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National Security Insiders: Senate Should Ratify Law of the Sea Treaty

With Senate Republicans claiming that they can sink the Law of the Sea Treaty if it ever comes to the floor, nearly all of National Journal’s National Security Insiders believe that the chamber should ratify the accord governing ocean rights.

Ninety-one percent of Insiders believe that it’s time for the Senate to ratify the treaty under a renewed push by the Obama administration and Senate Democrats. “U.S. military leaders, minerals and energy investors, and fishing and environmental interests want clarity on U.S. rights and privileges,” one Insider said. “As China increases its spurious claim to control the South China Sea, and as Russia becomes more able to operate in waters along its northern coast, the Law of the Sea Treaty will provide widely respected guidelines that are likely to reduce the scope for misinterpretation and disputes.”


The Law of the Sea Treaty basically codifies current international maritime practices and relationships, one Insider argued. “It is shameful that this has been languishing so long. Failure to sign so far is yet another example of our hypocrisy—expecting other countries to behave according to international norms and conventions while at the same time considering ourselves ‘exceptional’ and therefore above such collective action.”

Another Insider said that “circumstances have changed” since Congress refused to ratify the treaty, which has languished in the Senate since 1994. “The objections that made sense then don't make sense now,” the Insider said.

Opponents argue that the treaty infringes upon U.S. sovereignty and forces the United States to abide by international environmental restrictions, while making American companies pay royalties to a United Nations body. With a slew of U.S. businesses coming out in support of the treaty, however, one Insider noted: “When the military, the business community, environmentalists, and the [Chamber of Commerce] are all on board, that's a pretty good sign.”


The political timing of the renewed push couldn't be worse, one Insider said. “One wonders if Democrats are really that naive to bring this up in an election year, when Republicans get closer to their right wing and won't risk alienation.”

Separately, 79 percent of Insiders said that Mitt Romney’s foreign trip as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee to Great Britain, Israel, and Poland would not move the needle for American voters. “For most Americans, it will be forgotten by next week. The pointless trip is mainly to win as much support from Jewish and pro-Israel votes as possible,” one Insider said.

This trip won't affect the campaign, one Insider said, but neither will anything President Obama does about foreign policy. “Barring an international crisis, this election will be about the economy, so this trip is more about checking a box rather than changing voters’ minds,” one Insider said.

While several Insiders said that this election is dominated by economic issues and foreign policy is unimportant, 19 percent said that Romney’s trip will affect voters’ opinions. “Only if Romney can raise his level of discourse to demonstrate he has command of the critical issues that affect our national interests as opposed to seeking the votes of U.S. citizens living abroad,” one Insider said.


But some of those Insiders said that the trip would be unhelpful for his campaign efforts. “Romney's ‘listening tour’ will compare unfavorably with Obama's highly substantive 2008 trip, likely adding to Obama's lead on national security issues,” one Insider said. “The fundraising features of the Romney trip are ill-considered and unattractive for a candidate seeking to establish global credentials.”

1. Should the Senate ratify the Law of the Sea treaty?

(57 votes)

  • Yes 91%
  • No 9%


“These rules, not the U.S. Navy, are key to the United States being able to benefit from the resources of the sea.”

“Failure to ratify undermines our authority in critical territorial disputes like the South China Sea, with no countermanding benefits to America.”

“Ratifying this treaty has bipartisan support and should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, ‘no brains’ is the standard operating procedure of the Senate of late.”

“The value of this treaty, which is beyond undeniable, has been lost [in] ideological rhetoric, which has eroded our standing in the international community but moreover has precluded us from using the force of international law to protect our interests, much to the glee of the Chinese and Russian governments.”

“It has been thoroughly vetted. There are more pluses than minuses.”

“The main arguments that have been made against it, regarding supposed infringements of sovereignty, are simply untrue.”

“The United States is at a significant tactical, commercial, and legal disadvantage because of its failure to ratify the treaty.”

