Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld criticized the U.N.’s Law of the Sea Treaty as a potential burden on U.S. companies, just hours after six four-star military officers had hailed the treaty as a key diplomatic tool.
The diametrically opposed assessments of the treaty were aired before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday.
The military officers said the U.S. would have to rely solely on military might to project power abroad and could lose access to energy resources in the extended U.S. continental sea shelves if the Senate does not ratify the treaty.
“Competing claims in the maritime domain by some coastal states are becoming more numerous and contentious. Some of these claims, if left unchallenged, would put us at risk our operational rights and freedoms in key areas of the Asia-Pacific,” said Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command.
The officers also argued that ratifying the treaty would give the U.S. more credibility with other treaty members when resolving maritime disputes and conducting naval operations.
“We have young lieutenants that are commanding patrol boats … and they need the clarity and the continuity and the predictability this convention provides in terms of making determinations on a daily basis on jurisdictional issues and other things,” said Adm. Robert J. Papp Jr., commandant of the Coast Guard.
So far, 162 countries have signed and ratified the treaty, which became effective in 1994.
The U.S. has signed but not ratified the pact. Some senators fear it would yield U.S. sovereignty to international law, impose environmental pollution fees and burden U.S. companies with royalties for energy exploitation. They also note that some treaty members, such as China, do not abide by its rules.
“This thing hasn’t helped one bit to resolve the tensions, the disputes that are going on in the South China Sea,” said Sen. James E. Risch, Idaho Republican.
In his testimony, Mr. Rumsfeld argued against ratification, calling the royalties that U.S. companies would have to pay under the pact “a new idea of enormous consequence.”
Under the treaty, industrialized countries pay royalties to less-developed nations for profits made while exploiting unclaimed energy resources, he said, adding that this type of wealth redistribution is a “novel principle that has, in my view, no clear limits” that “could become a precedent for the resources of outer space.”
Mr. Rumsfeld, who served in the George W. Bush administration, has argued previously against ratifying the treaty.
Also testifying against ratification, Heritage Foundation international law specialist Steven Groves said the treaty would force the U.S. to cede its sovereignty under international tribunals with no appeal and expose the U.S. to “baseless international lawsuits.”
He said the U.S. already has the right to exploit resources without acceding to the treaty.
But Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and the committee’s chairman, and Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the panel’s ranking Republican, said U.S companies would not explore energy resources in the extended continental sea shelves or in the Arctic without the legal certainty the treaty provides.
“The treaty makes it possible for a mining or drilling company to stake an unequivocal legal claim on the ocean floor and have it recognized under international law,” Mr. Lugar said. “They are in favor of this treaty.”
Mr. Kerry said he recently received letters from business executives urging ratification.
“Accession to the Law of the Sea Convention is the only means to protect and advance the claims of U.S. entities to the vast mineral resources contained on the deep seabed floor,” reads a June 13 letter to Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lugar from organizations including the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.