Should L.O.S.T. Sink or Swim?

The United States has debated whether to ratify the Convention on the Law of the Sea, otherwise known as the Law of the Sea Treaty or "LOST," for over twenty years. It was opposed by the Reagan Administration, but some Republicans are giving it a second look, adn the Bush Administration is now pushing for Senate Ratification.

Vern Clark and Thomas Pickering argue in today's NYT that LOST makes sense for the United States, particularly on national security grounds.

The treaty provides our military the rights of navigation, by water and by air, to take our forces wherever they must go, whenever it is necessary to do so. Our ships — including vessels that carry more than 90 percent of the logistic and other support for our troops overseas — are given the right of innocent passage through the territorial seas of other states. In addition, the treaty permits American warships to board stateless vessels on the high seas.

The treaty also provides an absolute right of passage through, over and under international straits and through archipelagoes like Indonesia. These rights — the crown jewels of the treaty — did not exist before 1982, when the Convention was concluded. Our security and economic interests are tied directly to these rights. . . .

Our national security interests alone should be sufficient to persuade the Senate to act now. But the Convention also advances the economic interests of our country. It gives us an exclusive economic zone out to 200 miles, with sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving and managing the living and non-living natural resources of the zone. Coastal states are given sovereign rights over the continental shelf beyond 200 miles if the shelf meets specific geological and other scientific criteria. Under the Convention, our Arctic continental shelf could extend out to 600 miles.

Law professors Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin take a decidedly different view, arguing here that the treaty could hamper U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Specifically, they worry that under LOST U.S. efforts to interdict arms shipments could be second-guessed by international tribunals dominated by foreign judges who might be hostile to U.S. interests and opposed to American "unilaterlaism."

Daniel Drezner has more thoughts here, as do the folks at Opinio Juris here.