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Opinion: Columnists

Don't sign away US sovereignty with bad treaties

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Opinion,James Jay Carafano,Columnists,Foreign Policy,International Treaties

Four weeks after D-Day, having fought fiercely for 28 consecutive days, American troops were still within eyeshot of the Normandy coast.

They were already short of artillery rounds, but Gen. Omar Bradley didn’t care. The commander of U.S. ground forces was determined to send the enemy a message.

And so, to mark U.S. independence on July 4, 1944, Bradley ordered every artillery piece in the American sector to fire one round at noon — in the enemy’s direction. The 1,600-gun salute sent German defenders ducking for cover along the front.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of that campaign. For many, the “great crusade” still stands in modern memory as the greatest testimony that Americans stand willing to shed their blood to protect their liberty.

Fighting to secure and preserve our sovereignty is a defining characteristic of the American people. Unfortunately, in recent years, Washington elites have become increasingly disposed to sign away that blood-bought sovereignty with a pen.

We're talking international treaties. Under the U.S. Constitution, notes the Heritage Guide to the Constitution, Article VI treaties are, “like statutes, part of the ‘supreme Law of the Land.' ”

The Founding Fathers divvied up treaty powers between the president (charged with negotiating pacts) and the Congress (charged with review and approval) because international pacts are so important. Tackling issues of war, peace and commerce, treaties are vital instruments in conducting foreign relations.

In ruling on the case of Geofroy v. Riggs (1890), the Supreme Court affirmed that the government's treaty powers extended only to topics that are “properly the subject of negotiation with a foreign country.” In modern times, however, treaties have “evolved” from instruments negotiated primarily to manage bilateral relations between countries into multinational covenants aspiring to establish “norms” in international behavior.

Signing such treaties doesn’t necessarily compromise U.S. sovereignty. But as these covenants expand in number and scope, they increasingly require Americans to conform their will to an international consensus.

The problem is Washington has become less, not more, circumspect in its willingness to sign and ratify treaties that dictate how Americans should live their lives. The Obama administration has been cheerleading for a disturbingly long list of treaties.

Recently, for example, Obama signaled that he might sign the 1997 Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel land mines. The U.S. is a role model for dealing responsibly with mines and has taken a lead role in helping de-mine some of the world's most dangerous places. At the same time, the U.S. needs to employ mines for critical military missions -- like ensuring the continued stability of the Demilitarized Zone in Korea. With all the troubles the U.S. faces in the world from Ukraine to Iraq to Afghanistan, bothering about a military issue that isn't really an issue ought to not even be on the president's plate, let alone a White House initiative.

It doesn’t end there.

The administration has trumpeted a global arms trade treaty, even though Congress has passed resolutions stating it has major concerns with the measure and would refuse to authorize spending any U.S. funds to implement the pact. The likelihood of the Senate even considering ratification is nil.

Obama also pushed for ratification of a global treaty purporting to protect the rights of the disabled. The administration even proffered a false claim that the treaty would benefit disabled combat veterans. The measure, however, offers no new benefits to any disabled American.

For more than two centuries, Americans have fought to preserve our national sovereignty. But increasingly, those battles must be fought not just on military front lines, but in the rear where politicians seem all too willing to surrender sovereignty bit by bit.

JAMES JAY CARAFANO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.
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