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October 30, 2007

Linking Environment and National Security: Law of the Sea
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Last week I had breakfast with a friend who works in the Senate as a national security staffer. In years past, we worked together in Congress and frequently schemed to get issues like climate change onto the national security agendas of staff and Members. Given Al Gore's Nobel Prize, the fact that the Pentagon had released a study linking the two issues, plus the discrediting of much of Bush foreign policy, I asked him about the recent turnaround in perceptions about the seriousness of climate change: was it having an impact on framing the urgency of the issue on Capitol Hill?

He said climate change has bumped up the environment a little bit...but that linking the two essentially remains a tough sell. It helps that the House now has a climate change panel, and that our overdue obsession with energy issues brings the environment in on the margin....but that it was hard to make headway given oversight logjams on issues like military privatization (which was basically ignored for a decade) plus the constant soundtrack on Iraq. Plus the learning curve is made even more steep by the lack of a clear vocabulary, including local anecdotes, linking the environment with national security.

Although the traction is improving, progressives need a long term plan that includes both policy options and a communications strategy that will link environment with security. Like many challenges that involve the common good and extended public deliberation, nothing can be taken for granted since the Right has filled the quiet spaces with an intentional misinformation campaign. We have a chance this week to reverse this situation:

The Law of the Sea Treaty will be considered in the Senate on Wednesday. If you care about broadening the definition of security to include global issues like climate, health, migration or water just to name a few-- then pay attention...

The importance of this treat is both long term and strategic, and also politically tactical: First if the US signs this treaty, we begin to regain our lost legitimacy in the world and second we will move past a decade's worth of junk science foisted on the public--information that obscured urgent messages about crises in our natural world.

The Law of the Sea Treaty has the most broad coalition of support that I personally have ever seen. For all the weenie-details go here..

From the American Petroleum Institute to the Ocean Conservancy to the Navy--each of these groups recognizes our own self-interest in signing this treaty and being present at the table where important policies are discussed. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up this issue on Wednesday, (tomorrow!). Three years ago, then Chairman Richard Lugar maneuvered it out of committee with unanimous approval but it never made it to the Senate floor for a vote. Last I heard, the undecided Members of the committee were: Issacson (Ga) Corker(TN) Coleman (MN) Sununu (NH) Voinovich (OH). Now, only one of these states is actually on the ocean, but every single one of them will benefit from the USA re-joining the rest of the world in a constructive way and taking up our traditional mantle of teamwork, prevention, respect for international law and problem solving cooperation.

There is a huge upside to America signing this treaty versus a negligible downside. At the end of the day, the Law of the Sea detractors are global anti-socials whose preferred method of interaction for nearly every international problem is physical intimidation.

And this chorus may be wrong, but they are loud. People who think the only legitimate use of tax payer dollars are bigger and more sprockety weapons platforms (and whose manufacturer's corporate boards give huge amounts of those dollars to their favored scary candidates) for sure are not going to support international law. They likely don't even believe it exists. What is astonishing is that these same people who claim some kind of corner on national security haven't been listening to our own military. Besides supporting international treaties for the most part, j ust about every General who has testified on Iraq lately says that we can't solve today's problems with the same set of tools anymore. Yeah, I know, we're talking about linking environment and national security, but the basic theme rings true. We must start talking, thinking and framing these issues differently and our elected leaders need to build a new set of national security tools. The Law of the Sea Treaty will directly impact US national security--our absence at the table in fact already has.

A special note to Senators who are going to vote on Wednesday: Just keep in mind that the people arguing against this treaty are by and large the same gang who gave us "they will greet us with flowers" arguments in favor of invading Iraq. The only microphone these types should be allowed near is that hand-held Karaoke set with sing along tapes that you can get at K Mart.


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The disconnect between the people dealing with ocean issues and the opponents could hardly be greater. Yesterday two of the opponents decided to broaden their attack on the convention to include a protocol for the Caribbean regional seas program. Taunting it as the 'toilet bowl treaty' because it includes the need to address human sanitation as well as land runoff in protection the marine environment, they claimed that this was an example of how the LOS Convention and other international agreements would regulate activities in the US. Even President Bush's statement that the US already exceeded the requirements of the Protocol were waved away on the grounds that foreigners and lawyers who hate America might somehow impose restrictions on the US that didn't apply to the poor areas that lack even basic sanitation systems and need programs and funding to develop them.