‘Of course it should ratify the treaty, since [the treaty] is a key piece of international architecture needed to reprimand China for its incursions in the South China Sea, manage the thawing Arctic waterways, and otherwise show that law, not force, can guide international interactions. However, the ‘black helicopter’ crowd that sees menace in all things international will prevent the United States from even ratifying this ‘establishment’ tool.”

“Historians will regard this anti-international law/institutions domestic political impulse as a contributor to the demise of a stable international commercial and security system—the context in which America has flourished since World War II.”

“This treaty does not subvert U.S. sovereignty but in fact will help settle many claims that are pending.”

“I know a few organizations and voices have expressed opposition, but the overwhelming consensus is in favor. And to be honest, I've listened to the supposed reasons for opposition and looked very carefully myself at the text and listened to conservative voices that I trust. I just don't see a reason to oppose it.”

“Despite the drawbacks, this is the best tool for the United States to force the Chinese to accept some degree of international maritime legal standards. Conflict in the South China Sea is more likely without it.”

2. Will Mitt Romney's foreign trip move the needle for American voters?

(58 votes)

  • No 79%
  • Yes 21%


“Foreign trips rarely provide a boost for a candidate.”

“American voters believe that Mitt Romney's foreign policy to date consists of shipping jobs overseas. Nothing he does on this trip will change that.”

“This is an election that is focused in a major way on the health of the economy; it is unlikely that presidential candidate Romney will be able to move the needle because of foreign-policy issues.”

“Foreign events may move foreign policy and national security to the top of the electoral agenda, but campaign activities won’t.”

“The only people interested have already made up their voting minds.”

“President Obama's record is strong on foreign policy and national security: ending the war in Iraq, making the call to go after bin Laden, and more. Assuming that the President does not let Romney define the administration's record, President Obama should come out on top.”

“American voters, if they vote, care about their jobs. Getting them, keeping them. A few voters will take note of the trip, and in key states that might be very important. But the majority of voters don't care.”

“The economy, the economy, the economy.”

“The trip checks a box on the candidate's to-do list, but Governor Romney's foreign-policy pronouncements have been characterized mainly by their lack of specific alternatives to the incumbent's policies.”

“No substance from Romney so far—the political attacks to date are too broad and ill-focused to have effect.”

“Romney's trip is nothing more than political posturing and certainly shows he is more interested in his own personal ambition than that of serving America's broader interests. Some may complain that Obama did a similar trip when he was running, but he was also a sitting senator.”

“Foreign policy isn't salient, plus Obama's foreign policy is popular. Robert Gibbs was probably right to suggest that the trip is ‘almost entirely built around fundraising.’ ”

“Half of Romney's party leans isolationist, the other half interventionist neocon—rendering him structurally incapable of taking foreign-policy positions of substance without antagonizing half of his base. Get ready for a week of empty platitudes, signifying nothing.”

“While the trip won't hurt Governor Romney, it won't make much difference to the average American voter unless there's a big gaffe.”

“Romney's trip checks a box. It can only affect voters if he makes mistakes. His objective is to be seen to be presidential. It will be high on photo ops and low on substance. Failure to take such a trip would raise questions. But doing so will make the issue go away, but for a small group of Beltway chatterers.”

“He didn't kill bin Laden.”

“This race will be about the economy. Period.”


“For selected groups—but perhaps in the wrong direction, e.g., for those that do not want to make China an enemy.”

“Romney's sojourn abroad, especially his visit to Israel (where Obama has yet to go), will lessen his disadvantage on foreign policy and allow him to strengthen his appeal to American Jews and evangelical Christians. But it will not be enough to enable Romney to make foreign policy an appealing issue in the campaign.”

“Yes, the needle will move—positively or negatively depending upon the ‘wing’ it currently inhabits—to the chauvinism and subtle arrogance of Romney's atavistic world view.”

National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts.

They are:


Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, and Dov Zakheim.

This article appears in the July 31, 2012 edition of NJ Daily.

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