The treaty still establishes what looks like a second United Nations. The multinational authority is run by a comically complicated system of assembly, council and various commissions and committees. Private companies would not only have to run the authority’s regulatory gamut to win mining approval but would also have to subsidize the authority-controlled enterprise.
Of particular concern is the integrity of American technology, some of which might have military applications. The treaty still requires member governments to facilitate technology transfers to Third World miners as well as the enterprise if they are “unable to obtain” the necessary equipment commercially, whatever that ends up meaning.
Nor is there any reason to believe that the authority, to which America would be the largest contributor, would escape the numerous perverse incentives which afflict the United Nations. The United States possesses an uncertain ability to block bad initiatives and would be forced to make concessions to win support from developing states, which also possess effective veto power.
Some treaty advocates point out that seabed mining remains a distant prospect and ask: Who cares if this aspect of the convention remains flawed? But someday seabed resources might be worth recovering. Moreover, the undesirable precedents set by the treaty could have long-lasting impacts in other areas.
The Bush administration should withdraw the treaty from the Senate. If the administration fails to fulfill its responsibility, the Senate should reject the treaty.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A special assistant to President Reagan, he served on the U.S. delegation to the Third U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea.
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