John KERRY rightfully used his status as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week to revisit the Law of the Sea Convention, an important global effort to establish basic rules and regulations on issues ranging from shipping routes to deep-sea mining. Since the Constitution requires 67 votes for approval of any treaty, passage may be an uphill battle. But Kerry should continue to push the convention forward if only to expose, once and for all, the hollow isolationist ideology behind those who object to it. Standing alone is not a sign of American dominance, as some conservatives seem to believe; joining the other 160 nations that already live by the convention’s rules will give the United States more economic strength and national security.
The failure to ratify the 30-year-old treaty seems even more objectionable today as unrest in the South China Sea, a larger maritime presence in the melting Arctic, and threats over the Strait of Hormuz all affect our economic, political, and national-security interests.
There is no substantive argument against the convention. Environmental groups might be expected to embrace multinational efforts to promote minimum standards for preserving the world’s waters. But the US Chamber of Commerce, the oil and gas industry, and military leaders also recognize the need for a stable governance system over shared waters, and the United States’ interest in helping shape those rules. Even Sarah Palin supported it as governor of Alaska, realizing that without a seat at the table “our rightful claims to hydrocarbons, minerals, and other natural resources could be ignored.” Just as a global fight over access to natural resources and shipping lanes is beginning, the United States is the only Arctic nation that is not party to the convention.
Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the foreign-relations committee, shares Kerry’s support for ratification but knows first hand that his party’s ideological objections should not be underestimated. After 36 years in the Senate, Lugar recently lost his reelection bid to a Tea Party candidate. Passage of the Law of the Sea Convention now has a very short time frame. As 160 other nations set the rules for global waters, the United States can’t afford to wait another 30 years.