The USA doesn't participate in the United Nations treaty referred to as The Law Of The Sea, and as a result, we're missing out big time.


by Jeff Jackson, 5/15/24

5/14/202410 min read

The Law Of The Sea

[The following are highlights from an episode of CBS’s “60 Minutes,” which aired on 3/2424. A few of the statements are mine (in italics), thrown in here and there for emphasis. ]

[My commentary is at the end.]

There’s a bonanza going on in the deep sea. For a 1000 mile stretch of sea, between Mexico and Hawaii, important metals (cobalt, nickel, manganese, copper) are being harvested off the ocean floor, in the form of small rocks of concentrated ore.

How are these important metals are being mined from the bottom of the sea? Potato-sized rocks of raw ore are being essentially vacuumed off the sea floor, into large containers, which are then hoisted to the surface. The minerals are processed onshore, separated and refined for use in high-technology devices.

There minerals are vital for next-generation electronics, everything from electric vehicles to defense electronics.

But the USA isn’t taking part in these deep-sea mining operations.

So far, 168 countries have signed on to the United Nation’s Convention for the “Law of the Sea” (UNCLOS, see sidebar). This International Law essentially divvies up the international seabed for mining operations, among other things. One country with the biggest footprint in the sea is the People’s Republic of China, which is lined up to dominate the seabed mining industry. However, the US has still not signed on.

Other countries (especially China) are testing giant robots that vacuum the sea floor, building ships, and putting into place the mining infrastructure to recover these rich balls of metal ore that are scattered across the sea floor. China has 5 parcels, over 90,000 square miles. The US has…zero.

Why isn’t the US taking part in this bonanza? We have the most to gain from it, and conversely, the most to lose by not harvesting these minerals. We certainly use and need them, but we will be forced to buy them from another country. (Buy from China? If they’ll sell to us…and at what price?!)

The impediment is a group of US Senators who have been standing in the way. They say that ratifying such a law by the United Nations “subjugates America’s power.”

(Here’s the gist: Remember, the UN was established at the behest of the USA after WWII. So, on one hand, the rest of the world, including China, is abiding by this law and convention established by the United Nations governing the world’s oceans that lie outside of any nation’s boundaries. But on the other hand, these US Senators are saying essentially, that “American businesses don’t need to ask permission from the United Nations to do whatever they want.” That’s what they mean by “subjugating US business interests.”)

As a result, the US is blocked from even having a toehold in this exotic metal bonanza, by its refusal to ratify this International Law established by the United Nations.

John Billinger is a partner in a DC Law Firm Arnold & Porter, and in 2012 he testified in favor of the law at Senate Hearings, as former legal advisor to George W. Bush. He says, “The US isn’t even on the playing field here, by not being party to the Law of the Sea convention. We have the most to gain by taking part, and conversely, the most to lose by not taking part.” (paraphrased)

At the time, the Law had such widespread support, he assumed the US ratifying it would be a slam dunk. In addition to being backed by George W. Bush, the US Military, US Intelligence agencies, American business interests, environmental groups, and on down the line, were all in support. “It’s one of the few times that the military, Intelligence, business and environmental groups are all in agreement.”

Yet it failed. It seems that the conservative Heritage Group had heavily lobbied US Senators and turned 34 against it, with the idea that it would “subjugate US business interests.” This opinion was nothing more than a kneejerk opposition, not based on national security, business, military, or any other objectives, no other policies, interests or scientific concerns. It really makes no logical sense, and goes against everything that does. And yet, they’re still holding firm, despite the US standing on the sidelines, watching as China and other countries scoop up prized minerals in one part of the world, all the while harassing US warships in other parts.

Meanwhile, while the US cannot get its act together in Congress, China has made deep-sea mining a national priority. Even though they have a near-monopoly of these minerals on land, now they stand to put a lock on these valuable, critical minerals in international waters.

Since 2012, what has changed? Mostly the People’s Republic of China. They have grown more assertive, particularly in the South China sea, where they have been harassing US warships, throwing any caution to the wind.

