The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea has been ratified by 155 nations in the 25 years since its drafting, and its importance is growing more clear as Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway vie with the United States for control of ocean territory opening in the Arctic as sea ice melts.
But the United States hasn't ratified the treaty, leaving it on the sidelines as those other world powers angle for influence in the potentially oil-rich region.
Virtually everyone is in favor of this treaty -- from environmental groups to the White House to fishing and oil businesses and prominent American think tanks. But standing against it is Sen. David Vitter, the Republican from Louisiana. He says the treaty would "hamstring U.S. naval operations, subject U.S. businesses to international environmental standards and tie up the United States in a web of litigation," according to the Times-Picayune. He's joined up with a small cadre of conservative lawmakers whose concern over ceding U.S. power to the U.N. is standing in the way of ratification. The Republicans are split on the issue, with many supporting the treaty as the best U.S. chance to have a negotiator at the table the rest of the world will be sitting around.
The tempest in the U.S. Senate is emblematic of the larger storms brewing in international geopolitics, as global warming re-draws the world map. The Northwest Passage, the fabled shipping route, briefly melted this summer for the first time in history, and Russia planted a titanium flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole -- two highly symbolic indicators that the balance of world power in the future could shift based on access to, and control over, the now-icy north.
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