Corine Hegland has written a great summary article (pdf) on UNCLOS for the National Journal. I got this from Matt, who writes “She’s doing neutral reporting, so she doesn’t come out and say that there’s little to the opponents’ case besides vague paranoia but she also make it clear that there’s little to the opponents’ case besides vague paranoia.”

Slate also published an “Explainer” on the race to claim the Artic today.

Key quotes from Hegland’s piece after the jump.

The treaty’s proponents are, well, preponderant. There’s the president and his Cabinet, the former chiefs of naval operations, and all the living legal advisers to the secretary of State. Also the American Petroleum Institute; the International Association of Drilling Contractors; the Navy League of the United States; the World Wildlife Fund; the Nature Conservancy; and the U.S. Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, as well as 35 other such organizations. There’s a letter from 101 “prominent Americans,” including former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Alexander Haig, Colin Powell, and George Shultz; a handful of governors and former senators and Cabinet members; and, if that’s not enough, Walter Cronkite.

At the end of a 45-minute interview, [Frank] Gaffney still brims with reasons to reject the treaty. It encroaches on American sovereignty. It creates a new U.N. bureaucracy, with taxation powers. The 1994 “fix” was no fix at all, because the treaty was not yet open to amendment, and besides, Reagan’s objections went far beyond the seabed mining issues. It will allow other nations to sue the United States over land-based pollution. It will allow other nations to sue the U.S. military for moving through their territorial waters. Countries that hate us will be able to out-vote us in the convention bodies. World judges will rule against U.S. interests, and federal judges will enforce their rulings. The Senate is rushing to a vote, with only two hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and none at all in Armed Services, Commerce, Energy, Environment, Intelligence, and Judiciary, among others.

None of these claims are quite true, say treaty proponents, including the Pentagon and the State Department. Military activities are exempt from the treaty’s dispute-resolution procedures; nobody will be suing the Navy. The land-based pollution provisions essentially call on nations to enact and enforce their own laws, which the United States already does. In the one suit involving land-based pollution, an Irish challenge to a British nuclear power plant, the Irish lost. The U.S. will be able to take all disputes to arbitration, not to judges on world tribunals. The 1994 renegotiation is valid law: Nations often make subsequent agreements based on earlier agreements. The International Seabed Authority, which implements the agreement, strives to make decisions by consensus. It has no actual taxation powers, although members are assessed dues, and it may claim up to 7 percent of revenues from some oil and gas sites; it can also conduct its own hard-mineral mining at some deep seabed locations. The Senate committees held hearings in 2004.


As the Arctic ice recedes, there will be a race for the oil, gas, and mineral resources buried there. Because the United States hasn’t ratified the treaty, it doesn’t have a seat at the table where the 155 nations that have approved it will determine the validity of Arctic claims. U.S. companies want a piece of the action; U.S. environmental groups want a hand in managing what they foresee asenvironmental chaos.

Get occasional updates from UN Dispatch

* indicates required

Want Our Social Media List?