This plays out in situations where Chinese military vessels have come in close contact—and even at times literally scraping against—US warships. There have been quite a few “close calls,” where the damage was minimal. Chinese military vessels have been pushing the boundaries, antagonizing US military vessels by strafing them with jets, shooting water cannons at them from other ships, flashing military-grade lasers at them, interfering with navigation, and other “playful” dangerous assaults.

Because, here’s the thing. UNCLOS not only codifies deep sea mining, but also plays a significant role in all countries being able to safely navigate in international waters. And, since the US doesn’t take a position on this convention, they have nowhere to stand when these aggressive behaviors play out in international waters, where the stakes are very high. And nobody to complain to.

US Ambassador John Negroponte points out that, as long as the US doesn’t even sit at the table for this international law and convention, it has no say as plots of ocean floor are divvied up for mining among other countries. We’re conceding everything, we’re not even eligible for “consideration.”

Furthermore, the US has no say in drafting environmental laws regarding mining the deep. With China being the heavyweight, they will likely take point in all of it. Negroponte points out, “Who would you rather have to write the environmental rules for deep-sea mining, the US or China?”

Steven Groves, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Heritage Foundation, says, “It just doesn’t make sense to say, these minerals that are so important to the US, let’s put an international bureaucracy in charge of giving us access to them.” In 2012, his feelings were that the US didn’t need anyone’s permission to mine them.

(His views haven’t changed since then. In an interview that I watched on “60 Minutes,” his logic was circular and nonsensical. He claims that “businesses have determined that it’s not economically viable.” (Not economically viable to scoop up concentrated valuable minerals off the sea floor? Who says?!))

Lockheed, the only large US company to have ever been involved in the deep-sea mining, quit because it didn’t have a legal way to go about it. The company says that a legal avenue is the only thing stopping them from the mining of the sea floor.

(Meanwhile, China builds giant mobile vacuum-robots and other equipment to mine the ore….)

(Basically, for this deep-sea mining, all you need is a large robot with tracks, to be able to move around on the sea floor. Your robot will need a large container (vat) to put the ore in, and a heavy-duty vacuum to suck up the ore, into the vat. You also need some spare vats—and a winch, so you can continue vacuuming while you’re winching the other vats up to the ship to dump into the ship’s cargo hold. And, of course, you’ll need fuel for the ships, electric power for the robots.)

Last week, a letter signed by 346 former political, national security, and military leaders, warned that China is taking advantage of the US’s absence in the treaty to pursue overall naval superiority.

“In the last decade, China has built 20% more warships by tonnage than the US; they’ve built 160 warships where the US has built 66. It’s a truly massive expansion in naval power.” This statement was made by Thomas Shugart, a former US submarine warfare officer, and a Senior Fellow at the Center for A New American Security in an interview for CBS’s “60 Minutes.” He says that China is flexing its maritime muscles by claiming the South China Sea as its private ocean. It has challenged the Treaty’s navigation laws, by harassing passing ships, especially US Navy ships.

But the fact that the US is outside the treaty clearly undercuts its credibility, since we have no claim to navigation standards or courtesies. “We’re in a battle for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the rest of the world’s populations,” says Thomas Shugart.

In other words, we have no standing to complain, and nobody to complain to. And we don’t want to escalate things, either, by firing weapons at the Chinese warships. That would surely start WWIII.

Shugart goes on to assume that the deep-sea miners have a second mission which is to collect information for the Chinese military. “By collecting data about the topography of the ocean floor, the temperatures, salinity levels, and so forth, the Chinese military has access to that information.” The more they know the environment, that gives them an advantage when navigating their own submarines, and to whit, in locating US and Allied submarines that could be operating in the area.

CBS’s “60 Minutes” reporters queried the US Senate to find out where things stand on this matter today. They found that positions have largely remained the same over the last 12 years.

Meanwhile, China is forging ahead..

My Commentary:

I consider myself to be a patriot; but I am definitely not a nationalist. However, there are some national interests which I believe should be a priority for all of us. This is one of them.

I truly believe our national security depends on us getting serious about supporting UNCLOS, and being aggressively involved in writing the policies for environmental standards for deep sea mining. More importantly, we need to get out there and get busy conducting our own mining operations. That’s imperative for the future of our country.

