INTERVIEW: Leon Panetta, Joint Ocean Commission Initiative
A former Member of the House of Representatives, Director of the Office of Management and Budget and Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, Leon Panetta has recently turned his attention to one of his great passions: management of the world’s vast oceans. Panetta now Co-Chairs the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI), a key partner of Citizens for Global Solutions in the push to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS). Panetta recently agreed to be interviewed for Global Solutions Quarterly.
started out as two separate Commissions. I chaired the independent Pew Oceans
Commission, which released
How does the Law of the Sea convention fit into JOCI’s agenda?
Admiral Watkins, the Commissioners and I all believe that oceans and coasts are severely threatened, domestically and around the world. On a basic, intuitive level, it simply makes sense. No one nation can set the rules for use and navigation of the oceans. Additionally, we believe we need the legal protections and economic opportunities that the Law of the Sea would afford us. We need a set of fair standards that all countries agree to meet, and the Law of the Sea convention is exactly that.
you think joining the Law of the Sea would have an effect on the
Absolutely. There’s a perception internationally that Americans don’t like international institutions, that Americans view treaties and international law as constraints on their power. You and I know that most Americans don’t feel that way. Most Americans want their government to work hand-in-hand with other governments to solve global problems that can’t be solved by an individual country. And most people here want us to be seen as a country that is admired and respected. For some of our partners abroad, our failure to ratify this treaty, which offers us so many substantial benefits at no cost, have begun to question whether we are as committed to international law as we say we are. In addition to the national security, environmental and economic benefits it would provide, ratifying the Law of the Sea would also help us strengthen our global alliances.
Let’s talk about some of those benefits. The supporter base for the Law of the Sea typifies an “odd bedfellows” coalition. In your view, why are such diverse groups supporting this treaty?
There’s something for everybody in the Law of the Sea. President Bush and the military desperately want to join so our navigational rights and national security interests can be protected, while peace groups see it as a way to settle disputes absent the threat of force. American oil and gas companies understand that until we ratify, their foreign competitors will have a leg up on them; at the same time, environmental groups see participation in Law of the Sea as the only way to conserve a fragile marine environment and marine resources on the high seas. It’s really amazing to consider how one treaty advances our interests in so many ways. Plus, I think we all recognize that it’s better not to sit on the sidelines when it comes to international institutions. We are always better served by being a constructive participant in international negotiations that impact our national interests, rather than pretending the debate isn’t happening. That’s what the treaty’s few opponents seem to want us to do.
This treaty has been around for a long time. Do you think the Senate will vote to accede to it?
do. I’ve seen this treaty get bottled up for years, but I think the time has
come. We’re living in an increasingly interconnected world. The Russian
activities in the
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