Center for Strategic Communication

Last month, former Secretary of State Jim Baker gave a wide ranging speech at the Arctic Imperative Summit.

During the speech, entitled “The U.S.-Russian Relationship Vis-à-vis the Arctic Circle”, he spoke about the pending ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Secretary Baker noted:

One place where the United States and Russia have an opportunity to iron out differences regarding the Arctic Circle is via Law of the Sea Convention. The Convention defines the rights and responsibilities of nations in their use of much of the world’s oceans by establishing guidelines for business, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources. The agreement was designed, in part, to bring order to use of oceans and seas that are not part of a country’s 200-mile economic zone.

The Law of the Sea Convention is particularly important to the United States, Russia and a handful of other nations with access to the continental shelves that stretch from their shores into the Arctic Ocean because it allows those countries to lay claim to the sea beds further than 200 miles from land. Beneath the continental shelves restmany precious natural resources. And above them are the two arctic shippingpassages.

The United States exclusive zone would be larger than that of any country in the world — covering an area greater than the landmass of the lower 48 states.

Since the Convention was concluded in 1982, 161 countries and the European Community have joined in the Convention. Those countries are currently working together to map the continental shelf in an effort to determine how far each country can lay claim to resources, shipping lanes and fishing areas.

The United States, however, lacks an active voice in that process because it and 34 other nations, including Libya and North Korea, have not joined the convention. It was once thought that after this November’s election, the U.S. Senate would be expected to take up ratification of the treaty, which requires 67 Senate votes.

However, despite strong support from the Pentagon, the oil industry, fishing concerns and shippers, the ratification effort currently faces a very tough road in the Senate. That is unfortunatebecause the world and its environment are changing. And these changes and the resulting economic effects are now the substance of serious international deliberations of which we are not a part.

Until the treaty is ratified, the United States  has limited options for disputing  claims that Russia or other countries might make to resources. Further, lack of participation in the convention also jeopardizes our ability to secure economic opportunities associated with commercial deep-sea mining operations in international waters beyond exclusive economic zones — opportunities now pursued by Russia and by Canadian, Australian and German firms.

Companies like Exxon and Shell Oil, backed by the U.S. oil and gas industry,  support U.S. ratification of the treaty even though it requires member nations to make royalty payments to the International Seabed Authority based on the value of production. As John Bellimger has said, in recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Shell President Marvin Odum saidthat the royalty rates set forth in the Convention are acceptable to the company, which would ultimately pay them. In return, Shell would receive the legal certainty that it needs in order to spend the large amounts of money required to drill for oil in the area.

Meanwhile, maritime claims not only in the Arctic but throughout the world are becoming more contentious. As aggressive maritime behavior increases, the U.S. military has become more, not less, emphatic on the need to become party to this treaty. Current and pastmilitary leaders are firmly behind accession, because the treaty supports the freedoms of navigation and over flight throughout the world’s oceans upon which American military power depends. Furthermore, the agreement contains the only realistic rules for peacefully settling maritime boundary disputes.

One reason the treaty is not getting enough support on Capitol Hill is because some senators, Republicans in particular, believe that President Ronald Reagan would not support the treaty were he alive today. As someone President Reagan’s White House Chief of Staff at the time, I am well aware of his concerns that the United States would lose some sovereignty if it joined the convention as it was proposed in 1982. The Gipper’s concerns and persistent opposition paid off and since then, amendments have been made to the convention that reflect his stance. Today, the convention has the support of both of the Republicans Presidents who followed Reagan into the White House as well as every living former Republican Secretary of State.

But ladies and gentlemen, time moves on and if we are not at the table to defend our interests, it will pose a serious problem and a significant cost for future generations of Americans.

You can find more information about the Law of the Sea Treaty here.

To note: the above quotes are taken from Secretary Bakers prepared remarks


You can see the full video of Secretary Baker’s remarks below: