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Do Republicans Oppose the Redistribution of Wealth?


The Law of the Sea Treaty, formally known as the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (and informally known as LOST), was adopted in 1982 to establish a comprehensive set of rules governing the oceans and replace two previous UN conventions on the Law of the Sea. It came into force in November 1994, a year after being ratified by the 60th country.

The treaty has now been ratified by 162 countries and the European Union, but about 30 other countries have not ratified it. Conservatives in the United States have always viewed the treaty with skepticism because it calls for technology and wealth transfers from developed to undeveloped nations.

Although the Reagan administration participated in the UN conference that drafted the treaty, Ronald Reagan refused to sign it. Bill Clinton approved a revised version in 1994, and George W. Bush endorsed the treaty in 2007, but the treaty was never ratified by the U.S. Senate as required by the Constitution.

Now, 30 years after the treaty was signed in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and five years since the treaty was last debated on Capitol Hill, it has been resurrected in Congress.

Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is in favor of the treaty’s ratification. In a hearing on May 23, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin E. Dempsey all argued before the committee for the importance of the treaty.

Republicans in the Senate are generally opposed to the Law of the Sea Treaty. Sen. Jim DeMint, a Republican member of the committee, is circulating a letter in opposition to the treaty addressed to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. So far, he has collected more than two dozen signatures. The brief letterreads,

We understand that Chairman Kerry has renewed his efforts to pursue Senate ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We are writing to let you know that we believe this Convention reflects political, economic, and ideological assumptions which are inconsistent with American values and sovereignty.

By its current terms, the Law of the Sea Convention encompasses economic and technology interests in the deep sea, redistribution of wealth from developed to undeveloped nations, freedom of navigation in the deep sea and exclusive economic zones which may impact maritime security and environmental regulation over virtually all sources of pollution.

To affect the treaty’s broad regime of governance, we are particularly concerned that United States sovereignty could be subjugated in many areas to a supranational government that is chartered by the United Nations under the 1982 Convention. Further, we are troubled that compulsory dispute resolution could pertain to public and private activities including law enforcement, maritime security, business operations, and nonmilitary activities performed aboard military vessels.

If this treaty comes to the floor, we will oppose its ratification.

Because two-thirds of the Senate must vote to confirm treaties, only 34 votes are needed to halt the treaty. But although Senator Kerry promised“extensive hearings,” “due diligence,” and preparation “for a vote,” he said he would postpone a vote on the treaty until after the election.

Like conservatives in the 1980s, DeMint and Senate Republicans are concerned about the redistribution of wealth that might result from the Law of the Sea Treaty. As Doug Bandow explains, the original treaty “was but one element of the ‘New International Economic Order’ designed to promote global income redistribution, taking money from productive First World democracies and giving it to collectivist Third World autocracies.” To this end, “LOST established the International Seabed Authority (ISA), currently located in the hardship post of Jamaica, to regulate private ocean development, mine the seabed through an entity called ‘the Enterprise,’ and subsidize favored nations and groups.” Bandow describes the treaty’s rules as “complicated and seemingly endless,” and “drafted to limit access to international resources and force the West to give money and technology to members of the so-called G-77, the once influential international lobby for Third World dictators (a few democracies lurked among the developing nations at the time, but not many).”

But even in the amended treaty of 1994,

Every regulatory body survived. The so-called “parallel system,” whereby Western miners subsidized the ISA’s Enterprise, persists. Private companies still must survey and provide free mining sites for the Enterprise. Financial redistribution to the Third World continues. The revised treaty, like the original, encourages public cartels while discriminating against American mining firms.

Taxpayers from wealthy states still pay for the privilege of being regulated by a Third World-dominated entity. If the U.S. joins it would become the deepest pocket to be picked. The ISA would even be entitled to revenue from oil development on America’s extended continental shelf.

Republicans are right to assail the redistribution of wealth provisions in the Law of the Sea treaty or anywhere else. But does that mean that they oppose the redistribution of wealth?

Of course not.

Republicans claim to oppose the Law of the Sea Treaty because it may result in the redistribution of wealth from Americans to foreigners. But since when do Republicans oppose doing that? With the exception of Rep. Ron Paul and a handful of others in the Congress, foreign aid enjoys widespread bipartisan support. Even the Senate Republican budget proposed by conservatives Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Jim DeMint, “A Platform to Revitalize America,” proposes to freeze foreign-aid funding at $5 billion a year instead of eliminating it.

