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Category: law of the sea

Common Oceans: The Vision of Elisabeth Mann Borgese

The people of the earth [have] agreed that the advancement of man in spiritual excellence and physical welfare is the common goal of mankind...that therefore the age of nations must end, and the era of humanity begin.

           —Preamble to the Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution

 Elisabeth Mann Borgese (24 April 1918 – 8 February 2002) was a strong-willed woman. She had to come out from under the shadow of both her father, the German writer and Nobel laureate Thomas Mann, and her husband, Italian literary critic and political analyst Giuseppe Antonio Borgese.

 Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain was a monument of world literature between the two World Wars, and Mann felt that he represented the best of German culture against the uncultured hordes of the Nazis.  He took himself and his role very seriously, believing that his family existed basically to facilitate his thinking and writing.

G.A. Borgese regularly lectured at various universities on the evils of Mussolini. A leading literary critic and professor in Milan, he left Italy for the United States in 1931 when Mussolini announced that an oath of allegiance to the Fascist State would be required of all Italian professors. For Borgese, with a vast culture including the classic Greeks, the Renaissance Italians, and the 19th-century nationalist writers, Mussolini was an evil caricature which too few Americans recognized as a destructive force in his own right, and not just as the fifth wheel of Hitler's armed car.

Finding the Path Toward World Law

We recently celebrated the birthday of Louis Sohn (born 1 March 1914), who played a key role in the development of world law. His Cases and Other Materials on World Law stressed the difference between "international law," which is born of treaties between two or more States, and "world law," which is the composition, functions, powers and procedures of organs of the world society. 

World Law consists of norms and values which are binding on all States and individuals, regardless of whether a State has ratified a specific treaty. The 1948 Convention against Genocide, for example, is world law even if a State has not ratified it.

Additionally, when a State joins the United Nations, it pledges to follow the norms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the Declaration as world law is binding on individuals and the administration of States which are not UN members, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kosovo, and what may become States in eastern Ukraine.

Louis Sohn, who died in 2006, would no doubt be following current events in Ukraine with passion. He was born in Lviv, then part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire; the city became part of Poland during his youth and university studies, then part of the Soviet Union and now Ukraine − a testimony to the changing nature of States and nationality.

Citizens for Global Solutions: The Importance of your Gift

‘Tis the season of giving! An expression that becomes customary as acts of giving become commonplace around this time of year. As we walk down the street and see toy donation stands being constructed or hear that charming bell ringing for the Salvation Army, the holiday season is the time when charitable giving is at its prime. Each donation that we give is cherished in our hearts, as we believe our act of kindness will go towards the greater good, advance a cause, or even put a smile on someone’s face.

When I first came to Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), I was eager to learn about development and its significance to our organization. I soon gained valuable insight into the importance of charitable giving from foundations and from members like you, and how they help support CGS in attaining its mission and values.

But receiving donations does not come as easily as one might think. During my internship, researching prospective foundations for charitable giving was critical to fueling our movement. After I located prospective foundations that represented our ideas and beliefs, I wrote letters of inquiry (LOIs) that explained the link between our organization and that foundation and why they should consider us as a potential beneficiary. These LOIs enable our organization to receive funds, which allow us to push our mission forward.

US - UN Update at UNA

Last week I spoke to members of the United Nations Association (UNA-USA) who were preparing to lobby their members of Congress.  I was asked to give a 30,000 foot overview of the political climate on the Hill regarding the UN, an update on the U.S. role at the Human Rights Council and the status of ratification of the Law of the Sea convention, CEDAW and the Rights of the Child treaty.  Take a look at the presentation and let me know if you have any questions.

A New Start on Treaties

Getting two-thirds of the Senate to agree on anything is a daunting task. So it was no small feat when the Senate approved New START, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, during its December lame duck session. New START was the first major international agreement passed by the Senate since the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1997.

The United States is a bit schizophrenic when it comes to treaties. The U.S. government does a great job negotiating them. From the International Criminal Court to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, U.S. diplomats have forged very constructive compromises on major human rights and security agreements. Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate has a history of letting these accords molder.  The Senate and the White House still have a long list of treaties that are overdue for ratification.

Much can be learned from the successful passage of this treaty. Here are seven lessons for policymakers to consider as they move forward.

Seven Lessons     

The Senate can ratify a treaty:  New START proved that the Senate can overcome its own inertia and support U.S. participation in international agreements. Only 37 current Senators were in office in 1997 when the CWC was ratified. The Senate’s leadership and its newer members now know that two-thirds of them can agree when it comes to important matters of national security.

Adieu, Tuvalu!

Photograph by Peter Bennetts/Getty Images

The island nation of Tuvalu has less than 10 square miles of total actual land area. Those ten square miles of land area hold the 12,000 residents of this tiny nation. Lately, environmentalists around the world have been infatuated with Tuvalu. But why? Tuvalu's islands are mere feet above sea level and the slightest increase in sea level threatens life on the islands. Increases in sea level are caused by the emission of greenhouse gases. Close to Tuvalu, the Federated States of Micronesia have dealt with similar troubles. The Federated States of Micronesia already had to declare a national emergency last year due to a rise in sea levels. The government spent more than 7 percent of its budget and  $42 million to bring rice and drinking water to the islands. Taro, one of the staple foods on the island had been impossible to grow due to the increase in sea levels and rising high tides as the soil has been soured and the aquifer heavily salted. Unfortunately, Tuvalu may be in the same dire straits.

