Defense & National Security

Defense Secretary Panetta favors United Nations oversight of world oceans

After regaling a group of environmentalists last week on military initiatives to pursue biofuels and prepare for climate change, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta advanced another tenet of a far-left military agenda Wednesday when he appeared at a forum to push for ratification of the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty.

The treaty would create an international regime of law to dictate actions and activities on and in the oceans. In addition to creating new environmental regulations, it would tax U.S. mining of the ocean floor, and could compromise the nation’s maritime security.

In 2007, Heritage Foundation president Ed Feulner described the proposal thus in a Washington Times editorial:

“This authority would basically be an aquatic United Nations of the sea (indeed, Law of the Sea Treaty is a U.N. convention). Except, instead of issuing toothless condemnations of the United States, this authority would have the actual power to thwart American interests,” he wrote. “For example, the treaty would empower environmental activists to bring action against the U.S. for violating the Kyoto Protocol, though the Senate never ratified that accord and senators sensibly made it clear they wouldn’t agree to Kyoto if it would harm American economic interests.”

The treaty has been lingering as an unapproved proposal for years, soundly rejected by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 as a threat to American sovereignty, but entertained by the George W. Bush administration.

Now, Panetta has thrown his weight behind the proposal. “The time has come for the United States to have a seat at the table, to fully assert its role as a global leader, and accede to this important treaty,” he said at the forum, hosted by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Atlantic Council. “It is the bedrock legal instrument underpinning public order across the maritime domain.”

Panetta argued that the U.S. was the only industrialized country in the world that has not approved the treaty, and that it would be a boon for American industries who dealt with offshore American resources. To date, 161 countries have approved the treaty.

He also said the treaty would be an asset to national defense, embracing a view of the U.S. as dependent on other nations for safety and security.

“These are real and growing challenges and the reality is that they are beyond the ability of any single nation to resolve alone,’ he said. “That is why a key part of our new defense strategy is to try to meet these challenges by modernizing our network of defense and innovative security partnerships—the kind that we have at NATO, the kind that we have elsewhere, different parts of the world—to try to develop those partnerships so that we can support a rules-based international order that promotes stability, that promotes security, and that promotes safety.”

He closed his speech with a plea on behalf of ousted Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) to support the treaty, in honor of Lugar’s legacy.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey also joined Panetta in supporting the treaty, saying it “codifies navigational rights and freedoms essential for our global mobility and “helps sustain our combat forces in the field,” according to reports from the American Forces Press Service.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have said that they oppose the treaty, while Mitt Romney has said he has concerns with the policy.

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