It All Depends on the Meaning of “Full Responsibility”

 

maersktigrisTwo days ago, in the Strait of Hormuz–an internationally recognized shipping lane–the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fired shots across the bow of the Marshall Islands-flagged MV Maersk Tigris, then seized the vessel. They are holding the ship and the 24 crew members.

According to the Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News, Pentagon lawyers have determined the United States “has no obligation to come to the defense of a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel at sea.”

Here’s the text of the Compact of Free Association, as amended and signed in 2003, between the the United States and the Marshall Islands.

How do you interpret these words? Marshall Islands

There are 66 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Claire,

    You are confusing obligation and authority. We may have authority but not obligation (despite the wording). As others sarcastically pointed out, the US government believes it has no obligation to defend its own citizens, just like the LAPD had no obligation to protect Reginald Denny. The US government just has authority to do so.

    By contrast, it is easy to imagine a mutual defense treaty that would oblige us to defend another country or its people without qualification.

    [Edited to adress governmentese]

    • #31
  2. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    ctlaw:Claire,

    You are confusing obligation and authority. We may have authority but not obligation. As others sarcastically pointed out, the US government believes it has no obligation to defend its own citizens, just like the LAPD had no obligation to protect Reginald Denny. The US government just has authority to do so.

    By contrast, it is easy to imagine a mutual defense treaty that would oblige us to defend another country or its people.

    Section b(1) says “obligation.”

    • #32
  3. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    The latest: We now have an obligation again:

    On Wednesday, the USS Farragut and three other smaller Navy ships were keeping watch on the strait and sending surveillance planes overhead, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

    Under agreements between the U.S. and Marshall Islands, Col. Warren said the military had a treaty obligation to protect the Maersk Tigris, but said the U.S. was pursuing diplomatic options to resolve the confrontation.

    • #33
  4. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    Claire Berlinski:The latest: We now have an obligation again:

    On Wednesday, the USS Farragut and three other smaller Navy ships were keeping watch on the strait and sending surveillance planes overhead, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

    Under agreements between the U.S. and Marshall Islands, Col. Warren said the military had a treaty obligation to protect the Maersk Tigris, but said the U.S. was pursuing diplomatic options to resolve the confrontation.

    I know many of you are doubtful but this probably also means that they are planning rescue ops.  And we have ships in the area. . .

    • #34
  5. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Claire Berlinski:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:On the assumption we’re not missing something here — and I don’t see how we could be — this is really dangerous. Once again, our promises to defend allies (even little tiny ones) is shown to be absolutely worthless.

    Worse than that, it seems plausible that the Tigris was targeted because it flies the flag of a US protectorate and the Iranians wanted to take us down a notch again.

    The lack of news coverage is especially alarming. The Fourth Estate has just completely checked out.

    Without the lying, covering, COC Non compliant MSM, the nation would NEVER vote a Democrat into office.

    • #35
  6. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    Claire Berlinski:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:On the assumption we’re not missing something here — and I don’t see how we could be — this is really dangerous. Once again, our promises to defend allies (even little tiny ones) is shown to be absolutely worthless.

    Worse than that, it seems plausible that the Tigris was targeted because it flies the flag of a US protectorate and the Iranians wanted to take us down a notch again.

    The lack of news coverage is especially alarming. The Fourth Estate has just completely checked out.

    Without the lying, covering, COC Non compliant MSM, the nation would NEVER vote a Democrat into office.

    I dunno. I can forgive my fellow Americans for electing Obama once, but they knew what they were doing when they voted for him the second time.

    I thought I was the optimist around here…

    • #36
  7. user_1008534 Member
    user_1008534
    @Ekosj

    TG has it exactly right in post #4

    “You missed the key clause of (b)(1): “as the United States and its people are defended.” As the Obama administration finds “defense” of the United States and its people to be completely optional …”

    Obama is doing no more and no less for the Marshall Islands flagged ship than he would be doing for a US flagged one. Nothing. Or perhaps he is having someone issue an apology for this ship-of-a-friend-of-ours inconveniencing the people of Iran.

    Why? Because to Obama, America is not a force for good in the world. (Hence our need to be fundamentally transformed.) So, to minimize the damage that America does, we must recede from the world stage as much as possible, making room for others ( Iran in this instance) to emerge and take their rightful place as regional leaders.

