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Law of the Sea Treaty: dead in the water?

As of today, 34 Republican senators have expressed opposition to Senate ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, a number that would add up to rejection of the treaty if all those senators vote against it when it comes to the Senate floor. "This is Victory Day for U.S. sovereignty in the Senate," Sen. ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

As of today, 34 Republican senators have expressed opposition to Senate ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, a number that would add up to rejection of the treaty if all those senators vote against it when it comes to the Senate floor.

"This is Victory Day for U.S. sovereignty in the Senate," Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), a passionate opponent of the treaty, proclaimed on the Senate floor late Monday. "With 34 opposed to LOST (the treaty), this debate is over."

Inhofe’s declaration of victory came after two Republican senators, Romney surrogates Rob Portman (R-OH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), announced Monday they would vote against the treaty.

"We simply are not persuaded that decisions by the International Seabed Authority and international tribunals empowered by this treaty will be more favorable to U.S. interests than bilateral negotiations, voluntary arbitration, and other traditional means of resolving maritime issues," the two senators said in a joint statement. "No international organization owns the seas, and we are confident that our country will continue to protect its navigational freedom, valid territorial claims, and other maritime rights."

In effect, Portman and Ayotte added their names to the 31 GOP senators who expressed their opposition to the treaty in a July 16 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). That letter was signed by Sens. Inhofe, Jon Kyl, Roy Blunt, Pat Roberts, David Vitter, Ron Johnson, John Cornyn, Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, John Boozman, Rand Paul, Jim Risch, Mike Lee, Jeff Sessions, Mike Crapo Orrin Hatch, John Barrasso, Richard Shelby, Dean Heller, John Thune, Richard Burr, Saxby Chambliss, Dan Coats, John Hoeven, Roger Wicker, Jerry Moran, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, and Mike Johanns.

The 34th ‘no’ is Georgia Sen. Johnny Isaakson, whose website displayed a message this week vowing that the senator would vote against the treaty.

With 67 votes  needed for ratification, the agreement does indeed look to be in trouble. But for proponents of the treaty, it’s full steam ahead.

The office of Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), the lead sponsor and driving force behind Senate ratification of the treaty, told The Cable that he will not be deterred and intends to keep moving the ratification process forward.

"Senator Kerry has been here long enough to know that vote counts and letters are just a snapshot of where our politics are in this instant, and it’s not news to anyone that right now we’re in the middle of a white hot political campaign season where ideology is running in overdrive," said Kerry spokeswoman Jodi Seth. "That’s why Senator Kerry made it clear there wouldn’t be a vote before election and until everyone’s had the chance to evaluate the treaty on the facts and the merits away from the politics of the moment."

"No letter or whip count changes the fact that rock-ribbed Republican businesses and the military and every living Republican secretary of state say that this needs to happen, and that’s why it’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ for the Law of the Sea," Seth continued. "The Chamber of Commerce, the oil and gas and telecommunications industries are some of the most effective in this town because they stick to their guns and they’ve been unequivocal about the need to get this done. They’ll keep at it, and we will continue the work of answering questions and building the public record."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

Tag: Law