LOST at Sea: Why America Should Reject the Law of the Sea Treaty

March 25, 2013

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, referred to as LOST, is an international treaty governing maritime law. LOST establishes the right for all nations to use the sea freely. Drafted in New York City between 1973 and 1982, the United States refused to ratify the Treaty based on arguments over national sovereignty. However, there are also strong economic and environmental reasons for why the U.S. Senate should continue to reject ratification, says Iain Murray, an adjunct fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

  • Prior to World War I, some nations claimed that the seas could be appropriated like land.
  • Following the war, many nations began to claim 12 mile limits on territorial waters, which became controversial for countries claiming fishing and natural resources rights.
  • LOST refers to the seabed, which is 200 nautical miles outside of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off the coast of every sovereign state, as the common heritage of mankind.

LOST sets up a governing organization called the International Seabed Authority ("the Authority"). It regulates the development and extraction of any resource outside of a nation's EEZ. The Authority levies fees equal to 1 percent of the value or volume after the first five years, increasing 1 percent per year until the twelfth year. By enacting these price controls, the Treaty artificially attempts to create stable prices. The Treaty also allows the Authority to set up an international version of a nationalized industry to extract resources.

  • Because the Treaty sets up a command and control regime, it is ineffective and will fail to allocate resources as effectively as the free market.
  • By imposing royalties and fees on sea-based mining, the Authority creates a competitive disadvantage for sea mining when competing against land-based mining.
  • The Treaty's arbitration powers have failed to settle any serious international dispute.
  • LOST also institutionalizes corruption by delegating power to a few individuals representing a few states, many of whom are unsavory and funnel any profits from the Treaty toward the ruling class of their country or even to terrorists.

The United States should continue to abstain from ratifying the Treaty because it does not create property rights and certainty for U.S. companies. The failed economic model the Treaty uses forces contractors to subsidize the Authority while providing a revenue stream for developing states and harmful regimes, which may decrease global welfare.

Source: Iain Murray, "LOST at Sea: Why America Should Reject the Law of the Sea Treaty," National Center for Policy Analysis, March 2013.

 

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