The Obama Administration is working hard toward the ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) in the U.S. Senate. The treaty offers little to no benefits for the U.S. and harms U.S. interests, writes Peter Brookes in his latest op-ed on the subject. Some of LOST’s implications:

  • Redistributes U.S. wealth. First, the treaty would make the United States subject to Article 82, meaning that the United States would be required to transfer up to hundreds of billions of dollars generated by mining on the U.S. extended continental shelf to the International Seabed Authority (ISA). This body has the authority then to redistribute those funds as it sees fit.
  • Funnels money to corrupt nations. Second, the Assembly—the supreme organ of the ISA consisting of one representative of each party to the treaty—would have the last say as to how U.S. contributions are distributed, preferring developing and landlocked nations. Some of these nations are corrupt, undemocratic, and even sponsors of terrorism. Because the United States would be only one of some 160 members, it might not be able to prevent its funds from being distributed to Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Somalia, Syria, or Zimbabwe, to name a few. In addition, there are no limitations on how these funds should be spent in recipient countries. With a lack of transparency, the funds could end up in the private accounts of the most reckless leaders around the world.
  • Creates barriers to exploration. Third, LOST claims the deep seabed resources of the oceans as “the common heritage of mankind” and forbids mining unless permission is first received by the ISA. This might create an international obstacle for U.S. companies willing to invest their time and money in exploring and developing vast deep seabed resources. It might take months to secure the ISA’s permission, which would likely discourage U.S. companies from participating in such activities. Meanwhile, the magnitude of the mineral wealth on and beneath the U.S. extended continental shelf remains to be determined.

The United States was not able to secure a veto over the ISA’s decisions during the treaty’s renegotiations in 1994. The only stated benefit of the treaty—securing navigational rights—is already guaranteed by customary international law. The U.S. Navy has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to access key strategic straits and archipelagic waters and to protect its high seas freedoms. Clearly, the U.S. government should retain any wealth derived from the U.S. extended continental shelf for the benefit of the American people rather than the unaccountable ISA.