Sen. Mike Lee Outlines Objections to Law of the Sea Treaty
Josh Peterson /
Ratification of the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) would jeopardize American security, rule of law, and prosperity, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said yesterday at Heritage.
The junior senator from Utah — who is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations — addressed a packed auditorium on how specific articles of the UNCLOS are at odds with the U.S. Constitution and way of life.
The treaty — adopted at the United Nations in 1982 — currently binds more than 160 countries, but not the United States. At the time of adoption, President Reagan refused to sign the treaty and instead opted for the United States to observe certain tenets of the treaty, except parts concerning deep seabed mining.
Three specific implications of the treaty were particularly troubling to Lee.
First, every nation bound by the treaty is required to pay a percentage of the proceeds from certain mining activities – such as oil and gas exploration — to the International Seabed Authority (ISA).
Article 82 of the treaty requires those proceeds to be redistributed to “States Parties to this Convention, on the basis of equitable sharing criteria, taking into account the interests and needs of developing States, particularly the least developed and the land-locked among them.”
“This treaty has constitutional implications because it is a tax,” Lee said.
“In order for it to take full effect, a separate bill in the House would have to be passed in addition to the two-thirds majority in the Senate it would need for ratification.”
Lee further stated that the treaty puts the United States at a national security risk. Several of the nations bound by the treaty are guilty of massive human rights violations, according to Freedom House, and are listed as state sponsors of terror, according to the U.S. State Department.
“It puts the U.S. in a ‘Mother, may I?’ position,” Lee said, in regards to whether a U.S. mining company would be granted permission to mine the deep seabed by the ISA.
“This reflects a debate on how we view the open frontier, with which there are two competing views,” Lee said. “On one hand, we have the open frontier concept that says those who take the risks necessary to explore ought to benefit from that activity. On the other hand, we have the common heritage of mankind approach that says where you have unexplored territory and resources; it belongs to all of mankind.”
Lee argued the latter approach is utterly at odds with fundamental rights, liberties and American prosperity.
“We must not sell our birthright for a mess of pottage, and [the UNCLOS] is a mess of pottage.”
Lee also articulated that the dispute resolution mechanisms of the treaty compromise American sovereignty. Not only must the U.S. first seek permission for mining from the ISA, but conflicts are also settled in an international justice system, again composed of nations hostile to U.S. interests.
While there has been support expressed for ratification of the treaty by Navy officials, Lee contended that these officers are subordinate to a commander in chief who might have his own opinions on UNCLOS ratification.
“I am not a military officer, I’ve never served in the Navy, but I do serve in the U.S. Senate,” Lee said, “and as a U.S. senator I was required several months ago to take an oath pursuant to Article 6 of the Constitution to uphold [the Constitution] and to defend it from all its enemies.”
“I fundamentally believe that it would be a dereliction of my duty, and it would be a betrayal of my oath to that Constitution for me to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
Josh Peterson is a member of the summer Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. Click here for more information on interning at Heritage.