According to the Congressional Research Service publication Foreign Aid: An Introduction to U.S. Programs and Policy,

U.S. foreign aid policy has developed around three primary rationales: national security, commercial interests, and humanitarian concerns. These broad rationales are the basis for the myriad objectives of U.S. assistance, including promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, improving governance, expanding access to health care and education, promoting stability in conflictive regions, promoting human rights, strengthening allies, and curbing illicit drug production and trafficking.

The U.S. government provides some form of foreign assistance to about 150 countries. Foreign-aid spending, which is currently around $40 billion a year, is organized around five strategic objectives: Peace and Security, Investing in People, Governing Justly and Democratically, Economic Growth, and Humanitarian Assistance. Each of the five includes a number of program elements or sectors. Assistance can take the form of cash transfers, equipment and commodities, economic infrastructure, or technical assistance. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department are the primary administrators of U.S. foreign assistance. The Department of Defense administers all traditional aid-funded military assistance programs. The United States is the largest international economic-aid donor.

The top ten recipients of U.S. foreign aid for fiscal year 2010 were:

Afghanistan ($4.1 billion) Israel ($2.2 billion) Pakistan ($1.8 billion) Egypt ($1.3 billion) Haiti ($1.2 billion) Iraq ($1.1 billion) Jordan ($693 million) Kenya ($688 million) Nigeria ($614 million) South Africa ($578 billion)

Since their peace accord in 1979, Egypt and Israel have been the top two recipients of U.S. foreign aid, accounting for about one-third of all foreign-aid spending. Reflecting the significant increases in the funding ofHIV/AIDS-relatedprograms, Africa is now the top recipient region of U.S. aid, at 29 percent.

At its core, foreign aid is simply an income transfer from the pockets of American taxpayers to foreign countries that most Americans can’t even locate on a map. The United States gives foreign aid to corrupt regimes, countries that regularly vote against it in the United Nations, countries that are not “developing” countries, and countries on both sides of conflicts. Foreign aid is often just an elaborate system of bribes and rewards based on a country’s political alignment. But the purpose, recipient, cost, and benefit of the aid are irrelevant. Foreign-aid money is simply appropriated by Congress and then confiscated from American taxpayers.

No one is asked to which country and in what amount his tax dollars should go. If anyone objects to his money’s being taken from him and given to foreign regimes and their privileged contractors, there is nothing he can do about it. Certainly not complain to his congressman. And if there is any doubt that the vast majority of Americans oppose the spending of their tax dollars on foreign aid, consider what would happen if all the countries in the world that received U.S. aid last year sent a letter appealing for funds to American taxpayers this year. Is there any doubt that they wouldn’t collect enough money to cover the amount spent on postage for their appeal?

Whenever the subject of foreign-aid spending comes up in Congress, there is always extensive debate over the size, composition, purpose, and recipients of the aid. But even Republicans who tout their fiscal conservatism, belief in limited government, and commitment to the Constitution frequently dismiss spending on foreign aid as insignificant because it is a small part of the federal budget.

The House Appropriations Committee recently approved a $40.1 billion fiscal year 2013 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The committee is made up of 29 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Some conservatives are lauding the bill for “cutting” the Obama administration’s foreign-aid budget request and denying or placing conditions on funding parts of the U.N. But why should Americans be forced to “contribute” to the aid of another country?

On the domestic front, Republicans likewise rail against the redistribution of wealth without actually opposing it.

Over in the House, Representative and former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has expressed concern about Obamacare. In a recent interview, she remarked that Obama will achieve his “objective of redistribution of wealth” through the new health-care law. She maintains that the “individual mandate” is the “grounds” for the “redistribution of wealth.”

Outside of Congress, you can tune in to any Republican television or radio personality and often hear Democrats and “liberals” lambasted for believing in the redistribution of wealth.

But what have Republicans actually done about it?

When the Republican Party controlled the Congress for six years under Clinton and for five years under Bush, it made no attempt whatsoever to eliminate domestic wealth redistribution programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps, Head Start, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), energy assistance, housing assistance, refundable tax credits, Medicare, Medicaid, or Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

The Republican brouhaha over the Law of the Sea Treaty and the potential for the redistribution of wealth is just scratching the surface. It merely diverts much needed attention away from the fact that the U.S. tax code is one gigantic wealth redistribution scheme that Republicans helped institute and continue to maintain.

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