Senate Puts Off Treaty Ratification Until After Election Lawyer Says
By Suzy Valentine
A local attorney said plans to ratify a controversial maritime treaty may have been shelved until after the presidential election so the Republican Party wouldn’t lose the support of its far right.
Carlton Fields partner A. Joshua Markus, former head of the American Bar Association’s international-law section, has been a champion of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea but said he fears a minority is dragging its feet.
"Maybe Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist thought it would alienate the far right and they’d lose their vote as a result," said Mr. Markus. "I am told they are not pushing this before the election because they don’t want to rock the boat with their conservative base, the majority of whom don’t like multilateral treaties.
"We’re resigned now to the convention coming forward after the election. I think it’s been held back intentionally," he said.
"There’s a faction that’s comprised of former staffers of Sen. Jesse Helms who raised objections when it first came out. However, those predominantly defense issues have been cured. An open letter was sent out that addressed all of the concerns."
The convention, unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was tabled in 1994, and supporters had hoped that its 10-year anniversary would kick start discussions now that it is due for international review and modification.
The convention underwent radical amendment in 1996 as Sen. Helms and others expressed concern that provisions would hurt US sovereignty and defense policy. The committee voted unanimously Feb. 24 to send a resolution to the full Senate for advice and consent.
"It has languished ever since despite many attempts at pushing it forward," Mr. Markus said. "There’s nothing real unusual, though it’s worldwide and deals with controversial issues for some countries.
"One stumbling block in the convention was Chapter XI and its treatment of deep-seabed mining," said Mr. Markus. "In fact, the world exploration and mining sector has been very supportive of the convention from day one."
Bar association president Dennis W. Archer said the longer the US delays ratification, the less influence it will have if it is approved.
"The United States is ineligible to put forth a candidate for membership on the Outer Continental Shelf Commission, which is reviewing proposals and making recommendations on how states should define the boundaries of the outer continental shelf in places where the shelf extends beyond 200 miles," he said.
"As oil exploitation has become possible in these distant areas, certainty of jurisdiction is essential to stability and perhaps also to the energy security of this nation."
Mr. Markus said despite the delay, ratification wouldn’t be a partisan issue. He said he thinks the Senate will review the draft after the election Nov. 2.
"I know in DC, everybody on both sides of the aisle is for it to be ratified – it has to come to the floor."