A TREMOR went out the other day when the administration announced that it has suspended negotiation of the Law of the Sea Treaty until it has conducted its own review. One suggestion was that the mining companies, held at bay by the last administration, got to the new one and sold it -- if it needed any selling -- on the need to toughen the terms to ensure American access to those strategic manganese nodules lying on the seabed. Another version was that this negotiation had always been the medium of a Carter message of warmth to the Third World, and this administration wishes to send another message. Yet a third version was that the treaty is awfully complicated and that there was no need to be crowded by the calendar.
Since the administration had not had the chance for a full-scale review, there is probably no single or coherent explanation for deciding to pull off the track and tell 150-odd nations, practically on the eve of a negotiationg session, that there won't be any negotiating. A lot of those nations are grumbling, never mind that there were other reasons why this session (the 10th in seven years) would not have been the "final" one it was billed to be. In any event, to the extent that company objections to the text-so-far led to the suspension, that is not necessarily a bad thing. The companies, who are not friendless, would have weighed in during a ratification debate anyway. It is not necessarily a bad thing for the administration that (presumbably) will actually be presenting a treaty for ratification to crank the mining interest into its calculations before it sits down to complete a treaty text.
At least one part of the administration's public explanation, however, is troublesome. The States must have the mining provisions it wants and, furthermore, that it will make no mining concessions in order to get the other benefits offered in the treaty -- regarding fishing, environment, economic zones, research, navigation, overflights, etc. Granted, the Reagan administration wants everyone to know it's tough. But is this not a rather prickly attitude to bring to the table, especially when, publicly a least, not a single specific defect in the old terms has been identified? There is no magic in those terms, which originated in the directives of Henry Kissinger and whose fashioning has been in the hands of Republican negotiators throughout. But they do represent the product of a negotiation, a mingling of interests, as distinguished from one country's fiat.