The Federated States of Micronesia, under the principle of transboundary harm, actually lodged a legal challenge to the Prunéov plant, the largest polluter in the Czech Republic, on the grounds that its chronic pollution threatens the nation's existence. Transboundary harm in the sense of air pollution means pollution whose physical origin is situated wholly or in part within the area under the jurisdiction of one Party and which has adverse effects, other than effects of a global nature, in the area under the jurisdiction of the other Party. Micronesia filed a formal objection against the Prunerov Plant under the Czech Republic's environmental impact assessment law.

Law of the Sea - "it's time to take our seat at the table"

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) had a meeting about U.S. Ocean Governance on March 8, 2010.  The meeting, which began as a general ocean governance discussion, quickly became focused on the Law of the Sea Treaty.  Moderator, Scott Borgerson of CFR at one point said "this wasn't intended originally to be the Law of the Sea party, but as the author of the report outside the door titled The National Interests and the Law of the Sea, I can't lie that it doesn't warm my heart a little bit."

The meeting began with a showing of the Council on Foreign Relation new interactive Web Oceans Governance Monitor.  CLICK HERE to watch the remarkable video.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island stated: "As the wonderful video said, the oceans really are the dominant resource of our planet, and we've paid far too little attention to it. The economic theory of the tragedy of the commons is being worked out on the ocean at a massive scale, and we see it in the changes that the ocean is undergoing. It's rising. It's warming. It's enduring biological changes as it rises and warms. It is continuing to be bombarded with pollution, and it's facing chemical changes. That's a lot all at once for this resource"

Admiral Thad Allen, the 23rd Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, emphasized that "rules of conduct and how we interact with each other on the water" are "incrementally changed every time there is a new convention that is ratified through IMO, every time a piece of domestic legislation is passed in any country or a time a new set of regulations is issued in the United States. We have a lot of pending work. [we] should start first with ratifying the Law of the Sea treaty."

Executive Office of the President signals interest in ratifying Law of the Sea Treaty

This weekend, the Executive Office of the President sent its first signal of support for US ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, joined by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco and Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen published an article in the Seattle times on the topic of stewardship of the Oceans in which they strongly endorsed the ratification of the treaty:

"We strongly support ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The oceans have been called, "the last global commons," and their sustained global health can best be maintained by a stable, universally accepted convention that promotes the key interests of the United States, its allies and its trading partners. Ratification would ensure our ability to participate in interpreting and applying the convention to the changing realities of the global maritime environment and preserves our ability to protect our domestic interests, including our extended continental shelf claims."

In justifying their support for the treaty, they go on to talk about burgeoning economic and research opportunities for the United States in the Arctic / near Alaska. The best way to promote and maintain U.S. interests in those areas is by agreeing to a globally agreed standard on their use, as is contained in the Law of the Sea Treaty.

The article also emphasized that American involvement in the region will be a long-term exercise, so it was critical to have governance agreements on long-term issues such as the sustainability of the area, as well as agreements concerning safety and research-sharing. The Law of the Sea Convention would provide a framework for such agreements.

A Window of Opportunity: The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea

Dr. John T. Oliver has published a new paper describing the history and benifits of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.  He goes into great detail regarding why now is the time for the U.S. to ratify this law.

Oliver begins by presenting the history of the Law of the Sea, beginning with it's first negotiations from 1973-1982. He also lays out the basic things that the convention covers such as rights and obligations of coastal states, scientific research, and protection of the marine environment. 157 states have signed the convention yet the US has not. At one point in 1994 the US came close to ratifying the Law of the Sea after President Reagan identified many provisions that needed to be changed. However the Senate has never had a full vote on the convention. 

Oliver then goes on to discuss the many ways that the Law of Sea benefits the U.S. One of the biggest is National Security. This law would provide resources necessary for fighting the global war on terrorism and protecting our military power overseas. As this is one of the most important issues for the United States it is surprising that this law has not been ratified. Oliver also discusses environmental and economic advantages as well as the war on drugs. The Law of the Sea would give the US territorial claims to the 200 nautical miles on its coast which would help the control of drug trafficking.

It's time to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty

Law of the Sea ad 6-24-09

Yesterday Pew Charitable Trusts ran this ad in the Washington Post and Politico, showing once again that the Law of the Sea convention has the largerst, broadest, extremely odd-bedfellow group of supporters of any issue moving forward inside the Beltway.  Where else can you see the American Petroleum Institute and the World Wildlife Fund sandwiching the likes of former Secretary of State Jim Baker, Lee Hamiliton, John Warner, the US Chamber of Commerce, Verizon, not to mention 

The ad gets right to the point:  our security can't wait.  Neither can our economy or our environment. It's great to see supporters coming together to speed ratification along. Pew is doing a great service and should be commended.  In addition their new site, is an excellent resource.

However, we are still waiting on word back from President Obama.  As I have said before, the Senate is not likely to adopt any major treaty without presidential leadership in raising the issue and pushing it to the floor.

President Obama, the ball's in your court.

Don Kraus