Team Obama's 2012 re-election campaign isn't the only campaign it has recently launched. Right alongside it is the administration's all-out campaign to get the Senate to ratify the U.N.'s 1982 Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST).Though previously rejected by the Senate, there is no surprise here really.
From international climate agreements to arms control pacts, this White House seemingly hasn't encountered a treaty -- United Nations or otherwise -- it didn't feel we shouldn't affix our John Hancock to despite the potential downsides.
In supporting LOST, Team Obama insists that we're at a "strategic turning point" with new rising powers; that we need a credible voice at the "table of nations" to defend our maritime interests; and, that we can't solve the world's problems alone.
They also seem to believe that signing LOST will be a nothing short of a foreign policy "cure-all," including enhancing our ability to deal with the Chinese in the South China Sea, the Russians in the Arctic and Iranians in the Persian Gulf, for example.
Hearing them speak of it, you might conclude that joining the ranks of LOST members will just about bring us "world peace." Yes, they believe it's that good. Of course, thinking LOST can do any of these things is a real stretch—if not outright mistaken.
For instance, China, a signatory to LOST, brazenly claims "indisputable sovereignty" over the entire South China Sea—more than 1 million square miles of ocean in direct contradiction to the treaty's principles.
(From a country's coastline, LOST allows for complete sovereignty over 12-mile territorial waters and economic sovereignty over a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Beijing has flouted LOST for years now while building a mighty military machine, especially a blue-water navy, replete with new surface combatants and submarines, to assert its claims that clearly exceed the treaty's limits.
It's a fantasy to believe that signing a piece of paper at the United Nations will change China's mind about the South China Sea and freedom of navigation in its EEZ, which it believes is sovereign territory.
Then there's Russia. We supposedly need to be inside the LOST "tent" to counter others' Arctic claims, like Moscow's, where climate change may allow for harvesting previously-inaccessible natural resources around the North Pole.
(US government surveys suggest that about one-third of the world's yet-to-be-discovered, technologically-recoverable natural resources are below the ice floes at the top of the world.)
Of course, we're already a member of the Arctic Ocean Conference, an organization that's doing a good job of dealing with the five circumpolar states' (i.e., the United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway) claims in the High North--so why do we need another entangling treaty?
And Iran? Tehran isn't even a member of LOST, so it's unclear how our membership in the treaty is going to stop Iran from threatening to close, or attempting to close, the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth to the Persian Gulf.
The subtext to all of this, of course, is that US defense spending is in free-fall—being cut from $500 billion to $ 1 trillion over the next 10 years—and Team Obama may be looking to this U.N. treaty to protect our interests on the high seas since it'll be tougher to do so ourselves.
Sounds a bit like national security "outsourcing."
No shock, though, considering that with expected defense budget cuts, we may soon have the smallest navy at any time since the end of World War I. (It's not going to be any better for the army, air force or marines, either.)
Of course, lots of less-powerful countries are eager for us to join LOST because they want us to help protect and assert their interests at treaty meetings and in the maritime domain. Fair enough.
But their inability to deal with the likes of China, Russia, Iran and perhaps others argues powerfully for us preserving our military strength—particularly our navy--rather than relying on a treaty. Diplomacy is always most effective when backed up by the potential for the use of force.
Plus, while LOST's navigational tenets for operating on the high seas, including establishing territorial waters and EEZs are of little dispute among the vast majority of nations, some of the other "non-navigational" provisions of LOST are very troubling.
For instance, LOST establishes a new United Nations agency—the International Seabed Authority (ISA), located in Kingston, Jamaica, which would have a say over activities on our continental shelf.
At the moment, the U.S. government can collect royalty revenue from oil and gas companies that drill on our continental shelf, essentially the underwater extension of the American, above sea-level continent.
But, if we sign onto LOST, U.S. firms would be required to pay out as much as seven percent of that revenue--which might otherwise pay billions of dollars into federal coffers and for public programs and goods here at home--to the ISA for "redistribution" to developing nations which don't have access to the sea.
Worse than that, as only one of 160 members of the ISA, we'd only have one vote as to where that money went. This means we may see those royalties going to any number of bad actor or anti-American regimes; maybe even a state sponsor of terrorism.
Beyond our continental shelf, LOST considers the deep seabed as the "common heritage of mankind." But what they're really getting at is if you want to mine or drill the seabed for natural resources you need to get the ISA's permission.
The treaty also includes a mandatory dispute resolution mechanism among LOST members. This could possibly put us in the cross-hairs for any number of law suits brought over such things as greenhouse gas emissions or pollution.
Now, proponents will tell you that all—or a lot—of these concerns were fixed in 1994 with some adjustments to the treaty, which President Bill Clinton signed off on. Unfortunately, it didn't secure a "veto" for Washington over decisions in Kingston.
Considering all of this, it's no wonder that President Ronald Reagan, while supporting the navigation provisions of LOST, which we continue to abide by to this day, refused to sign this U.N. convention.
With little--if anything--to gain, it's probably best to tell the Law of the Sea Treaty to get lost again, but for good this time.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.