Defense & National Security

Panetta reveals disgust for Law of the Sea opponents in speech

Panetta reveals disgust for Law of the Sea opponents in speech

In an address to the Center for a New American Security just before Thanksgiving, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta implied that the dozens of lawmakers who oppose the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea are out-of-touch ideologues, saying it was an “outrage” that the controversial treaty has not yet been ratified.

The most recent effort to pass the Law of the Sea Treaty was declared dead on arrival back in July, when some 34 Senators, enough to bar passage, voiced their opposition to the measure. Critics say the treaty, first opposed by Ronald Reagan but since ratified by most developed countries, would infringe on U.S. sovereignty and force the U.S. to pay royalties on deep-ocean drilling that amounted to a global tax.

A parade of witnesses defending the treaty, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a cross-section of active-duty general officers, countered that ratification would give the U.S. legitimacy on a world stage and enhance navigational security for the military.

Panetta shared his own thoughts at CNAS in response to an audience member’s question.

“It is an outrage.  It’s an outrage that we have not (ratified the treaty),” Panetta said, according to a Defense Department transcript. “Now, I think there are good members up in the Senate who agree with everything I’ve just said. But they’re constantly running into a wall because, for some ideological reason of a few members up there, this has become an issue that they’re going to fight and they’re going to stop as best they can.”

The Defense Secretary riffed on the topic at length, saying that it would require “tanks and bombers and planes” to overturn Senate opposition to the treaty and adding that the treaty could help the U.S. combat the specter of climate change.

“In order for us to deal with the challenges that we’re facing as a result of global warming in the Arctic and the potential of the Northwest Passage and the potential for resources out there, we — you know, there are countries that are making claims there and we can’t even engage with those countries because we haven’t approved the Law of the Sea Treaty,” he said.

Earlier this year, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said there are plenty of military reasons to oppose Law of the Sea.

“The Obama administration has promoted the Law of the Sea treaty and seems to have bought into the false nobility of global governance,” Rumsfeld told attendees of the Washington Times Anniversary Gala in October. “…Why should the American people support leaders who put American interests on an equal footing with foreign interests? Aren’t they elected to represent ‘we the people’, not we are the world?”

By the numbers, it appears the fate of the treaty is shaky at best: of the 34 Senators who said they’d oppose Law of the Sea,only one is losing his seat: Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has announced he will retire at the end of his term in 2013. To ensure the treaty’s failure, those opposed need 34 “no” votes, preventing the needed 67-vote supermajority.

But Panetta’s politically-charged comments may mean the Obama administration intends to bring considerable force to bear for the treaty’s passage in the president’s second term.

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