The United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty now has 34 senators opposed to it and thus lacks the Senate votes needed for U.S. ratification, a key opponent of the treaty announced Monday.
But the treaty’s main Senate proponent denies the treaty is sunk, saying plenty of time still exists to win support before a planned late-year vote.
The Law of the Sea Treaty, which entered into force in 1994 and has been signed and ratified by 162 countries, establishes international laws governing the maritime rights of countries. The treaty has been signed but not ratified by the U.S., which would require two-thirds approval of the Senate.
Critics of the treaty argue that it would subject U.S. sovereignty to an international body, require American businesses to pay royalties for resource exploitation and subject the U.S. to unwieldy environmental regulations as defined.
The list of treaty opponents has been growing, and on Monday, Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican and a leader of efforts to block it, announced that four more Republicans have said that they would vote against ratification: Sens. Mike Johanns of Nebraka, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
"With 34 senators against the misguided treaty, LOST will not be ratified by the Senate this year," Mr. DeMint said in a statement on his website.
This head count of treaty opponents — if the number stands — would make it impossible to reach the 67 votes needed to ratify the pact, which Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, plans to bring to a vote.
But Mr. Kerry’s office dismissed Mr. DeMint’s tally, saying that vote counts taken months before a proposed vote are "just a snapshot of where our politics are in this instant."
"No letter or whip count changes the fact that rock-ribbed Republican businesses and the military and every living Republican secretary of state say that this needs to happen, and that’s why it’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ for the Law of the Sea," Kerry spokeswoman Jodi Seth said.
Ms. Seth said the senator decided long ago to delay requesting a vote on the treaty until after the November elections because "right now we’re in the middle of a white-hot political campaign season where ideology is running in overdrive."
"That’s why Sen. Kerry made it clear from Day One that there wouldn’t be a vote before the election and until everyone’s had the chance to evaluate the treaty on the facts and the merits away from the politics of the moment," she said.
Proponents of ratification argue that member nations are establishing rules of the sea that the U.S. would have to adhere to without a vote. They also argue that by ratifying the treaty, the U.S. would protect its claims and rights to mine America’s continental sea shelves and offshore waters for natural resources without interference from other countries or other entities.
Without ratification, U.S. energy companies won’t have the security they need to invest in exploring those areas for resources, supporters say.
The influential U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the treaty, saying it would be a boon to the U.S. economy by providing domestic companies "the legal certainty and stability they need to hire and invest."
"At any given time, hundreds of U.S. flag ships and ships owned by U.S. companies rely on the freedom of navigation rights codified in the treaty while crossing the world’s oceans," said chamber President and Chief Executive Thomas J. Donohue, testifying last month before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "While we can always rely on the U.S. Navy to ensure lawful passage of U.S.-flagged and owned ships, it only makes sense to join with the international community in establishing and protecting lawful passage on the high seas."
Treaty opponents say the Navy and merchant fleet do fine now and for decades previously without the pact’s freedom-of-the-seas guarantees. They also say the treaty seeks to transfer wealth from U.S. companies exploiting energy resources to poorer, landlocked countries — setting a dangerous precedence for wealth distribution.
Mr. Portman and Mrs. Ayotte, in a joint letter Monday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said that "after careful consideration" they concluded the treaty isn’t in the U.S. national interest.
"Proponents of the Law of the Sea Treaty aspire to admirable goals, including codifying the U.S. Navy’s navigational rights and defining American economic interests in valuable offshore resources," the senators wrote. "But the treaty’s terms reach well beyond those good intentions."
Mr. Kerry held three hearings this year on the treaty.
The first hearing brought together a rare joint appearance by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, as well as Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who testified in favor of ratifying the treaty. The second hearing brought together six four-star military officers, who also testified in favor of ratifying the treaty.
At the third, former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld testified against the treaty.
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