Come Thursday, the future of the United States Senate will begin to take shape. On that day, the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee will begin the first of two days of hearings on ratification of one of the most momentous international agreements in memory: the United Nation's Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST).
If all goes according to the proponents' plan, few senators will have any idea what LOST entails before they are asked to vote for it. The working assumption is that many legislators will be inclined to do in this case what the Senate has done too often in the past with respect to arms control and many other, complex multinational accords: fail to read the text; forgo serious deliberation, let alone debate; and rubber-stamp its approval in a matter of days, if not hours.
As of now, Treaty supporters expect to secure far more than the needed two-thirds vote required by the Framers. Senators are encouraged not to spend precious time worrying about an accord that the United States Navy strenuously supports, the Bush administration wants promptly ratified, various mining and energy interests and environmental groups (however implausibly) agree is desirable and the bipartisan Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a couple of years ago.
There will be a special irony, however, if senators fall prey to this seduction and fail in the weeks ahead rigorously to perform their constitutional responsibility for quality control over treaties: Should they superficially consider, and then consent to, ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, they will accelerate dramatically the permanent erosion of their own authority and that of the Congress more generally.
The reason? LOST was designed three decades ago by the Soviet Union and its so-called "nonaligned" allies to foster supranational entities at the expense of nation-states, particularly those with representative governments.
The Senate of the United States would be as irrelevant to that sort of world order as national parliaments in Europe have already become, thanks to the transfer of virtually all rulemaking authority to European Union bureaucrats in Brussels.
The piece of the world in question starts with its oceans, which the Treaty calls an "international commons" and part of "the common heritage of mankind." The immediate focus of the socialist, redistributionist agenda shared by many of LOST's principal architects is evident in the mandate given to the organization charged with exercising control over the seas and the resources beneath them. It entails, among other things, ensuring the just and equitable dispersal of the seabeds' wealth to the world's developing and land-locked nations.
To accomplish these lofty goals, the Treaty creates entities with all the trappings of a government an executive, a legislature and a judiciary. Unlike our constitutional republic, however, such institutions are run by the unelected and the unaccountable. This is all the more worrying insofar as the Treaty reposes in one or more of these institutions the authority to make binding and unappealable decisions in case of disputes; levy what amount to international taxes; and "protect the marine environment," a license to engage in unprecedented, sweeping worldwide regulation.
Make no mistake: The seas are only the start. For one thing, the internal waters and even land masses are claimed as within the jurisdiction of LOST agencies since what emerges from them in the air and water inevitably affects the "marine environment."
In addition, the U.N. and its anti-American majorities are keen to establish similar arrangements with respect to other so-called "international commons," such as Outer Space and the Internet. They seek to institutionalize "self-financing" arrangements (read, international taxes) that will allow supranational organizations to become even less transparent and accountable. They are determined to impose rule-making authority over national governments, including U.S. senators.
Attributes of the Law of the Sea Treaty such as these prompted Ronald Reagan to oppose its ratification in the 1970s. After he became president, he officially repudiated all but its acceptable navigation provisions (which the U.S. has voluntarily observed ever since). While the Treaty's proponents profess that President Clinton's administration "fixed" what Mr. Reagan found objectionable, rigorous congressional scrutiny would confirm the views of such Reaganauts as Attorney General Ed Meese, National Security Adviser Bill Clark, the then recently departed Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and LOST negotiator James Malone: This treaty remains irremediably defective.
Starting with Thursday's Republican presidential candidates debate at American University, those who would occupy the White House next should be asked: Do they stand with President Reagan on the Law of the Sea Treaty, or with President Clinton?
Meanwhile, given the potential for LOST's arbitral panels and regulatory bodies to infringe massively upon the prerogatives of the Congress to say nothing of the constitutional rights of millions of Americans it would seem only natural for myriad Senate (and, for that matter, House) committees to want to hold their own hearings about this accord. Toward this end, the new, informal Coalition to Preserve American Sovereignty has written the Congress' armed services, intelligence, energy, finance, homeland security, judiciary and environment committees laying out aspects of the Treaty with direct relevance to their respective areas of jurisdiction. (To see these letters, visit www.RejectLOST.org.)
If senators wish to avoid a fiasco that would make immigration "reform" look like a day at, well, the beach, they better do their job on LOST or risk losing their jobs.