    • #37
  8. Ed G. Inactive
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    liberal jim:Does no one see the similarity of how the mayor of Baltimore approached the riots and the way O. approaches forgone policy? The problem is the GOP is as incompetent as the liberals are.

    Amen to that. Despite all of the dissatisfaction in my hometown of Chicago with the ruling elite, the Republicans can’t even field a mayoral nominee let alone a serious one who brings a good fight to the Democrats.

    • #38
  9. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    What would happen if this was on the news? Who wants to commit to prose & the public a fantasy about what would change?

    • #39
  10. Dave Member
    Dave
    @DaveL

    The Times has an article on it this morning, evidently it has become a legal dispute?

    “Iran’s seizure of a container ship earlier this week stems from a decade-long dispute over 10 shipping containers, officials at Maersk, the Danish shipping giant, said on Thursday…..Stopping a cargo ship at gunpoint to resolve a legal claim, however, is highly unusual. Maersk officials said in a statement on Thursday that the ship had been stopped because of a dispute over 10 containers that were shipped from Iran to the United Arab Emirates in 2005. The 10 containers, which were sent by an Iranian company, were never picked up. After 90 days, “the cargo was disposed of” by local government authorities in line with local law, Maersk said.
    The disposal of the crates led to court battles in several Iranian courts since then. Maersk said that on Feb 18, one court ordered Maersk to pay $163,000, which the company said it was willing to pay. But Maersk said it was told Thursday that a higher court had ordered it to pay $3.6 million.
    As we do not have the details of the ruling, we are not able to comment hereon, nor at this point speculate on our options,” the company said……..There has been contact with the crew, but we haven’t had any contact today, said Cor Radings, a spokesman for the charter company, on Thursday. “That’s one of our priorities, to have contact with the seafarers.”
    He called the episode a “very unusual event so far, and something we have not seen before.”

    • #40
  11. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    It’s not a normal legal dispute according to Maersk or most of the maritime lawyers who are commenting:

    Iran’s violent arrest of a Maersk ship making innocent passage through Iranian territorial waters en route to Jebel Ali in the UAE, has been compared to a hostage taking situation.

    US maritime litigation lawyer Bruce Paulsen, a specialist in Iranian sanctions and Somalia piracy, told IHS Maritime: “Unless there is some commercial reason for this [incident], it is akin to a hostage taking situation.”

    He said: “The Maersk Tigris to my knowledge is on a liner service that regularly goes through that space from Jeddah to the UAE. These ships have a right of innocent passage through the Straits of Hormuz. This is just a ship on a regular route, doing its regular passage to which it has a right. The fact that the ship has been interdicted is quite astounding. It is an international incident, interfering with international shipping.”

    Media reports from Iran had claimed that the ship was seized on request of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, suggesting that Maersk had payments owed. But Maersk is still waiting to confirm this information.

    Maersk spokesman Michael Christian Storgaard told IHS Maritime: “We are still not able to confirm the reason behind the Iranian authorities’ seizure – in international waters – of Maersk Tigris.

    “We have been in contact with the Iranian authorities – the Ports & Maritime Organization. They informed us that the seizure of Maersk Tigris is related to an allegedly unresolved cargo claim. We have however not received any written notification or similar pertaining to the claim or the seizure of the vessel. We are therefore not able to confirm whether or not this is the actual reason behind the seizure. We will continue our efforts to obtain more information.

    A maritime litigation partner at law firm Seward & Kissel, Paulsen has been involved in approximately 40 piracies throughout his career, including a 2009 ransom negotiation with Somali pirates that freed 28 kidnapped crew members of the oil tanker MV Biscaglia in exchange for more than USD1 million in ransom money.

    Paulsen said the incident is reminiscent of piracy and will raise a similar concern for the welfare of the ship’s captain and crew.

    He said: “A ship gets fired upon and pulled in. Nobody wants to die, so the company’s first concern will be their captain and crew. They will want to contact the authorities to ensure the safety of the crew who have, in effect, been taken hostage.”

    The ship is currently still anchored off the port of Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf.

    • #41
  12. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    Titus Techera:What would happen if this was on the news? Who wants to commit to prose & the public a fantasy about what would change?

    It’s a major international incident, and it was in the headlines on Tuesday. And then it disappeared. Obviously, it was pushed off to some extent by Baltimore, but it’s completely disappeared. I find this bizarre.

