THE PENTAGON – Vice Admiral John G. Morgan, Jr., deputy chief of Naval Operations, told Newsmax Wednesday afternoon that the controversial United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ((UNCLOS) has been unfortunately cloaked in a “Halloween costume” by its detractors -- that have relied for years on the false bogyman issue that somehow signing the treaty will compromise U.S. sovereignty.
“This sovereignty issue is simply not grounded in fact,” emphasized the former senior military assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England.
At an intimate roundtable discussion held for a handful of media representatives, Morgan pronounced that he was happy about the “momentum” that springs from the news Wednesday that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had reported out the treaty, the first key step in getting Capitol Hill’s imprimatur on the convention that controls how nations can transit fully “seven-tenths of the earth’s surface.”
The U.S. participation in the treaty, which has been signed by some 154 nations, has been hanging fire since 1982 when concerns (since addressed) about deep sea mining rights got it a pass during the Ronald Reagan administration.
However, as Morgan noted, at the time Reagan made it plain that but for that flaw, he was committed to a multilateral ocean’s regime and that the treaty in general protected the commercial and national security interests of the U.S.
Today, Morgan said, President Bush, the DoD, and the Department of State all favor signing the treaty and are of the same opinion re the treaty as the late President.
When Newsmax asked Rear Admiral Bruce MacDonald, the judge advocate general of the Navy if the sovereignty issue was still alive and well, he admitted that it was, but that it was grounded in two major misconceptions.
First, he explained that the detractors were hung up on the logo of the treaty -- that part linking it to the United Nations. “It’s really a misnomer, MacDonald explained, “what we have here is a true multi-lateral treaty” that is not inexorably tied to the world body.
Second, MacDonald said, those who complain about the weakening of U.S. sovereignty are mostly still caught up with the dispute resolution language in the treaty. The Navy’s chief lawyer shook his head and argued that the language of the treaty does not commit disputes about U.S. “military activities” -- such as sea maneuvers -- to such bodies as the International Court of Justice.
“Each state may opt out of the dispute resolution,” MacDonald explained.
Both Morgan and MacDonald were of the opinion that there was nothing to loose and everything to gain by getting the U.S. on board the treaty.
MacDonald schooled the panel that for decades the U.S. has been depending on conventions it signed back in 1958, coupled with the fickle law and custom of the sea.
“We’ve entered a new maritime age,” said Morgan, where it is getting more and more difficult to maneuver the world’s most powerful military around the globe from “outside the treaty.”
Furthermore, Morgan argued, the U.S. -- as a non-party to the broader sea treaty -- has been hampered in getting nations to join the Proliferation Security Initiative, the international effort led by the United States to interdict transfer of banned weapons and weapons technology.
And, as MacDonald argued, being outside the treaty puts the U.S. at a disadvantage when it comes to practically dealing with nations that are today more frequently practicing what is known as “creeping jurisdiction” – taking control of sea lanes far from their shores.
As a signatory of the treaty, the U.S. could do more than send the fleet to show the flag in protest, MacDonald argued. Such tactics also may unnecessarily put our sailors in harm’s way, he added.
MacDonald pointed to Operation Iraqi Freedom as an example of how vital sea approaches can be in thrusting U.S. power overseas. In 2003, the Turks denied permission for our air forces to transit Turkish airspace in striking Iraq. “We will be increasingly looking to the oceans,” the admiral said.
MacDonald pointed to the treaty’s allowances for so-called “transit” passage through “choke” points -- like straights.
MacDonald and Morgan also discussed how the treaty’s 200-mile designation offshore was vital to protecting oil, mineral and fishing rights.
Captain Chuck Michel of the Coast Guard was also on hand at the roundtable to explain how the treaty was vital to his service’s law enforcement duties.
He explained that the Convention limits a nation’s territorial sea to 12 nautical miles, beyond which all nations enjoy the freedom to engage in law enforcement activities:
“The Coast Guard relies upon these freedoms to conduct extensive maritime interdictions – including of illicit drug traffickers…”
Michel also pointed to the importance of the treaty’s 24-mile contiguous zone in facilitating the Coast Guard operations to interdict foreign flag vessels of The U.S. coast for violations of customs, immigration, fiscal, and sanitary laws.
In a recent letter to Sen. Joseph Biden, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, four formers Commandants of the Coast Guard wrote:
“It is high time the United States got off the sidelines and joined the Law of the Sea Convention. Joining would not only increase the ability of the Coast Guard to carry out its multiple maritime missions, but would enhance the ability of the United States to guarantee its national security and economic rights.”
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