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The Law of the Sea

The U.S. Navy trumps a U.N. treaty.

Oct 10, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 04 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB and STEVEN GROVES
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In March 2009 the Impeccable was engaging in lawful surveillance activities in the South China Sea fully 75 miles from Chinese territory when it was confronted repeatedly by the Chinese Navy and various “fishing vessels.” The vessels threatened to collide with the unarmed Impeccable on several occasions and attempted to destroy its towed sonar array. In response, the Obama administration protested to Beijing and sent the USS Chung-Hoon, a destroyer, to escort the Impeccable on its next mission. That is how maritime rights are “locked in.”

What would have happened differently if the United States had been a party to the Law of the Sea Treaty in March 2009? Is it possible that the Impeccable’s skipper could have shooed off the Chinese assault by running to the ship’s gunwale waving a copy of the treaty over his head? If the Senate finally ratifies the treaty, will China actually live up to its LOST commitments and respect the right of our surveillance ships to track Chinese submarines out of their new base on Hainan Island? These questions answer themselves.

Instead of debating a flawed treaty that was rejected by President Reagan almost 30 years ago, the Senate should endeavor to provide the Navy with the resources it needs to preserve its preeminent position on the world’s oceans. That is the only way to ensure that the Navy can successfully prosecute its mission of protecting navigational rights and freedoms on a global basis.

What is ultimately required to secure customary rights on the high seas are the ships, aircraft, missiles, and sailors of the U.S. Navy. Unfortunately, they face ever more cuts by the Obama administration and its allies in Congress.

Ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty would force the United States to submit to U.N.-administered international tribunals that are as capricious as the U.N. itself. Meanwhile, the real law of the sea is going to be administered as it always has been, by hundreds of thousands of tons of hardened steel. Congress needs to make sure it is U.S.-flagged steel that’s doing the administering.

Michael Goldfarb is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard. Steven Groves is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

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