    • #42
  13. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    Bryan G. Stephens:Obama has already made clear he does not believe in defense of allies. If I were Russia, I’d invade the Baltics now.

    You can’t afford it. Your country is broke.

    • #43
  14. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I have been in the “moronic not malignant” camp up until now, but how does anybody achieve this level of incompetence by accident? If they responded in a totally random manner to every foreign policy issue that cropped up, they would have to be right sometimes.

    • #44
  15. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @ArizonaPatriot

    As many of you know, I am a lawyer, but I have no special expertise in military or treaty law.

    The operative quoted by Claire says that “authority and responsibility [of the US] includes:”

    The obligation to defend the Republic of the Marshall Islands and its people from attack or threats thereof as the United States and its citizens are defended;

    An attack on a US-flagged ship is not an attack on either “the United States” itself nor on one of the “citizens” of the US.

    Naming conventions aside, a ship is not a “citizen” and is not even a “person.”  Legally, one of the distinctions between “citizen” and “person” is that a “citizen” generally includes only a “natural person,” i.e. a flesh-and-blood human being.  A “person” includes “fictional persons” such as corporations.  Based on this distinction, I would not interpret the clause above to include any obligation to defend a “fictional person” (e.g.  a corporation) of the Marshall Islands.

    For example, in the Constitution, only a “citizen” can be a Representative or Senator, and only a “natural born Citizen” can be President, and only “citizens” have 14th Amendment privileges and immunities.  In contrast, other Constitution provisions apply to a “person,” such as the Due Process Clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments.

    • #45
  16. Boisfeuras Inactive
    Boisfeuras
    @Boisfeuras

    Even if there is a judgment against Maersk, this would not entitle Iran to simply seize a vessel belonging to Maersk in international waters. This would (amongst others) be a breach of Iran’s obligations under the Law of the Sea Convention (to which it is a signatory) to permit innocent passage. (There is a legal process in most jurisdictions for the arrest of vessels for civil maritime claims but this does not apply in international waters.)

    • #46
  17. user_44643 Inactive
    user_44643
    @MikeLaRoche

    Exchange the captured seamen for Obama.

    • #47
  18. Boisfeuras Inactive
    Boisfeuras
    @Boisfeuras

    But I’m not worried. Given the importance to the fetishisation by the Left of “International Law” and the sanctity of United Nations Conventions, I expect there will soon be a mass out-pouring of protest at Iran’s actions…

    • #48
  19. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Claire Berlinski:

    Titus Techera:What would happen if this was on the news? Who wants to commit to prose & the public a fantasy about what would change?

    It’s a major international incident, and it was in the headlines on Tuesday. And then it disappeared. Obviously, it was pushed off to some extent by Baltimore, but it’s completely disappeared. I find this bizarre.

    It’s not back on Drudge either. Let’s call foul play-

    • #49
  20. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Mike LaRoche:Exchange the captured seamen for Obama.

    Mike,

    Now that would be tempting but very embarrassing. It would be much more reasonable to offer Marie Harf, Jen Psaki, and Josh Earnest in trade for the crew. Of course, after interrogation the Iranian Revolutionary Guard might execute them (I’m sure many in the White House Press have thought of this too). Hey, we don’t have an obligation or authority or something to protect captured government spokespersons. Didn’t they read the fine print when they took the job.

    In all seriousness, usually this kind of situation is handled by a multifaceted approach. While American overwhelming sea power cruises in menacing fashion near the hostage ship, American negotiators leak to the press that they have demanded that Iran release the ship and crew pronto. Usually it works.

    I kind of enjoy a little gun boat diplomacy now and then. I suspect that the Navy does too. All dressed up and no place to go is boring.

    imagesUSS Texas clearing her throat.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #50
  21. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Arizona Patriot:As many of you know, I am a lawyer, but I have no special expertise in military or treaty law.

    Naming conventions aside, a ship is not a “citizen” and is not even a “person.” Legally, one of the distinctions between “citizen” and “person” is that a “citizen” generally includes only a “natural person,” i.e. a flesh-and-blood human being. A “person” includes “fictional persons” such as corporations. Based on this distinction, I would not interpret the clause above to include any obligation to defend a “fictional person” (e.g. a corporation) of the Marshall Islands.