What the fuss is about is not marine environment, maritime trade or national security - it is about America and the world. Opponents of the Convention largely want to stop any agreement that requires anything of the US, even in our own interest, and they desperately want to avoid anything that supports regulation - even when the regulations and standards have been in place for the US since the days of Lyndon Johnson.

The core of the opposition is well described as consisting of fewer than a dozen right wing, ivory tower zealots who have the networks and the funding to mobilize their grassroots based on gross misrepresentations of the Convention. Win or lose, this year's experience with the LOS Convention should be taken as a learning example of how the right wing uses fear and greed to mobilize a large base, even (or perhaps especially) when they have no knowledge or direct interest in the issue.

Lorelei: Although I agree wholeheartedly with this post, I think you (and Caitlyn, in comments) underestimate the strength of the Congressional opposition to the UNCLOS. Yes, the treaty-opponents are few in number (and very loud) - and true also that their objections to the US finally (after what, 25 years?) formally ratifying a treaty we have been honoring de facto all along is based mainly on paranoiac xenophobia (UN-bashing strain).

But unfortunately, it doesn't take very many Senators to block a treaty-ratification: since 67 votes are needed to pass, a determined minority can probably (in the absence of any great impetus to do otherwise) pressure just enough fellow-Senators to scuttle it. This, I guess, is the downside of the US' following the LOST's regulations anyway: a "Yes" vote will not really change anything much, while a "No" vote on what (to most Americans, surely) is a fairly arcane issue, can be cast as sop to the isolationist/imperialist wingnuts without much blowback.

Well, other than to the environment, and international law, that is: but since when have the American Right cared much about them anyway?

Hello Lorelei. Thanks so much for covering this issue. Some of us have been beating the drum very hard on it and your input is invaluable. You're also exactly right. The black helicopter crowd is certainly loud.

Jay, I don't underestimate the opposition's capability - for three years I have tracked the messages from the source in DC think tanks to the outfall in the grassroots of the right. I just hope I don't overestimate the commitment of the people who support the convention. E-mail messages are of limited impact on the hill, but the opposition can turn then out by the thousands. On the other hand, letters and, to a lesser degree, faxes are taken much more seriously and I hope that supporters of progressive policies, generally more intellectual than the denizens of Liberty Post, Fire Society, Free Republic and the like, will take the time to write a short letter expressing support not just for the Convention but for a foreign policy that engages with other countries, builds partnerships and holds conflict as a last resort rather than a first.

One downside of being outside the convention is totally security related: countries with whom we want effective partnerships in blocking proliferation at sea or patrolling critical straits tell us they wn't join us - they don't trust us because we won't sign a convention that protects their sovereign rights from a US they see as increasingly aggressive and intrusive. We say we are willing to abide by the terms of the convention but won't actually sign, and that gives smaller countries concern about working with us.

For another downside of being outside the convention, consider that Russia's only legal commitment to avoid polluting the Arctic Ocean are the provisions on the protection of the marine environment contained in the Law of the Sea Convention. We already fulfill the requirements of the convention, but by being outside of it we lose our legal leverage over Russian development in that region and if you look at a map of the Russian watershed, you will see that all of north central asia will empty northward, and as warmer climates over territory and rivers for development, we could set the Arctic Ocean fall from pristine to muck in short order. We could put the convention to work, even if just as leverage to develop a marine environmental protection regime for the Arctic before it is too late. But we can't do that because, for whatever reason, we won't put our money where our mouth is.

I've started to view the LOS Convention as a test of whether progressives really have the commitment to take charge of foreign policy. Will see tomorrow and over the next four months.

Anyone who backs the Law of Sea Treaty is a disloyal American. Read it. It would cost America its sovereignty! No, matter your political party affiliation, and setting aside your thoughts on issues. We all need to remember what it is to be an American Citizen. We need to make sure our elected representatives obey their Oath of Office and keep their Oath of Allegiance. See Know whom you are voting for.

Dear Lorelei, Caityln, and Taylor,

Perhaps Americans should look at the facts on the ground and in the waters surrounding the UNCLOS before they let their utopian ideology take over and sway their otherwise rational thinking.

If we all dealt with facts rather than ideology, we would be able to advance the debate and move the ball forward constructively.

Look at the bright side, given the contributions from both sides of the UNCLOS ratification debate, more and more people are finding out about the extensive reach that this treaty would have on the everyday lives of Americans. Wouldn't you say it is better to engage in vigorous Socratic debate than to succumb to ideology? Is not a public debate better than no debate at all? Are we not all, in some way, fighting the same problem - namely, are we all not engaged in the battle against ignorance, apathy and bad ideas?

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