Perhaps then, China’s military will be less aggressive harassing our navy warships. At least then we’ll have a standing for making formal complaints, and the UN does have provisions for conflict resolution.

I was aware that China was harassing our Navy’s ships, but I didn’t realize why. I thought China was “just being China.” But now I understand that, at least partially, it’s because we have no standing in the Law of the Sea treaty. They’re throwing it in our faces.

I believe in “America’s might.” I am proud of our country’s history, from the very beginning, when it was established from a British colony, up to and including how we entered WWII and essentially “saved the world.” And the technological revolution that has followed since then. I believe in the might of America’s industry as well, though lately I think it’s floundering (I won’t get into that here.)

But I also believe in global cooperation, and that’s why I am for the United Nations. If we’re going to operate in a global economy—and believe me, we need to do that—then we need to abide by the mechanisms put into place by the rest of the cooperating world. That’s just the way it works. It’s just like civilization: If we want people to cooperate with us, then we need to cooperate with them. We need to abide by the mechanisms to resolve conflict that have been put into place. Historically, the US has always had a seat at that table, and that seat ensures that those mechanisms will be drafted as closely to the way we want them to work as possible. That’s just how that works.

I think we should have other national priorities, as well. I’ll get into those at another time.

I’ve always considered myself “conservative,” though that really only applies to the way I vote in political elections. I’m sure there are other “fellow conservatives” who may have some real problems with my stance on other topics. For instance, I do support the Second Amendment, but not because it’s a “party line.” No, I feel that way for the reasons our founding fathers put it in our Constitution, and because I believe we have the right to defend ourselves. (Still, I would hate to be in a position where I was forced to shoot anyone.) However, I also support women’s right to decide for themselves regarding abortion, but my reasoning has more to do with women’s rights and health. I also know that my stance here also goes against my religion, but that is my decision, and it’s “my business” to rectify my position with God.

I have always thought for myself. I have never blindly accepted any “party lines” for my stance on any topic. I make decisions about how I feel on any topic based on what I know about the topic, and I try to use logic and “common sense” to make my decisions. (Yes, I know the term “common sense” is a misnomer, since it isn’t always as common as we’d like.) When I don’t know enough to form a decision, I will say so, and then proceed to learn as much as I can—from balanced, factual sources.

I think that, as a country, we need to stand together on this US policy on the Law of the Sea convention, and a number of other points. We should not let China beat us at our own “game,” using our rules! There are numerous other examples where China is doing business in our country, using our laws and they’re beating the pants off of us. We’re simply too focused on stupid, derisive things, and we’re not paying attention to what’s happening around us. We need to make certain things a national priority, just as China has, and stand strong together. This is one clear example where our national security depends on it.

The Trump administration seemed to cause a great deal of division among Americans. It’s as if he encouraged all the racists and nationalists to be more aggressive. He has certainly emboldened them. That is why I am going against my party in 2024 and not voting for Trump for a second term. I believe that, especially since the 2020 election, he has demonstrated his true nature—yet too many people have “drank the Kool-Aid.” And… the Kool-Aid is very strong. I shudder what a second term will be like, and I can’t believe so many people still support him. I had hoped that Nikki Haley would be elected, but apparently there are too many people who think as a hive mentality. Apparently, misogyny has long arms.

Don’t get me wrong—I voted for Trump in 2016, and I actively campaigned for him at the time. That’s because, at that time, I believed that, of the choices we had, he was what we needed. Even though he did some things during his presidency to undermine the office, I still believe that some of the things he accomplished then were important. I also firmly believe that nobody else would’ve had the guts to even attempt them. (One example is the historic $2 trillion stimulus during the Covid pandemic.) However, that time has passed, and we don’t need him as president anymore.

Instead, we need national healing, and national pride. We need to stand together. We especially do not need division, especially with Russia and China active with all their social engineering manipulations working against us. They’re using our laws, our business practices, our social media platforms (that we invented), and our culture against us…and encouraging us to be against each other. And, they’re doing it without us even being aware of it.

Maybe another national priority should be that everyone should open their eyes, and also base their opinions on independent, factual thinking.

But I don’t know what it’ll take to make that happen.