    For example, in the Constitution, only a “citizen” can be a Representative or Senator, and only a “natural born Citizen” can be President, and only “citizens” have 14th Amendment privileges and immunities. In contrast, other Constitution provisions apply to a “person,” such as the Due Process Clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments.

    Wouldn’t all of those things be defined for the purposes of the treaty/contract at the beginning of the document? Meaning that they can assign whatever meaning they want to the terms? And so the “ship” can be given whatever status they wish. Right?

    • #51
  22. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Arizona Patriot – You couldn’t be more wrong.

    “[T]he law of the flag doctrine … provides that a merchant ship is part of the territory of the country whose flag she flies, and that actions aboard that ship are subject to the laws of the flag state.”

    So an attack on a ship flying the Flag of the Marshall Islands is legally an attack on the Islands themselves.

    • #52
  23. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Claire Berlinski:

    Titus Techera:What would happen if this was on the news? Who wants to commit to prose & the public a fantasy about what would change?

    It’s a major international incident, and it was in the headlines on Tuesday. And then it disappeared. Obviously, it was pushed off to some extent by Baltimore, but it’s completely disappeared. I find this bizarre.

    Not really.  Just how things work over here now.  Our press is free to publish what it wishes until somebody with enough power / connections ask for it to stop.  Then it stops.

    • #53
  24. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    Marion Evans:

    Bryan G. Stephens:Obama has already made clear he does not believe in defense of allies. If I were Russia, I’d invade the Baltics now.

    You can’t afford it. Your country is broke.

    Being broke is the best reason to have a war.  You get to plunder of the defeated.  Promise how all your newly to be seized wealth will be divided up to your allies and citizens.   It is a time honored tradition.

    • #54
  25. gts109 Inactive
    gts109
    @gts109

    Anybody remember Libya’s Line of Death?

    I don’t b/c I was a young lad at the time, but my dad talks about it a lot. I wish we had a president who realized that bullies need to be shown who’s in charge every once in a while. You know, Barry, we have these things called “aircraft carriers” to deal with these problems.

    • #55
  26. Ricochet Contributor
    Ricochet
    @TitusTechera

    Fake John Galt:

    Marion Evans:

    Bryan G. Stephens:Obama has already made clear he does not believe in defense of allies. If I were Russia, I’d invade the Baltics now.

    You can’t afford it. Your country is broke.

    Being broke is the best reason to have a war. You get to plunder of the defeated. Promise how all your newly to be seized wealth will be divided up to your allies and citizens. It is a time honored tradition.

    • #56
  27. gts109 Inactive
    gts109
    @gts109

    AP, the document says the Islands are defended as the U.S. is defended. The term “and citizens” is a separate piece. If a U.S. flagged vessel was nabbed by the Iranians, I assume that even Obama would view it as a major problem worthy of military intervention. Same should go for the Marshall Islands.

    • #57
  28. Boisfeuras Inactive
    Boisfeuras
    @Boisfeuras

    EJHill:Arizona Patriot – You couldn’t be more wrong.

    “[T]he law of the flag doctrine … provides that a merchant ship is part of the territory of the country whose flag she flies, and that actions aboard that ship are subject to the laws of the flag state.”

    So an attack on a ship flying the Flag of the Marshall Islands is legally an attack on the Islands themselves.

    This is correct. The default legal position is that ships (and aircraft) are deemed to be subject to the laws of, and therefore entitled to the protections of, the territory in which they are registered, (albeit subject to the criminal jurisdiction of the country they are in at any given moment). Be that as it may, in international waters, an attack on a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel should not be conceptually different from an attack on the Marshall Islands itself.

    • #58
  29. Fake John Galt Coolidge
    Fake John Galt
    @FakeJohnJaneGalt

    gts109:AP, the document says the Islands are defended as the U.S. is defended. The term “and citizens” is a separate piece. If a U.S. flagged vessel was nabbed by the Iranians, I assume that even Obama would view it as a major problem worthy of military intervention. Same should go for the Marshall Islands.

    You know what they say about assuming stuff.

    If a US ship was nabbed I find it more likely that Obama would find a YouTube video to blame it on and arrest its creator on some trumped up charge.

    • #59
  30. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @FrontSeatCat

    SEE CNN HEADLINE NOW BEFORE IT GOES AWAY – 3:02 PM CENTRAL – BREAKING –

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/30/politics/us-navy-escort-cargo-ships-iran-strait-of-hormuz/index.html

    • #60
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.