Monday, November 12, 2007

Neoconservatives and International Relations

With little notoriety, a major political storm is brewing over the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). On one side, an impressive coalition has formed, uniting the Bush administration, business groups, environmentalists, oil companies, a large bipartisan majority of U.S. senators, and 155 different nations under one tent. On the other side, a small contingent of knee-jerk isolationists is threatening to sink a seemingly non-controversial treaty that would "create a system for negotiating drilling, mining, and fishing rights." Revealing their core distrust of multilateralism, a familiar cadre of right-wing voices such as former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, neconservative hawk Frank Gaffney, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), and others are aggressively attempting to thwart passage of the UNCLOS treaty. "The opposition to the Law of the Sea is based entirely on a visceral hatred for multilateral cooperation," writes Scott Paul, deputy director of government relations for Citizens for Global Solutions. "Its champions detest all forms of international organization and believe the purpose of international law is to constrain U.S. behavior." The same far-right ideologues who have argued that the United States should feel unencumbered by international law to go to war, torture, and pollute are now raising their heads in opposition to the UNCLOS treaty. For that reason, the convention is the "the perfect issue for progressives to rally around," writes The American Prospect's Kate Sheppard, because "it reveals the outrage from the outer edges of the right for what it really is: anti-cooperative isolationism that is both unfounded in fact and counter to American interests." Moreover, winning the battle over the Law of the Sea is an important step toward restoring America's international reputation and paving the path for future international agreements on climate change, weapons proliferation, and a host of other issues.

THE NEED FOR UNCLOS: Beginning in 1973 and ending in 1982, representatives from 160 nations met regularly under U.N. auspices to "hash out concerns about military navigation rights, territorial boundaries, environmental protections, and use of the ocean's resources." The convention also established tribunals that would resolve disputes that might arise between nations' interpretation of their sea rights. Since 1982, the Law of the Sea has languished without U.S. ratification. But new leadership in the Senate has bolstered hopes of passage. Seventy percent of the earth's surface is covered by ocean, and the mission of UNCLOS is to preserve marine resources for future generations. The treaty binds all nations to protect the "marine environment, protect fish stocks, and prevent pollution with as much care as the U.S. does." Former Republican Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schultz write that the longer the United States delays ratification, the more it "compromises our nation's authority to exercise its sovereign interests, jeopardizes its national and economic security, and limits its leadership role in international ocean policy." The UNCLOS would help address such issues as the current scrambling over the Arctic's mineral and energy reserves, helping stave off military confrontations that could arise.

HELD CAPTIVE BY THE FAR RIGHT: The far right has engaged in hyperbolic misrepresentations and fear-mongering to rally the activist base against the treaty. CNN's right-wing pundit Glenn Beck characterized it as a "socialist, globalist, elitist" accord. Inhofe, who annually leads an effort to defund the United Nations, called it the "greatest raid on sovereignty" in his lifetime. Bolton has been lobbying lawmakers to oppose the treaty, despite the fact that just a couple of years ago, he repeatedly advocated for it. Gaffney has formed the Coalition to Preserve American Sovereignty, which is stoking fear in the right-wing base over the impact of a multi-national sea accord. Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-MS) has pledged his opposition, explaining, "I'm not going to get in a twit about what the Swiss or Belgians may think about us." Sens. John Sununu (R-NH), Norm Coleman (R-MN), and George Voinovich (R-OH), who all voted for the Law of the Sea in 2004, are now reconsidering their votes in a clear pander to the activists. Even the Republican presidential candidates are chiming in. "Let's stop the Law of Sea Treaty," former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said recently at the Values Voters Summit, drawing an ovation from religious conservatives.

A TEST FOR PROGRESSIVES: The battle of the UNCLOS treaty is a defining issue for progressives, both because it reveals the failed unilateralist approach and restores the principles of global cooperation. "You have an agreement that's endorsed by a Republican president, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard, an overwhelming number of senators from both political parties, business groups, trade associations, and you already have 155 countries that are party to the treaty. It seems like if you can't get that through, I don't know what kind of treaty you can get through the Senate," said Spencer Boyer, director of international law and diplomacy for the Center for American Progress. Scott Paul, who has been spearheading the awareness campaign on the left, adds, "Winning the ratification battle would seriously de-fang the same pugnacious nationalists who are on the opposite side of almost every important foreign policy issue facing the U.S."

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