Ex-Defense chief Rumsfeld to face off with military brass over Law of the Sea

Donald Rumsfeld is returning to Capitol Hill next week to testify against the United States joining the United Nations's Law of the Sea treaty, pitting him squarely against the military brass that he used to command as former President George W. Bush's secretary of Defense.

Rumsfeld's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is especially relevant because he was former President Reagan's emissary against the treaty back in 1982, when international momentum was for it. Proponents of the treaty have been trotting out former Reagan officials — former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Deputy National Security Adviser John Negroponte — to argue that changes to the treaty would have met with Reagan's approval, but Rumsfeld's appearance throws a wrench in that strategy.

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Critics say it would curtail the U.S. military's freedom of navigation while allowing a UN agency to directly tax U.S. oil-and-gas companies.

Rumsfeld wasn't available to comment.

“The so-called United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was designed to codify navigation rights in international waters,” he writes in his memoir, Known and Unknown. “But it had grown into something considerably more ambitious, with a proviso that would put all natural resources found in the seabeds of international waters … into the hands of what was ominously called the International Seabed Authority.”

Reagan's attorney general, Edwin Meese, has also been leading the charge against ratification of the treaty. 

"With the treaty again under consideration by the Senate,” Meeks wrote in the Los Angeles Times this week, “it's important to note that Reagan's objections to it were anything but trivial.”

Rumsfeld was invited to speak by committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has vowed to invite witnesses on all sides of the issue despite his personal support for the treaty. Rumsfeld will be testifying next Thursday afternoon along with Negroponte and John Bellinger, a former legal adviser to the State Department under Bush, who supported ratification.

Kerry's committee is also holding another hearing Thursday morning with current military officials, who argue for rapid ratification as China expands into the South China Sea, where the treaty recognizes the sovereignty of the Philippines, a U.S. ally, and other countries.