The Old Isolationism and the New Law of the Sea

A conservative president, generally hostile to United States participation in international institutions and foreign entanglements, nevertheless expressly requests the Senate to give its advice and consent to a treaty with broad implications for the development of international law. A variety of national business and commercial interests, as well as domestic organizations devoted to global peace and development, also support the ratification of the convention. Scores of former government officials, military leaders, and their cohorts from civil society endorse the treaty. But, in reaction to the claims made by an “elite” foreign policy establishment, Wall Street, and the White House, concerns in the heartland are raised about the U.S. abandoning its sovereignty if it were to join the new international regime. Rhetoric escalates, and even begins to impact the early stages of the next presidential election. Fears of compromising American exceptionalism and surrendering to foreign or international authority pervade the public discourse. What first appeared to be a piece of foreign policy housekeeping – ratification of a treaty fully consistent with the national interest – becomes, instead, a debate for the heart and soul of American foreign policy and a reflection on our place in the world.