Reporting on the launch of the new congressional "sovereignty caucus," a group of GOP senators opposed to international law and institutions, David Weigel writes about how the confirmation battle over Harold Koh could set the stage for a confrontation over the long-debated Law of the Sea treaty and a few others:
While Republicans and conservative activists were disappointed by
the confirmation of Koh, the long delay leading up to the vote and its
relative closeness — 65 to 31 to end debate on the nomination and 62-35
to confirm him — have boosted their hopes of successfully battling
treaties that they characterize as threats to American rights and
national interests. Treaties need the votes of 67 senators to be
ratified, and can gum up the business of the Senate for weeks if they
become flash points for controversy. The Convention on the Rights of
the Child, for example, has convinced Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) — a
member of the House Sovereignty Caucus — to introduce a Constitutional amendment protecting the right of American parents to discipline their children and send them to religious schools.
Those hopes are likely to be tested at least twice this year.
According to staffers for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or the Law of the Sea
Treaty — a 1982 treaty that governs the right of countries to use the
oceans — could be reintroduced next month. And President Obama is in
Russia this week in part to move forward the Comprehensive
Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the 1996 agreement on weapons testing that was
rejected by the Senate in 1999, when the upper chamber contained 55
Republicans and 45 Democrats. Of the 16 treaties that the State
Department included on its priority list in a May 11 letter to the
committee, both sides agree that these two will be the first to face
full votes. And both sides agree that the Koh vote provided a good idea
of the support these treaties might command from a very skeptical
Senate Republican conference.
“The vote against Harold Koh is probably the minimum vote against
both of those treaties,” said John Bolton, who served as U.S.
ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, and who has been
a forceful critic of both treaties. “I think that a lot of Republicans,
whether they agreed or disagreed with Koh’s views, basically agreed
that president had the right to appoint his own team. Whether they
would also support these treaties, given their concerns about national
sovereignty, is another question.”
Commander James Kraska of the Naval War College made the case for Law of the Sea on FP back in February, arguing that by holding up ratification, congress is only aiding China's efforts to unilaterally redefine international law. Law of the Sea is just one of those issues doomed by the fact that not that many people care about it, but those who, care about it a lot.