Is US Ratification of UNCLOS Doomed? Former US Defense Chief Rumsfeld Announces Opposition

by Julian Ku

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has an op-ed in the WSJ announcing his opposition to US ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  The op-ed is probably meant to soften the force of an earlier WSJ op-ed by former Republican Secretaries of State calling for US ratification. He is also testifying on Thursday at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.   Rumsfeld’s opposition may make a difference since the question of ratification is really a debate within conservative and Republican circles (Democrats appear to be fully on board).  Rumsfeld was the chief emissary of the Reagan Administration on the treaty negotiations back in 1982, and he presumably advised President Reagan to reject the treaty (which Reagan did).  On the other hand, the new 1994 version of the treaty was supposed to cure the problems Rumsfeld found in 1982.

Still, Rumsfeld appears to be pretty hard-core on this issue.  Rumsfeld’s opposition may have been one reason the Bush Administration did not aggressively push for ratification until 2007 (after he resigned from his post).  I think Rumsfeld’s opposition may be enough to get opponents to their magic number (34). I think opponents are already close to that anyway, so this may put them over the top. (I find this vote count by Mark Leon Goldberg fairly convincing. It is going to very close.).

What exactly is Rumsfeld’s objection to the treaty? What are the good (and bad) arguments for US ratification? Well, we at Opinio Juris are also interested in this question, which is why we are hosting an online debate on US ratification of UNCLOS starting tomorrow and extending into Friday. We’ll begin tomorrow with posts from supporters of US ratification and we’ll allow opponents to share their views on Friday.  I hope we can use this discussion to highlight what the real differences are between the two sides and what will likely influence the Senate’s ultimate decision on this question.

One Response

  1. Julian, the Bush Administration pushed for approval of the LOS Convention by the Senate in 2003-04 and Rumsfeld was Secretary and we didn’t hear a peep from him one way or the other.

    Rumsfeld’s fellow emissary, Ken Adelman, reviewed the Convention in greater depth than Rumsfeld and endorsed the Convention in 2007, as did George Shultz who had followed the LOS negations closely beginning 1973.

    In his article, Rumsfeld’s principal argument is that he doesn’t trust the United Nations and he thinks that the Seabed Authority is like the UN in spite of US veto potential on critical issues, accounting firm audits of the authority’s finance every two years, chambered voting and other provisions we have wanted to see in global organizations for ages. Basically, Rumsfeld’s article showed that he is poorly informed on the content of the Convention. 

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