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Politico -Law of the Sea Would Usurp U.S. Navy's Authority

Op-Ed

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By Senators Jim Inhofe, Roger Wicker, and Jeff Sessions

The U.S. Navy has been the master of the seven seas since World War II, the pre-eminent maritime force.

It seems odd, then, that Navy leadership has long pressed for what amounts to a redundant international hall pass.

A steady stream of admirals and service chiefs over many years have advocated for the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or the Law of the Sea Treaty -- an accord rejected by President Ronald Reagan in 1982.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for example, said this treaty "codifies navigational rights and freedoms essential for our global mobility."

It is true that the treaty's navigational articles codify noncontroversial traditional maritime rules of the road. But the Navy has successfully preserved and protected its navigational rights and freedoms for 200 years without it.

For the treaty to be "essential for our global mobility," the Navy would have to suffer a devastating decline -- either from drastic budget cuts or a major reduction in its mission and capabilities. Ceding any authority to an international body is not only a threat to our sovereignty, it also creates another avenue for other nations to stop U.S. unilateral activity.

Some fear the Navy is at a tipping point. Increased global threats, combined with fewer resources, have created growing concern for its future. Devastating budget cuts under the Obama administration mean doing even more with much less.

If the proposed defense cuts through sequestration go into effect, potential cuts include the littoral combat ship, amphibious ships, a reduction in aircraft carriers and far fewer sailors. After sequestration, our fleet could be smaller than 230 ships -- the smallest since 1915.

Could it be that some have decided to put their hope in a piece of paper rather than provide the resources necessary to maintain our Navy's traditional strength? Does this U.N. treaty provide real justification for such devastating cuts? If not, we need detailed explanations from our top military officials.

The Navy already operates within the bounds of international and customary laws. Shortly after World War II, the U.S. joined the Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization, now called the International Maritime Organization. The purpose of the group is to set maritime laws that are now broadly enforced by national and local maritime authorities to improve safety at sea, facilitate trade among seafaring states and protect the marine environment.

These laws allow the U.S. to execute commerce and military operations around the globe -- as an independent and sovereign nation. Thus, LOST is unneeded and redundant.

Most of the opposition to the Law of the Sea pact stems from the treaty's non-navigational portions that deal with the international taxation from natural resources revenue, issues related to U.S. sovereignty and the redistribution of wealth from the U.S. to the Third World. But even worse, this agreement would be an albatross that takes our nation's military down with it.

Proponents say the treaty exempts military activity from international litigation. But those of us opposing it are deeply concerned because this terribly flawed document fails to define what is included in that exemption. In addition, it opens the U.S. military to the jurisdiction of international courts and governing bodies.

Military training exercises that do not have the approval of other nations could be prevented because of potentially negative environmental impacts. U.S. military vessels could be stopped on the grounds that they are too heavy a polluter.

All the while, billions -- if not trillions -- in limited U.S. funds would be transferred from the U.S. Treasury to international coffers through the tax and redistribution provisions of the treaty. As we have seen, when funds are limited, the first place to get squeezed is our military.

At the same time, nations like China and Iran, both signers of the treaty, have been flexing their muscles. Iran threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz and attack U.S. vessels. China's navy has engaged in acts of harassment meant to intimidate its neighbors in the South China Sea. In both cases, it is the might of the U.S. Navy -- not the treaty -- that maintains order.

The Senate should reject this dangerous hand over of U.S. sovereignty. Instead, it should provide the Navy with the resources necessary to keep it the best force on the high seas.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is the second ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is the ranking member of the SASC Subcommittee on Seapower. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is the ranking member of the Budget Committee.


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