In a rare showing of military and diplomatic cooperation on a key issue, the Obama administration's top leaders made the argument for the United States to formally accede to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) at a Senate hearing Wednesday.
"[UNCLOS] would give us the opportunity to be able to engage when it comes to navigational freedoms and navigational rights," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.).
"We can argue for those now. We can do what we do. But very frankly, we have undermined our moral authority by not having a seat at the table for making the argument for these rights," Dempsey said.
"This would in no way inhibit our ability to conduct intelligence operations," Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta added.
"We have not been able to realize all of the potential benefits because we are not a party to the treaty," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, adding the U.S. is unable to reap UNCLOS's positive aspects such as sponsoring American companies to mine deep sea beds for precious metals rare earth elements.
All three witnesses also made clear UNCLOS would aid the U.S. in responding to growing Chinese naval power in the South and East China Seas by allowing us to be a party in diplomatic negotiations with effected parties, such as U.S. treaty allies Japan and the Philippines.
"The fact that we are not a party really undermines our position" during diplomatic negotiations, Clinton told Kerry.
The United States is the only major international power that has not ratified the treaty, although every administration since Reagan has supported UNCLOS. Congressional Republicans are in opposition to the treaty, saying it is a diplomatic "dinosaur" that is unneeded because the U.S. already has the inferred global power to undertake all of the "benefits" in the treaty.
Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), in his opening remarks, said another hearing would be needed to see how much change would need to be made to our naval power if the U.S. ratified the treaty.
However, when asked if any changes would need to be made to U.S. military policy or numbers, Gen. Dempsey said "it would not" adding "I believe it would not harm us in any way" when asked if the treaty would restrain our ability to carry out our military goals.
"When 160 nations acceded to it and we say to 'hell with them'...then 160 nations will determine what happens and we're not going to be there," Panetta said.
The hearing Wednesday is a further step by the Obama administration to push ratification of the treaty. Panetta already came out strongly for the treaty in March, delivering a speech meant to rally support for the issue. UNCLOS will also come up in the general election this year as a major foreign policy staple of the President's.
by RTT Staff Writer
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