For John, BLUF: We sometimes confuse our terms regarding International Treaties, which leads to confusion about who down in DC can do what.
NOTE For Gerry: The procedures are not political, but the process is definitely political.
From time to time on the "Right" UN Treaties come up. Usually with cries of alarm. And not without some reason, as giving away bits and pieces of our sovereignty can limit our rights as citizens as we have traditionally understood them.
In light of that, here are some notes on terms and relationships, some of which I did not know.
- The Senate does not "ratify" treaties. The Senate gives its Advice and Consent (by a 2/3 vote) and then the President ratifies the treaty. This is a very common error, but it is definitely an error—the step of "ratification," necessary to bring the treaty into force, is accomplished by an executive function, not a legislative one. And, it is discretionary with the executive—just as the Senate may decline to provide Advice and Consent to a treaty that the President has signed, the President may subsequently decline to ratify a treaty to which the Senate has provided Advice and Consent.
- The Law of the Sea Convention was "finalized" long ago. In fact, it was not only "finalized," it was later "modified" (not quite "amended") via an "implementing agreement" in 1994 that substantially modified the provisions regarding the mining of the deep sea bed, which had been the part that the United States most objected to. If the United States were to join the Convention today, it would do so through accession, not ratification, and no signature would be necessary or possible.
- There is an Arms Trade Treaty out there—the negotiations have been suspended prior to completion of a draft text. So there is nothing for the President to sign, and nothing for the Senate to provide Advice and Concent. Also, nothing that the UN does with respect to a treaty can "bind" the United States; the United States becomes bound only by its own acts of signature and ratification.
- Regarding the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, President Clinton signed it. President Bush communicated the decision of the United States not to proceed with ratification of the treaty. This act is sometimes colloquially referred to as "unsigning" the treaty, but there is no such thing, and the United States is still a signatory to the treaty; if the United States were to want to join the treaty, it would proceed directly to ratify it; no additional signature would be necessary
Regards — Cliff