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July 28, 2011
Notes from the Pentagon

The Obama administration and Sen. John F. Kerry are pushing for Senate ratification of the controversial Law of the Sea Treaty amid heightened tensions over Chinese maritime aggressiveness stemming from the 1982 pact.

Administration officials recently held interagency meetings on ratification plans, and teams of officials have briefed some senators on the drive to approve the treaty.

The White House is using the Navy's support for the treaty's navigation provisions to gain the backing of skeptical senators.

The treaty gives nations a 200-mile Economic Exclusion Zone. China has used that provision to claim wide areas of international waters as its own, prompting recent clashes in the South China, East China and Yellow seas as well as verbal sparring with the Pentagon over freedom of navigation.

One key vote will be that of Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the liberal Indiana Republican who in the past supported the treaty.

Mr. Lugar, a six-term senator, is facing a tough re-election primary challenge from Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who is backed by tea party conservatives. A vote by Mr. Lugar to support the treaty would likely boost Mr. Mourdock, who according to one poll this week holds a slight lead over Mr. Lugar.

Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher declined to say how the senator would vote but called a full Senate treaty vote unlikely.

"The chances are slim to none of the Senate seriously addressing this treaty at a time when the nation is rightfully focused on the fundamental issues of jobs, debt and war," he said.

The treaty push is part of the administration's policy of using international agreements as a centerpiece of national security policies.

Critics say those policies usually involve signing agreements that constrain the United States, while allowing foreign signatories to violate or circumvent the accords.

A main objection of critics of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, its formal name, is that the agreement undermines U.S. sovereignty.

Non-navigation provisions would give the United Nations some power to control access to undersea resources and also to intervene in U.S. domestic affairs.

A senior Senate national security aide said Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, does not plans to go forward with a full Senate vote until he is assured of having 67 or more senators, a two-thirds majority, vote in favor of ratification.

Committee spokesman Frederick Jones said presidents, including George W. Bush, as well as the military, the Chamber of Commerce and the business community, have long supported the treaty.

"They've urged the Senate to ratify it because it's good for national security and good for jobs," he said. "So, of course, the committee is taking a close look."

Heritage Foundation analyst Steven Groves said a major problem with the treaty is Article 82. The section would force the U.S. government to lose millions by forfeiting royalties from U.S. companies to explore for oil and gas on the continental shelf beyond 200 miles. Instead, a U.N. organization would get a portion of the money.

"The navigational provisions of the treaty have always been widely supported, including by President Reagan and the Navy," Mr. Groves said.

"It's the non-navigational provisions sharing oil and gas royalties with underdeveloped countries, mandatory dispute resolution and the deep seabed mining provisions that give conservatives heartburn," he said.

Navy Capt. John Kirby said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, supports the treaty because "he believes that by remaining outside the convention, we give up the firmer foundation of treaty law for navigational rights vital to our global mobility."

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman-designate of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this week offered a different view of the threat posed al Qaeda from Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.

In written answers to questions to the Senate Armed Services Committee made public on Tuesday, Gen. Dempsey said al Qaeda remains a threat and may launch new attacks in the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

"The killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden may increase the threat from al Qaedas regional nodes to the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests overseas," Gen. Dempsey stated.

He said, the assessment is based on regional affiliates -- like al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Qaeda in Iraq, the Somalia-based al-Shabab and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- issuing eulogies for bin Laden and vowing U.S. attacks against in retaliation.

The comments run counter to recent statements by Mr. Panetta, a former CIA director, who said al Qaeda was on the verge of "strategic defeat" because of the bin Ladin attack.

Deputy Secretary of State-designate William J. Burns assured a leading Republican senator last week that the Obama administration will not agree to Russian efforts to limit U.S. missile defenses.

Mr. Burns made the remarks in response to a report in this space June 16 and also confirmed indirectly that the White House in May rejected a questionable missile deal with the Russians that had been drafted by Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control, for signing by President Obama at the G-8 summit in Deauville, France, in May.

Mr. Burns, in a written answer to a question posed by Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said both Washington and Moscow are working to "develop an understanding" on practical steps for cooperation.

"One element of this understanding would be that U.S. missile defenses in Europe are intended to counter threats originating outside Europe and are not directed at Russia," Mr. Burns said, confirming that the Tauscher draft contained elements related to the United States and NATO allies not pointing missile defenses at Russia.

"No agreement was reached, and discussions will continue with the aim of developing a basis for missile-defense cooperation that meets the security interests of both NATO and Russia," Mr. Burns said.

"We have made clear that we cannot accept any limits on capabilities of U.S. missile defenses, including any limits on numbers or capabilities of interceptors [including speed]."

Despite the assurances, missile defense advocates fear the Obama administration, in its efforts to curry favor with Moscow, at some point will agree to legal constraints based on the Tauscher draft.

Among new Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta's first major personnel decision will be finding a successor to Deputy Secretary William J. Lynn III.

A number of names are already bubbling around the Pentagon's E-Ring, as Mr. Lynn is set to leave later this summer or the fall, reports special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.

Among those names are: Ashton Carter, the Pentagon's top acquisition official; Jeh Johnson, the general counsel; and Erin Conaton, the Air Force's No. 2 civilian.

Who gets picked will probably depend on how Mr. Panetta views the job. The deputy typically focuses on procurement issues and on making sure the bureaucracy functions, as opposed to war policy or planning.

That would seem to fit Mr. Carter, now the undersecretary for acquisition, and Ms. Conaton, who directed the Democratic staff of the House Armed Services Committee before taking her Air Force position in March 2010.

An insider tells Inside the Ring there are others under consideration, and that Mr. Panetta may tapped some one with whom he worked at the CIA.

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