Sink the Law of the Sea pact

Washington is a place where good ideas often come to die, but bad ideas seem to live forever. So it is with the so-called Law of the Sea treaty negotiated by the late Elliott Richardson and others like him back in the ’70s, rejected by Ronald Reagan in the early years of his presidency and ignored by the Senate when Bill Clinton tried to revive it in the ’90s. But now, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has moved it out of the file of dead ideas to the front burner with a promise to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) that the Bush administration wants it to be ratified as soon as possible.

Washington is a place where good ideas often come to die, but bad ideas seem to live forever.

So it is with the so-called Law of the Sea treaty negotiated by the late Elliott Richardson and others like him back in the ’70s, rejected by Ronald Reagan in the early years of his presidency and ignored by the Senate when Bill Clinton tried to revive it in the ’90s. But now, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has moved it out of the file of dead ideas to the front burner with a promise to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) that the Bush administration wants it to be ratified as soon as possible.

Thus, Bush is lining up not with Reagan, the man in whose tradition he claims to want to govern, but with Clinton. As president, Clinton actually signed the treaty and even put together a separate agreement that he claimed answered all rational objections to it. The Senate wasn’t buying that in 1994, but Lugar and other supporters of the treaty hope that with help from the Bush administration they can overcome conservative objections and do what Clinton wanted.

Actually, Lugar has been ragging his colleagues for years with one argument after another in support of the treaty and last year even got his committee to vote it out with the support of many who, like Virginia’s George Allen (R), should have known better. Fortunately, however, the press of Senate business precluded a floor vote, and now Lugar is back once again to push for ratification — this time with the support of the Bush administration.

Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) should think twice, though, before agreeing to bring it to the floor if he really has designs on the White House. Conservatives fought it when it was first proposed, applauded Reagan when he and they thought he had killed it and aren’t going to take kindly to a prospective GOP presidential candidate who facilitates its ratification.

It is conceivable that, as the debate heats up, opponents of this one could develop just the sort of memory that may have cost another Tennessean a shot at the big one when he signed on to promote the Panama Canal Treaty decades back.

In fact, the Law of the Sea treaty, known officially as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, was a bad deal when it was originally negotiated and makes even less sense in today’s world. It was such a bad idea that when Reagan rejected it in 1982 he actually went further and fired the people responsible for negotiating it.

It would give an international body virtual control of the world’s oceans, allow the United Nations to tax seabed mining and the like and create yet another international court with jurisdiction over virtually anything that might affect the seas.

In addition, it includes a scheme to force advanced nations to transfer technology to less advanced states and creates a U.N.-run “enterprise” that would in true global socialist fashion force anyone with the gumption to mine the ocean beds to finance a U.N.-run competitor whose profits, if not stolen by the same folks who were charged with feeding the poor of Iraq, would be redistributed to poorer nations and organizations like the PLO.

The whole scheme could only have been dreamed up at a time when the United Nations had a great deal more in the way of credibility than it enjoys today and when people actually believed that gigantic, socialist or state-run enterprises could create wealth. It was a bad idea then, and it’s a crazy one now.

In fact, however, the treaty is already in place, as the usual suspects rushed to ratify it. They aren’t collecting much in the way of taxes yet and won’t be able to unless they can get us to ratify, but they have set up a Law of the Sea Tribunal, which is already asserting jurisdiction over anything that might in any way indirectly affect what happens in or over the world’s oceans.

Indeed, the U.N. brochure explaining the need for all this argues that the treaty must apply not just to what happens on or in the 70 percent of the earth covered by water but to “human activities on land” as well, which, after all, might somehow directly or indirectly affect what goes on at sea.

That alone would be reason enough to send the treaty to the shredder, but that won’t happen unless a majority of senators reject it or Frist realizes that treaties can be fraught with danger.

Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, is a managing associate with Carmen Group, a D.C.-based governmental-affairs firm (www.carmengrouplobbying.com).