The Law of the Sea Treaty - a Done Deal
The very controversial Law of the Sea Treaty-LOST, which is still in committee, is a done deal according to a senior White House official. Of the 145 countries that have ratified this United Nations treaty, the U.S. is the only major power not to have ratified it. Various groups of countries that have signed it include all of the G8 countries with the exception of the U.S., almost 2/3's of the countries in our hemisphere that are members of the Free Trade Areas of the Americas, as well as both NAFTA partners.
The Law of the Sea was placed into effect on December 10, 1982. It consists of 17 parts, nine annexes and over 435 articles. The structure is like a "United Nations for the Oceans" with a council, assembly and secretariat. In addition it has a commercial profit-making arm called the "Enterprise" where the U.N. will sell rights to mine the ocean beds.
Tommy Koh who was the president of the Third U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea called it "A comprehensive constitution for the oceans which will stand the test of time." At the time he cited U.S. support for the "progressive development of international law" as being key. Mr. Koh stated, "We have strengthened the U.N. by providing that political will. Nations can use the organization as a centre to harmonize their actions. We celebrate human solidarity and the reality of interdependence which is symbolized by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea."
At the recent Group of Eight meeting, a number of high-level officials from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration-NOAA were there to discuss the advances made in ocean science. They were joined by James L. Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. They celebrated "World Oceans Day" by presenting the finds which science has been responsible over the past 19 years that include locating the RMS Titanic. It was Dr. Robert Ballard, aboard NOAA's research ship the Ronald H. Brown located above the Titanic and one of the ships discoverers that guided us on an underwater tour of the sunken ocean liner.
By satellite, he explained that as a result of new technology, they have been able to discover many other vessels such as the Bismarck, the Yorktown, other maritime ships from World War I and World War II as well as Roman, Venetian, Carthaginian, and Greek ships. Dr. Ballard said they have begun to realize "the deep sea is a museum and contains more history than all of the museums combined in the world and yet there is no law covering the vast majority, [putting] a great deal at risk. We need international cooperation to preserve the cultural history of our cultures throughout time."
In a follow-up interview with Mr. Connaughton, I asked him about the commercial side of the treaty that establishes for the first time, a commercial venture called the "Enterprise" that will charge $250,000 for the right to mine the ocean sea beds. Since this is a UN Treaty, proceeds will go to the UN.
He replied, The Law of the Sea-LOST is an important component in the frameworks that are now set out there. Key components as we reach beyond our further and further beyond our coastal lines. The U.S. government is actually implementing nearly every chapter of the Law of the Sea Treaty since it was first adopted and we are now looking for Senate ratification. We had to make some improvements regarding the various economic enterprises we talked about-especially deep-sea mining. That is the initial framework. As an international community we are still working our way through issues and it begins with common international excitement and interest in deep-sea archeological treasures such as the Titanic and calls for this kind of international coordination and common cause and agreement. With senate ratification of LOST we have found a way to deliver security benefits to the nations, economic benefits as well as important enhancements of our ability to do ocean conservation. We have a treaty going on where you can have Titanic.
I asked him if Congress needed to cover their actions since it has already been implemented. He told me that there were pieces that needed to be fixed with regard to the deep see mining provisions. He went on to explain,
There is no deep sea mining beyond sovereign areas right now. These have been addressed and the treaty which has gone back in [legislative] cycle. Since 9/11, there is a heightened interest in assuring that these international instruments are taking into account security concerns. So just as the Bush Administration took time to make sure we had the implement components appropriate for our national security, that same dialogue is going on in the Senate.
Furthermore Mr. Connaughton told me that he was not aware that mining interests would go to the UN as a funding mechanism or that the Law of the Sea was a UN treaty. When I asked him about the Law of the Sea constituting a "Constitution for the Sea," he said
It is actually the next step in oceans governance beyond sovereign waters. I would like to leave it at that. As you heard today [in the various presentations] there are many things we are learning and doing and many international arrangements that have yet to be worked out and the Law of the Sea is an important foundational tool but it is not the only tool. This Treaty on the Titanic for example is occurring outside the Law of the Sea.
When I asked about if the purpose of the Law of the Sea was to protect history, he said, "It is one very successful components of implementation because whenever someone discovered a missing ship from history, they had total rights to it. He elaborated, "Now we are understanding the need to get proper science done and if property rights are to be associated, they can be done in arrangement with science. So we are still working it out."
Obviously, Mr. Connaughton and those on the panel knew about the international agreement that was just signed by Britain, the United States, Canada and France, all members of the G8, on June 18 to protect the Titanic from thievery and damage caused by salvages and undersea tourists. This agreement, which has been under negotiation since 1997, is an outgrowth of the Titanic Maritime Memorial Act of 1986 signed by President Reagan. Congress will have to approve this international agreement.
I venture that since the Law of the Sea is a done deal that this new agreement will be made part of the Law of the Sea legislation-or perhaps it will be the other way around. Since "we the people" have become nothing more than serfs with government collecting our tax dollars and using them without representation, what will LOST be-or perhaps it acronym explains that our freedoms have been LOST!
© 2004 Joan Veon - All Rights Reserved
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Joan Veon is a businesswoman and independent international reporter. Please visit her website: www.womensgroup.org. To get a copy of her WTO report, send $10.00 to The Women's International Media Group, Inc. P. O. Box 77, Middletown, MD 21769. For an information packet, please call 301-371-0541
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