supported U.S. accession. And both Republican and Democratic Presidents have supported U.S. accession. I have never seen another treaty with such intensive and broad support."

Even George W. Bush supported U.S. accession to the treaty, Clinton will point out. She will also say that the treaty has been thoroughly vetted in the Senate, back in 2007 and in 2004, including with hearings by the Senate Armed Services Committee when she was a member.

"The United States is long past due in joining this convention," Clinton will testify. "Our global leadership on maritime issues is at stake. I therefore urge the Committee to give its swift approval for U.S. accession to the Law of the Sea Convention and ratification of the 1994 Agreement, and urge the Senate to give its advice and consent before the end of this year."

In his own testimony, Dempsey will testify that the military is firmly behind swift ratification of the treaty, that there are concrete benefits for U.S. security, and that joining the treaty is necessary to maintain American leadership in maritime affairs.

"Our absence from the convention separates us from our partners and allies. It places us in the company of those who disdain the rule of international law," Dempsey will say, according to his own prepared remarks. "We are the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and the only Arctic nation that is not a party to the Convention. As a result, there are limits to our ability to build coalitions for important international security efforts."

"This treaty has been thoroughly debated and vetted, and it has consistently received support from senior defense leaders," he will say. "We should become party to the Law of the Sea Convention now and demonstrate our global maritime leadership."

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Battle lines drawn for Law of the Sea Treaty

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee kicks off a major new effort to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty, and interested senators are already preparing behind the scenes for a protracted battle over the issue.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will testify before the committee Wednesday in the first of a series of hearings being planned by Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who is leading the ratification effort for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, better known as the Law of the Sea Treaty.

The treaty, which came into force in 1994, established rules of the road for operating in international waters and set forth a regime for determining mineral and other rights beneath the ocean floor. Since then, 161 countries have signed on, as well as the European Union, but the U.S. Senate has not ratified it.

In an interview today with The Cable, Kerry said that he has lined up advocates and supporters of ratification from public- and private-sector constituencies to make the case for the need to ratify the treaty soon.

"I believe this can be done. There are major American businesses, gas and oil companies, mining companies, communications companies, all which have a huge interest in this. When the power of those interests is heard, senators are going to feel a sense of urgency. It is more urgent today than it has been at any time," he said.

Kerry also touted the support of national security officials and former officials from both parties and from several administrations. He said that in addition to the national security benefits of the treaty, America's economic woes gave the ratification effort an added urgency.

"This is a major effort for jobs," Kerry said, arguing that U.S. mining, mineral, and energy companies would all benefit. "The time is now because of the economic interest."

Kerry said that he wants to keep the debate away from partisan politics and argue the case for ratification on the facts and the merits of the treaty. That will be tough during a heated election season, and also because several senators strongly oppose it.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), a staunch foe of ratification, told The Cable today that Kerry has promised him another SFRC hearing for "those of us who are opposed," and said he wanted former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton and the Heritage Foundation's Steve Groves to testify.

Inhofe said that Kerry needs to get the treaty ratified by the end of 2012.

"If they don't do it this year, they are never going to do it. That's their concern," Inhofe said. "Republicans are going to take over the Senate and then it's going to be more difficult."

Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) told The Cable that he was open to ratification, but only if a series of changes are made through amendments. McCain said he was already working on several of those amendments with some other as yet unidentified colleagues.

"We have to make sure that U.S. sovereignty is preserved. We want to make sure that we have absolute veto power," McCain said. "If those amendments were adopted, we could more likely support this."

McCain was extremely active in crafting amendments to the resolution of ratification for the New START agreement with Russia in 2010, but ultimately voted against that treaty. He predicted the vote would come after the election, during the lame duck session this December.

Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (D-MI) told The Cable he expects the treaty to pass if it comes up for a vote.

"All the military is for it. I think there is two-thirds vote for it. All of our military leaders are for it. It ought to pass; it should have passed years ago," Levin said. "It puts us at a big disadvantage not to be at that table when the discussions under that treaty take place."

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the second ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, disagreed and predicted the treaty is going nowhere this year due to other pressing matters before the Senate. Corker said he doesn't have a view on the treaty one way or the other.

"I am no place on Law of the Sea," he said. "I think there are a lot of other issues that we should be addressing... I have tried to discourage Senator Kerry from taking this up. I don't think there will be any votes between now and the election either in committee or on the floor on the issue."