Republicans Criticize Military Brass For Supporting Law Of The Sea Treaty

Our guess blogger is Philip Ballentine, national security team intern at the Center for American Progress

(Photo: Axel Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

At a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing last week, Senator Sen. James Risch (R-ID) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) treated six four-star Generals and Admirals testifying in favor of ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) with hostility before questioning their motives and honesty.

At the hearing, the Generals and Admirals spoke unanimously asking for Senate ratification of UNCLOS. Adm. James Winnefeld, the Vice Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that joining “will fortify our credibility as the world’s leading naval power and allow us to bring to bear the full force of our influence on maritime disputes.” The other panelists, including the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Coast Guard, and the heads of US Northern, Pacific, and Transport Commands, all agreed. The military, business leaders, environmentalists, and labor groups all support ratification.

But some Republicans on the committee opening attacked these top military officials for supporting the treaty. Risch reacted angrily, accusing Commandant Robert J. Papp, Jr. of disrespecting the Committee when he said that America’s non-ratification has prevented the resolution of American maritime disputes with Canada, saying, “Admiral Papp, you know, we sit here every day and it isn’t very often our intelligence is insulted.”

When Adm Samuel Locklear III, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, testified that joining UNCLOS would help America press China on its claims in the South China Sea, Risch fumed that treaty is nothing but, “Flowery speeches, just like the ones we’ve had here today.” He continued to lecture Locklear and the rest of the panel on the situation in the South China Sea, saying, “The gate is open and the rodeo is started!”

Despite the fact that all six panelists specifically said they were offering their independent judgments on UNCLOS, Inhofe dismissed their testimony, saying, “You’re naturally going to reflect anything that comes [from the Commander in Chief]—you have to.” Watch clips from the hearing:

“In continuing their efforts to delay ratification, staunch conservatives in the Senate show their extreme ideological and out-of-touch position by opposing a measure that even their strongest champions—Big Oil, the Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. military—assure them would secure U.S. economic and national security interests,” said Michael Conathan, Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress.

In recent years, conservative Republicans have repeatedly questioned military leaders’ motives and honesty when they disagree, notably over the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and Pentagon budget cuts. If America’s top brass cannot get through to Senate Republicans on these security issues, who can?