By John Cronin
Melting Arctic sea ice presents economic opportunities for which the United States must compete, according to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in testimony supporting ratification of the Law of the Seas Treaty before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday:
As the Arctic warms and frees up shipping routes it is more important that we put our navigational rights on a treaty footing and have a larger voice in the interpretation and development of the rules because it won’t just be the five Arctic nations, you will see China, India, Brazil, you name it, all vying for navigational rights and routes through the Arctic. The framework we should establish is the one in the Convention that will help us deal with expanded human activity in the Arctic.
This little noted piece of testimony by Secretary Clinton, given in response to questioning by committee member Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, is a spin on the economic opportunities of climate change that departs from the clean technologies, green branding, and carbon trading that are the usual fare of climate discussions. Andrew Revkin, my colleague at Pace University, covered the Navy’s take on this in a March 10, 2011 post on his NY Times Dot Earth blog.
Appearing with Clinton were Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — an unusual trio, even for Capitol Hill. They testified that by laying claim to America’s continental shelf and navigational rights through the treaty new opportunities for American business and military interests will open. They also assured committee members the treaty will make no new requirements of the United States with regard to carbon emissions or other types of climate mitigation.
Buried in arcane detail, during almost three hours of testimony, the discussion of the opening of the Arctic to regular navigation passed quickly. But it underlies the emerging economic opportunities promoted by treaty supporters, such as the US Chamber of Commerce:
The treaty provides certainty in accessing resources in the Arctic and Antarctic and could ultimately enable American businesses to explore the vast natural resources contained in the seabeds in those areas. =>
It can strengthen our hand against China and others, which are staking out claims in the Pacific, the Arctic or elsewhere. It is designed to give our oil and gas companies the certainty they need to make crucial investments to secure our energy future. It puts our telecommunications companies on equal footing with foreign competitors. And it will help secure access to rare earth minerals, which we need for computers, cellphones and weapons systems that allow us to live and work day in and day out.
Ratification of Law of the Sea has dogged administrations, Repbulican and Democratic, for decades. American business interests, such as the Chamber, overwhelmingly favor the treaty. But a group of Senate conservatives, led by Senator Jim Demint, R-SC, argue it undermines American economic, environmental and sovereignty interests, and will result in the redistribution of American wealth to poorer nations.
Support for the treaty has a bi-partisan history due in great part to its promise of opportunities for navigation, communications, and exploitation of the ocean floor. In a 2005 response to written questions submitted during her nomination process for Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice wrote:
Joining the Convention would facilitate deep seabed mining activities of U.S. companies, which require legal certainty to carry out such activities in areas beyond U.S. jurisdiction. The Convention also accords the coastal State sovereign rights over living marine resources, including fisheries, in its exclusive economic zone, i.e., out to 200 nautical miles from shore.The Convention protects the freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines, whether military, commercial, or research.
Secretary Clinton irritated Republican members when she undiplomatically stated it was time to dispel the “ideology” and “mythology” of the treaty, and promised that it would not bring on “black helicopters.” Chairman Kerry eased hearing room tensions a bit when he announced that he will keep the treaty “out of the hurly-burly of presidential politics,” and postpone a vote until after the elections.