During the Clinton administration, my old boss, the late former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms, declared the treaty “dead on arrival.” But with the arrival of the Obama administration, and with Democrats in control of the Senate, there has been a renewed push to ratify the treaty.
Those efforts suffered a setback last week when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he would oppose ratification. That meant 32 Senate Republicans had either publicly opposed, or signed letters declaring their intention to vote against, the Law of the Sea Treaty. Opponents needed just two more Republicans to declare their opposition to reach the 34 votes necessary to kill it.
Those final two votes came through this afternoon, when Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declaring their intention to vote against the treaty. As one might expect from Portman and Ayotte, the letter delivers a studious examination of the costs and the benefits of ratification, and then concludes:
“We are deeply concerned about the treaty’s breadth and ambiguity, the inadequate U.S. input in the treaty’s adjudicative bodies, and the automatic enforcement of tribunal judgments in the United States…. No international organization owns the seas, and we are confident that our nation will continue to protect its navigational freedom, valid territorial claims, and other maritime rights. On balance, we believe the treaty’s litigation exposure and impositions on U.S. sovereignty outweigh its potential benefits. For that reason, we cannot support the Law of the Sea treaty and would oppose its ratification.”
Translation: Dead on arrival.
No doubt the news will bolster Ayotte’s standing as a rising conservative leader in the Senate. And it will certainly raise Portman’s standing in the veepstakes, as he wins well-deserved plaudits from national security conservatives for putting the final stake into the coffin of this long-despised U.N. power-grab. (Disclosure: My wife is Portman’s legislative director.)
Somewhere up there, Jesse Helms is smiling.
You can read the full text of the letter here: